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Photography Question 
Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005

Camera Thieves

I was in Portland last week and had my camera pack (Lowepro Vertex 300) with 5D2, 40D, 17-40, 24-70, 70-200, 100-400, 580EX & 430 flash inside. I took the bag from a friend's house out to the car and went back in the house to retrieve another bag and say my goodbyes - 4 minutes later, I went back to the car and my bag was gone. A local kid saw a guy take it and through a series of phone calls, we were able to locate the guy but he wanted $1000 or he was going to start selling it off. I didn't have the $$ since I had just bought the 5D2 just 2 days before. My friends came to my rescue and loaned me the $$ and, through a friend of a friend, I paid the $$ and got my pack back.

I have an ongoing police case open but I am just so grateful I did get it back. I know better than to have any Nikon/Canon logos visible anywhere on my packs. My Vertex pack should only be recognized as a camera pack by other knowledgeable photographers but it is big and heavy and any pack can attract attention.

In the last 2 days, I have read 2 other stories very similar to mine so for whatever reason, there seems to be some sort of crime wave going on with camera gear in the Pacific Northwest right now.

Lesson 1. I made the mistake of not immediately renewing my Photographers Insurance ($1 million) policy, which expired last month as I am switching to a different provider so I was not covered for this theft.

Lesson 2. Don't leave your bag unattended for even a minute.

Lesson 3. Get some sort of tracking device embedded in the bag. I am still researching this option & welcome any opinions.

Lesson 4. Get a voodoo doll and place a curse on all camera thieves...

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2/13/2010 4:14:53 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Thanks, Carlton, for sharing your story. I'm glad that you were able to recover your gear and hope the police can help you postulate due justice.
This problem is not limited to the Pacific NW. Here on the East Coast, there is a seemingly endless gaggle of crazed crooks out there lurking in the shadows hoping for a quick score to finance their next fix.
In areas where tourism attracts foot travel, photographers walking alone are too often targeted as easy marks.
Having backpacks and other carrying gear which are generic and inconspicuous does help disguise expensive gear but there are no guarantees.

Some of my preventive measures include "dressing down" (i.e., old clothes, crumpled cap, a home-made hiking staff, a pair of L.L. Bean Pac Boots, etc.)
Another thing I do religiously is to lock my car door and engage the alarm ... even if I'm just running into a Quick Mart to grab a cup of coffee.
If I have any gear in sight, I'll cover it with a jacket or something while I'm away from my vehicle.

So far, I've been lucky.

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2/14/2010 4:42:37 AM

D Jensen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2008
  So sorry about your misfortune Carlton. Glad you were able to get your equipment back, even though it did cost you.

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2/14/2010 5:27:09 AM

Linda Buchanan
  I am so sorry to hear that. I hope the police are able to catch this guy. I'm glad it turned out, with the exception of the lost money. I would love to hear about the tracking device you find. Best wishes.

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2/14/2010 7:00:22 AM

Lucille "Lucy" Abrao
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/2/2009
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  You are so fortunate to get you equipment back. I'm really happy things worked out for you. Thanks for reminding us how quickly thieves can remove our things.


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2/14/2010 11:57:40 AM

Carolyn  M. Fletcher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/6/2001
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  Wow, that's scary!! I'm glad you got the stuff back. I hope if they catch him they give you about 10 minutes in a locked room with him. LOL

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2/15/2010 4:24:04 AM

Sarah G   Sorry to hear that you've had to deal with something like this and so glad that you were able to get it all back.

I know of some musicians who, after a performance, went out for dinner. They put their instruments in the trunk of the car AT the restaurant. When they got done with dinner, they found the car broken into and the instruments gone.

The valuable instruments were out of sight, but someone probably had seen them put the instruments in there.

It is so sad how careful you have to be. There is a lot of good out there and unfortunately a lot of bad.

Thanks for sharing and reminding us all to be careful.

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2/15/2010 10:12:30 AM

Pamela Njemanze
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/3/2005
  you had to pay to get it back? that is messed up! that guy better get some punishment and be forced to pay you back your money and them some! glad you got it back. :)

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2/19/2010 10:36:17 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
  Hello Everyone,
Thank you for your feedback. The police case has been moving forward and we now have the name of the thief, so the process is moving along. Being a felony and this guy already has a record, he could be off the streets for many years if this is a 3rd strike for him as the value of my bag warrants a felony charge.

I mainly posted this because I just wanted to send out a reminder to everyone that you have to watch your precious gear very carefully.

I carry my camera gear on the plane with me as well after learning from a friend many years ago that his checked case of camera gear with Hasselblad stamped on the case did not appear with his checked baggage on arrival and he only received something like $250 for the lost luggage. Thats 2 lessons in one right there, 1st - dont check you gear - keep it with you as carry on and 2nd - Dont have any logos (Nikon, Canon, Hasselblad) visible on bags, cases or anywhere near your gear. If you do check on your gear, make sure it is insured for the full value because the default coverage for airlines barely covers the cost of an empty bag, case or trunk.

