Dire Warning: Be Careful Out There—Two Recent Photographic Thefts… « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Dire Warning: Be Careful Out There—Two Recent Photographic Thefts…

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Our travel to Hokkaido was uneventful. After the 1 1/2 hour flight we arrived at our lodge and enjoyed a late dinner that included some amazing curry and some even more amazing mushrooms and snap peas. It is just before 8am on Sunday morning; we are all sitting around the breakfast table hoping that the rain will turn to snow…

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Be Careful Out There—Two Recent Photographic Thefts…

Hill Street Blues fans will remember well Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (played by the late actor Michael Conrad) warning the crew at roll call at the beginning of each episode: “Hey, Let’s be careful out there. Today, all photographers, nature and otherwise, including me, need to be more careful out there.

Alan and Pat Lillich are good friends, multiple IPT veterans, and experienced photographers. Alan e-mailed me about two weeks ago and told me that Pat had put her 100-400 II with a 1D X on it on the ground at the cliffs at La Jolla so that she could work with her tripod-mounted 500 II with a 7D II. Five minutes later, her 1-4/1D X had been stolen in a grab and run. As there were very few folk around nobody saw a thing. At no time was Pat more than 100 feet from her gear.

I, and countless numbers of other bird photographers have done the exact same thing many dozens of time. I have often left ten to twenty thousand dollars worth of cameras and lenses in a pile on top of my Xtrahand vest on many occasions without ever being burned. My new strategy there will be to bring all of my stuff down towards the bottom of the cliff before storing it on the ground in a pile.

The next theft story is even more disturbing. A friend was traveling in Texas with her friend in a Roadtrek Motor Van. They parked in broad daylight in a metered lot next to a nice hotel so that they could visit the Alamo.

When they returned the van had been broken into. The following items were stolen: Canon EOS 7D Mark II; Canon 100-400II; Canon EOS 5D S; Canon 11-24mm; Canon 1.4X III teleconverter; Canon 16-35mm f/4 L IS; Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS; a pair of Quest headphones; iPad; iPod & connectors; a pair of glasses; a pair of binoculars; a laptop bag; a Think Tank Rolling camera bag; and a 15 inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Two Western Digital Passport External Hard Drives with her entire photographic collection were well hidden in the van. They too were stolen along with each of their Canadian passports.

The security camera showed that at 1:30 pm a car pulled up to the van, punched out the lock, entered the van, and completed the theft within minutes.

Police viewed the video but the car had stolen plates so it could not be tracked. The police stated that there are many robberies in the area…

While this theft could not have been prevented and the loss of material objects is surely not what anyone wants, losing more than a year’s worth of images is tough to deal with. We all need to remember this principle: back-ups must be kept to be in different physical locations; two different locations is better than one. While traveling and making new images, it would be best to keep one back-up external HD on your person when you leave your vehicle. In the same vein, when flying home I put my back-up HDs into my checked luggage rather than in my laptop bag.

Hey, let’s be careful out there.


If you have been the victim of a photographic theft, please share the details with us here by leaving a comment.

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24 comments to Dire Warning: Be Careful Out There—Two Recent Photographic Thefts…

  • avatar Ron May

    Art, just an addition to my previous comments, if I may be permitted to do so. I would encourage everyone who doesn’t have one to keep an inventory of their equipment. I use an Excel spreadsheet, but any simple word processor that can make tables will do just as well. I record the manufacturer, the equipment description, any serial number, the date purchased, the price without any taxes, and any other information that I deem relevant. I basically keep two spreadsheets, one for equipment that is insured and one for the smaller bits of gear that isn’t insured. I self-insure for gear under $500, but that may change as the cost of gear replacement goes up. I hope this helps.

  • avatar Bob Allen

    Artie, you well know Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve near Huntington Beach, CA. For decades it has been the target of thieves who break into cars to steal binoculars and/or photo gear (it’s a very popular birding spot). Recently, two of my friends shot there in the morning, then drove off to lunch a few miles away. While eating, their car was broken into and all photo gear stolen. They suspect they were followed from Bolsa Chica. The rash of break-ins continues currently. Turns out, the site is county jurisdiction and rarely (if ever) patrolled by county sheriffs. The city of Huntington Beach is now trying to annex it, which may be a good thing since they have a strong police force and would probably patrol the area more often.

    When driving & parking, I keep all gear and any hint of gear, maps, etc., packed away and out of sight. I try to leave no visible clue in my car as to why I am there. I try to carry the gear I brought and not leave any in the car. When exiting the car, I hide what I’m carrying as best I can, so potential thieves don’t associate me and my gear with my vehicle, which to them may contain more gear and worth a look-see. I return to the car often to check on it.

  • A couple thoughts. Had the window of my 86 4Runner broken and a camera bag stolen. Luckily it was empty but it a great bag that isn’t made anymore. Had an alarm installed in my older Corolla and it is loud enough if you are nearby. Seems to be very reliable (reminds me every time I forget to turn it off before unlocking the door). It at least is some deterrent and worth considering if your vehicle doesn’t have a factory-installed one. Also NANPA offers a good insurance policy through Chubb insurance.