Several years ago a dear friend had his car broken into and all his gear stolen and he never replaced it and dropped his photography business and now works in production. You can see in his eyes, that it still hurts and he still has the passion for photography.

I've also read about thiefs working together. Example: you set your bag down and a person comes up asking you for help/directions and gets you looking the other way while their partner quietly slips up and snags your pack.

Like Bob states - you cannot be too careful and camera gear is highly targeted.

I really feel lucky to have learned a lesson that I thought I already knew and whether I get my $1000 back or not, it was a great lesson & reminder that I hope never gets repeated.

Love in Light,

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2/21/2010 6:37:20 PM

John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
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  Hi Carlton,
The good news is you got it back at all. I believe in urban camouflage. My car, my cases - in fact, my gear - all look like something that has already been run over by a truck. Actually, that is too nice, but I canít say what it really looks like. I used to have radiation stickers on my gear, but that causes too much trouble now. Most of my cases now are military surplus. I have had thefts, but they were all from my studio. I donít leave things like tripods visible; Iíll cover them with a blanket. Glitter creates envy.

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2/21/2010 9:06:18 PM

Leslie L. Steinkraus
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/23/2008
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  Hey there Carl,
Wow, what a headache. Thank goodness for the outcome. This is a real reminder to us all, try to protect our property. And thank you for all the many contributions you make to us here at BP, you really do inspire us to give it our best shot, through our lenses!
Sincerely ~LLS~

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2/27/2010 3:11:22 PM

Bruce A. Dart   Hi all,
Great lessons for all of us: as much as we want to broadcast to the world that we are photographers, having camera and gear bags that are functional and don't "look important" are, sadly, necessary in an urban environment but can be relevant anywhere; secondly, the importance of insurance. Thankfully, I've never had to use it but I have it. I'm not sure about the deductible either. If there is a $500 deduct there is still quite a loss but nowhere near what it might be to start all over with new. Good advice here. I hope you get your money back.

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3/2/2010 5:30:29 AM

Fax Sinclair
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/3/2004
When I am not on a big shoot I carry my DSLR with a attached in a small insulated six-pack case. It's protective and people don't think I'm a photographer. They think I carry a six-pack wherever I go!
And tripod in it's case inside a beat-up duffel. Camo is good. Still. Don't leave your gear alone.
BEST TIP: If you stash your gear in the car you must then move the car.

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3/2/2010 8:10:29 AM

Kathy Wesserling
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/21/2005
  I've been carrying my camera with lens attached in my regular tote bag. Being paranoid about leaving it in the car, it goes with me into every store, no matter how quick the trip. Bob - that wardrobe you describe sounds like most of my dress clothes!

Carlton, hopefully you won't mind me sharing your story on a couple of other sites. Although, it's not completely uncommon, it's the speed in which it happened that is scary.

Your friend's story is incredibly sad, but so many of us would be in that same position. That is also frightening.

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3/2/2010 12:49:58 PM

Teresa H. Hunt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/6/2008
  Carlton, so sorry to hear about your troubles. I'm gald you got your gear back . . . even if it did cost you money.

I had a professor in college who stored his camera in a diaper bag. He figured no one would want to steal a diaper bag . . . of course a diaper bag doesn't offer much protection for the camera in other respects. :)

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3/2/2010 5:04:43 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
Another story recently passed along to me was about a wedding photographer who was unloading his gear and set a pack down to go back to the car to retrieve more equipment and "poof" the original pack disappeared and was never found.
I cant tell you how many times I have done this for wedding shoots but not anymore...

Links for backpacks...

For the Gals... (Very stealthy)


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3/2/2010 5:16:12 PM

Pamela Njemanze
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/3/2005
  Hi Carlton:
That's awful, I can't understand how anyone can be so cruel. I love that site. I have been researching what bag(s) to buy and was looking mostly at the lowepro bags because I love their design but can't decide what one I want... the epiphanie would be a nice one too!
thanks Pam :)

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3/2/2010 8:41:08 PM

Kathy Wesserling
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/21/2005
  I just won a couple of ThinkTank bags My favorite will probably be the Speed Racer Belt Pack. While it does look like a camera bag a bit, it holds so much that I can carry all my gear plus my normal purse stuff too. As it is a belt and/or shoulder bag, I won't have to set it down while using the gear. Btw, it's padded and divided as much or as little as you want.

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3/2/2010 8:53:50 PM

Robyn Gwilt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/15/2005
  Wow Carlton, just read this in the newsletter.... so sorry to hear - you must be spitting mad!! Glad you got it back. Did you 'meet' the guy?? This sort of thing happens here all the time... we never leave anything locked or unattended :( Some kind of implanted device sounds like a good idea....

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3/3/2010 2:53:28 AM

Nancy de Flon
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/24/2006
  My camera gear always goes automatically into the trunk of the car. The only exception is when the weather is extremely cold, and I'm afraid of the battery conking out and so keep the camera pack in the body of the car where the heat is on. But that's only when I'm actually driving. But thanks for the warning, Carleton, it is a message to be extra careful. It's dreadful that this happened to you.

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3/3/2010 8:46:22 AM

Anne McKinnell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/2/2008
  Carlton, so sorry to hear about your misfortune, it's terrible. But I have to say I am surprised by the comments above. Last year I went on a photo workshop in Arizona and was shocked how everyone left their camera gear in their cars while they went into restaurants. And their stuff was worth way more than mine!

Maybe I am lucky because when I was in my 20's on my very first trip alone, my very first night in London, my room got broken into. Fortunately even then I was carrying my camera and only lost my swiss army knife. But I learned not to leave anything I cared about anywhere. You have to take it with you. It's a habit I have from doing a lot of travelling.

We live in a world where you cannot trust strangers. I would never ever ever ever leave my camera equipment in a car if I ever wanted to see it again, even in a locked trunk. I dont even put my camera bag down. That's one reason I use a front loader camera bag because I dont have to put it on the ground to change lenses. It happens all the time, people work together, one will distract your attention just for a second, by say spilling some ketchup on you, and bang your stuff is gone. Sad but true.

I'm really glad you got your stuff back. Now don't let it out of your sight again! :) And if you have to put your camera bag on the ground, put your foot on top of it.

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3/8/2010 3:57:38 PM

Tammy L. Newcomb
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/23/2006
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  Carlton: OMW that is terrible news about what happened and every photographer's worst fear considering the cost. I am happy to hear that the police are working with you to get the justice you deserve but will it ever help you recover the money you spent to get your equipment back?

Lucky for me I am not into name brand bags so my pack has nothing written on it and after reading your story I am glad that I was a penny pincher when it came to selecting my off brand pack.

I am always so afraid someone will steal my pack out of my van that I take it with me no matter where I go. If I go to my mother's house I take it in, if I go to Wal-Mart while out with my camera it goes in with me. I never leave my bag unattended and after reading your story I don't feel like I have been overly protective of my gear.

I really hope that it all works out for you Carlton and I am really sorry to hear about your misfortune...


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3/12/2010 7:07:53 AM

Tammy L. Newcomb
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/23/2006
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  After reading all this it got me to thinking how valuable our equipment really is so just to be on the safe side of the fence and give me the piece of mind of protecting myself I called my auto insurance agent who also deals with other types of policies and coverages. I found out that for only $20.00 more a year with my current renters and home owners policy I could carry a policy kinda like a floaters type policy where I list the exact value of each item I plan to cover and they will insure my photography equipment against loss. I asked if it covered accidents as in falling off a shelf and from there the the examples are endless and to my surprise I was told that it would cover any type of loss which would include falling and breaking by accident resulting in a complete loss. So accident, theft and anything you can think of will be covered if it results in loss of the item. He even said it covers your camera if it just mysteriously disappears......actually he said that several times during our conversation. I have Allstate Insurance in the state of Virginia so I thought I would share this information with everyone since I will only be paying about 150.00 a year to cover my items which is cheaper than the accidental coverage through a camera shop which does not cover theft.

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3/12/2010 1:49:51 PM

amy becerra  
  Built Camera Bag
Built Camera Bag
© amy becerra
Canon EOS 50D Digi...
So sorry to hear about your awful ordeal!! I am traveling to Europe with my DSLR and although I refuse to wear a purse I wanted to bring my camera.
I found a great camera bag which looks cheap and un-purse like! The website is They make sturdy soft bags for many electronics. I bought the large camera "bag: which currrently holds my old Canon rebel xt and a sigma 18-250mm lens. I have 3 extra batteries and one extra memory card. I know I'll be able to fit a travel guide, map and small extras if needed. I'm going to wear the strap over my neck and let it rest on my hip under my coat. I can only hope it does not attract any attention!!

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3/29/2010 3:45:37 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
Hi Amy,
I checked out the camera bags - they look stealthy enough but thieves will also target "any" bag so nothing is really safe but doing what we can to hide what we are carrying does help. I just resign myself to having my gear strapped to me at all times because I carry my tripod with me everywhere as well. I went on a photo tour in Europe in 2008 with Jim Zuckerman, Deborah Sandidge and other BPers and we all watched out for each other and our gear but it was a scene watching 12 photographers walking the streets of Europe all carrying tripods on their shoulders :)
Just an FYI - if you want to shoot inside a cathedral or someplace that doesn't allow tripods, you can remove the ballhead and set it on the floor or table top (w/camera attached) and shoot this way for a little added stability.
Have fun and take lots of photos, you will be loving them when you get home again :)

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3/30/2010 2:35:27 AM

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