  • avatar Jeff Robinson

    Lens Rentals wrote a good blog a while back about steps you can take to protect your equipment. It’s worth a read: http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2013/06/protecting-yourself-from-gear-theft

    While camera equipment can be replaced, images can’t. In addition to theft, I know people who have lost everything due to flood or fire. Now that we are in the digital age where you can keep multiple copies of images, I strongly encourage everyone to keep offsite backups, and two copies of everything in different places when you travel.

    If you have the internet speed and bandwidth, inexpensive options to consider are cloud backup with Backblaze or CrashPlan. Both allow unlimited personal storage for something on the order of $60/year. If cloud doesn’t work for you, use “sneaker net” and store a backup in a safe-deposit box, at a friend’s house, or somewhere offsite.

  • avatar graham hedrick

    Wow, bad stories. I am going to buy a few of the Tile GPS trackers and hide them in the lining of the camera bags. My thoughts are if the gear is stolen, I will be able to track the thing. Well, that’s my plan. Don’t know if it will do any good. Here is the link:


  • So sorry for everyone who had equipment stolen. When I was a newspaper photographer I had a metal case attached in my trunk. It was also covered with a blanket. I don’t leave my camera equipment inside my car anymore — it is locked in the trunk. I also agree with Sandra about not using the remote key lock. I lock from the inside also.

  • avatar Sean

    If you don’t already know about it you should check out http://www.lenstag.com. It’s a free site where you can register your gear, and there is a $20/year pro option that adds some extras. One of the best things is that it will send you alerts if images taken with your gear that has been stolen are ever posted on the internet (assuming the EXIF data is still intact). I’m a member but not otherwise affiliated in any way. Sean

  • avatar Wayne Lea

    I drive a suburban and it was broken into at a Kohl’s parking lot and my camera bag with about $24,000 worth of Nikon gear was stolen and I am sure they had no idea what they had. Luckily my home owners insurance covered it all. I and out in the boonies a lot photographing and theft is always a potential problem. I bought a large heavy duty plastic container with places for 2 padlocks from TSC (~4x3x3). I bought a steel cable and run it under a solid post in the suburban, then padlock the cable in 2 places to the container. It holds all of may camera gear that includes 2 tripods, a 600mm, and a large camera bag. It can only be broken into by cutting the large padlocks. It is way safer than the trunk.

  • I was on an extended trip in Hawaii. I was staying with a friend who lives there. I often put all my camera gear in the trunk of my car when I went on a shoot. This particular morning I went off on a “searching for something interesting” expedition when it started to rain. I took a quick detour at a beach park, locked my car and walked 100 yards to the beach. The rain suddenly increased to a deluge and i returned to my car. There was broken glass all over the parking lot and my car had been broken into. All my gear was gone! The thieves had smashed the side window, opened the door, opened the trunk with the latch and had stolen everything in the trunk. The police told me rental cars are identified by the bar codes on the windows. If the thief is caught he cannot be prosecuted unless the victim appears in court. Who flies back for that? Beware when you travel to Hawaii. Theft is prevalent because it is so easy and foolproof. Luckily my insurance paid for replacements.

  • avatar Ron May

    I am in a bit of shock reading these stories of equipment theft. I feel so sorry for the victims. This is one of the major reasons that when I travel to the US, I always try (not always possible) and get a rental vehicle with a trunk. That way, everything is locked and out of site. I have the habit of never leaving anything in the car overnight. I also have my gear insured as a rider on my homeowner’s policy. Insurance is 24/7 anywhere in the world, all perils – lost, stolen, broken, etc. It costs me $1.50/$100 of equipment/year. I don’t leave home without it.

  • avatar Walt Thomas - Tucson

    Artie, good and important reminder, Thank you. I’d like to delete names and copy this and forward it to one of my Tucson photo club’s as message I rec’vd from you Artie Morris, if it would be okay with you.
    If not I will simply write my own similar msg
    Regards, Walt Thomas

  • All of my Canon equipment and 1000’s of images were stolen from my car at Gilsland Farm in Portland, Maine. It is a horrible experience. Now I cable lock all my equipment to the seat frame if I need to leave anything in the car. It was the first time I realized that the electronic radio signal that your remote key lock makes can be recorded and the thief can electronically enter your car. Never use the remote lock to lock your car as you walk away. Instead use the lock on the inside of the door as you close the door.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. Many years ago–1970s–I left a good camera in full view in my car at a parking meter during the day in Boston. I came back maybe 15 minutes later to find the car had been broken into and the camera stolen. I’ve never left a camera in view since and have been lucky since then. When on the road I bring cameras in at night. Thanks for the warnings.

  • avatar Sarah Mayhew

    In Arizona birding last April at the Tucson Sweetwater Wetlands (water treatment plant) I left my car for 10 minutes. When I came back because I forgot something there was a man out in the street screaming profanities. I hid behind a bush until I realized he was yelling as his car had been broken into and he had lost his computer with his phD thesis on it. My car was also broken into and I lost a 40D and kit lens (I had my 60D and long lens with me) and my purse with of course credit cards, cash and my passport in it! They had smashed out our back windows. All within 10 minutes and I never heard anything either and wasn’t far away! So I never leave anything of value in the car anymore! Not having an ID in a state you don’t live in is a problem. You can’t get much cash from a bank and most motels won’t rent you a room without an ID. I had to call many motels for my trip home to find one that would rent me a room! I’m glad I didn’t catch them in the act because I might have done something stupid and gotten my self hurt! I was thankful I had a camera floater policy on my insurance. A couple of my FB friends have reported photographers being robbed at gunpoint in the Bay Area of CA. So do be careful out there!

  • avatar john sink

    I live in tourist destination of Jekyll and St Simons Island Ga. The parking lots and driveways are prime targets of thefts to contents of cars. The newspapers and police do not acknowledge the crimes as it make the area look bad. I got hit one night, now I have to have steel box chained in the car to carry equipment. When I was hit the police told me I was one of three that night.

  • avatar Bob

    lost a 500mm f4 on a beach in oregon. turned my back lens, case and all gone.

  • avatar Paul Smith

    A friend told me that 16 cars parked at hotels near Viera Wetlands were broken into over night during the recent Space Coast Bird Festival in Florida

  • avatar Doug

    I use a rider policy on my homeowners insurance to insure my gear. Are there better options?

  • avatar Bryan Holliday

    Hey Artie, I’m out in San Diego with Patrick Sparkman. We were at the cliffs at La Jolla yesterday morning and my 70-200 2.8 IS II was stolen right out of my closed camera bag that was sitting on the ground just a bit behind us. There were only a couple other guys there and they were photographing too. I went to grab my lens later and found my bag left open and the lens was gone. We will be keeping an eye out this morning…

  • I don’t know if you remembered, when I ‘disappeared’ from the bird photography society from late 2008 to about 2011?

    That’s when my gear was stolen a whole different way, when somebody broke into my house, while I was there, and stole my equipment.

    Having a gun pointed at my head and being told you were going to die, was a life changer for me.

    I can’t tell you how many times within those first few months afterwards, I wished this punk would’ve pulled the trigger, just so the the thoughts of suicide would disappear.

    Photography wise, it got so bad for me, I ended up selling all the gear that was touched, hoping it would help. It didn’t.

    2011 I made it back. Now I deal with it by talking about it versus holding it in like I did in
    the beginning.

    Heck, I’m even writing a short little story about that whole event.


  • avatar Frank Sheets

    I was nervous when we were at La Jolla. I was down on the lower cliffs with my 100-400 and 7DII and my 600 and 1Dx and other gear was further up toward the stairs out of view where I was shooting. It was pretty crowded there and I kept asking myself what’s to keep someone from walking off with peoples (my) gear. Nothing happened to me, fortunately, but its a very vulnerable place. I won’t be so lazy the next time. Thanks for the reminder.

    When I get home, I move all of my photos from my travel drives to my desktop computer that gets backed up to an external drive. Maybe I should get another external drive for home as well.

  • All of my Canon Equipment was stolen out of my hotel room , at the Playa Del Carmen Hotel in Cancun. The hotel begged me not to call the police ( curious and very telling -NO?) . It seemed like a regular occurrence to them and could guess who did it. They suspect that the equipment was hidden in the woods in a cache , load with stolen stuff, to be retrieved when a latter time.
    They were so nonchalant about it , I suspect it was a regular occurrence. The told me to file with my insurance company, which I did and was completely reimbursed. Interesting they had all the necessary and required paper work at the ready as if it happened many times before. I found out later the relationship with the cops is at best “complex”. With each side play a known role in a kind of Cancun Kabuki dance, involving bribes, investigations, gifts , personal slights , favors etc. I was also told that the police although capable of stopping this stuff and finding the huge cache of expensive stolen stuff ( and knowing it in complete detail) acquese to the hotels to minimize bad publicity. Interesting. A very complex relationship indeed.

  • Almost! I was at Logan Airport waiting for my flight and my ThinkTank Roller bag was beside me. I was reading. suddenly the gate attendant called my name and she had my bag that someone took from right beside me. I was lucky

  • avatar Mike Moore

    I lost all my optics and laptop when I came home late one night and was too tired to unload my car. That night it was broken into in my driveway and everything stolen. Fortunately, my data was backed up and I had a special rider on my home owner’s insurance for extra coverage of camera gear and computer. My home owners insurance covered everything but be sure you have adequate coverage. Many policies have limits on coverage for cameras and computers, unless you pay for more.