By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
The other day, my news feed included a story about a photographer who had his gear stolen. It seems like this happens on a fairly regular basis, so I asked Google about stolen photography gear and got more than 857,000 results, ranging from well-known nature photographers to a local wedding photographer in circumstances ranging from a stolen bag at an overseas airport to auto break ins to snatch and runs. Accidental damage to your gear is another expensive and unanticipated problem you’ll hear about if you’re around enough photographers. Hmmm. Time to reexamine my own photography insurance coverage and make sure I am appropriately covered. Good thing one of NANPA’s member benefits is photography insurance underwritten by Chubb and administered by Rand Insurance in the US. (Front Row Insurance Brokers offers gear insurance for NANPA members in Canada). There’s even a discount code for NANPA members!
This article will cover gear insurance and is limited to the US. Rules, regulations, and policies may be different in Canada. Consult with your agent. There are other, different, kinds of insurance for running a photography business, leading workshops, photographing events, doing headshots and portraits, or shooting weddings. Each has its own risks to insure against.
Reviewing insurance coverage every year or two is also important. You might have upgraded your camera system. You might be doing different kinds of photography work. There’s a lot to consider, beginning with whether you need specialized photography gear insurance or not.
Most pros will have a comprehensive policy that covers all the kinds of work they do and the risks they face, so separate gear insurance may not be necessary. For some pros and most amateurs, a policy insuring their equipment makes sense. So what’s the best way to do it?
Won’t my homeowners policy cover it?
If you’re just starting your photography journey, don’t have a bunch of expensive gear, and aren’t doing it as a business, your existing homeowner’s insurance might be enough, but you’ll need to carefully read the fine print. Here’s why.
On the first day of a week-long fall foliage workshop in West Virginia, I saw a photographer slip on a stream bank and knock his brand new Nikon camera (and his tripod) into the flowing water. His camera was fried and for the rest of the workshop he was only able to use his phone. Another time, a photographer’s camera and tripod tumbled off a sandstone mesa in Utah and bounced down the slope, with pieces flying off in all directions. In both cases, their workshop experience was ruined. In neither instance were the photographers properly insured, so they also faced unexpected expenses to replace or repair their busted gear.
They thought their homeowners insurance would protect their gear, but they were in for a surprise. Most homeowners policies will cover equipment up to a specified limit from theft, fire and the like while in the home, but not necessarily at an out-of-state workshop. In both stories, their standard homeowners did not cover the damage and the photographers were flat out of luck.
If you don’t have a lot of gear and are not making a living from photography, your insurance agent may be able to offer a rider that would cover losses like these examples, but it may be just as easy and affordable to get proper gear insurance.
What is photography equipment insurance and what does it do?
At its best, equipment insurance will quickly pay to replace or repair your stolen or damaged gear wherever you are, subject to a deductible. Here are a few things to look for and understand.
Designed for photographers. A policy made for photographers is far more likely to have appropriate coverage than one cobbled together from bits and pieces of other kinds of insurance. Not all carriers have specific photography policies and might pull some elements of business insurance, some of homeowners, some of auto and, well, you get the idea. The danger here is language that is inconsistent or less than clear which, in turn, has the potential to derail a claim you may make. It’s forcing that square peg to fit in that round hole. Insurance designed for photographers covers the things you want or need covered in language that is clear and far less open to interpretation.
Deductible. Most policies include a deductible, either per instance or per year. Just like your health, auto, or home insurance, you won’t receive 100% of the value of your loss. Instead, you’re liable for a deductible, which can be relatively low or very high. Typically, the lower the deductible, the higher the premium. NANPA members can get policies with a low $250 per occurrence deductible.
All risk v. named perils. An all-risk policy provides insurance against any incident the policy doesn’t explicitly exclude. Such a policy would cover theft, accident, fire, flood, and all sorts of other risks unless specifically excluded. A named perils policy only covers incidents spelled out in the policy.
Mysterious disappearance. Most policies exclude what are termed “mysterious disappearances.” The term refers to the loss of an item under circumstances that the insured can’t explain, for instance if you report the loss of a camera from your home, but there is no sign of forced entrance or burglary, nothing else was stolen or disturbed, and everything else looks normal. You can’t explain what happened to it. The exact definition of mysterious disappearance varies between policies (the definition used by Chubb/Rand is pretty liberal) so it’s worth looking closely at the language used.
Replacement value vs. market value. Replacement value covers the cost of replacing an item, such as a camera body, up to the amount you have listed for that item (see Documentation, below), less any deductible. Have a Sony a9 stolen? You’ll get essentially what you paid for that body, which should be enough to get a new one. Market value accounts for depreciation. Have a three-year-old Nikon D850 destroyed in an accident? You’ll get roughly enough to buy a three-year-old used D850. Replacement value is obviously a more expensive policy, but may be worth it to you, especially as you accumulate more and more expensive stuff.
Rental coverage. Most standard gear insurance, including that offered through Chubb/Rand, does not include rental coverage. It drives up the cost and most photographers don’t need it. However, for professionals who can’t afford any interruption in their work, adding in rental coverage may be a good idea, if it’s not already part of their comprehensive business insurance. After a loss through theft or accident, it can take time to receive the insurance payment to replace your gear. And more time to order and receive your new equipment. If you can’t afford to cover the cost of renting or buying new gear until your insurance check comes in, rental coverage will cover the cost of renting gear in the interim. If you do need it, make sure you have enough rental coverage to pay for the actual amount of gear you might need for the time you might need it.
Inland marine. Covers your portable business equipment when you’re away from home, on location, or traveling. It’s often included in business insurance policies. Check with your agent to see if you need it if you’re only insuring your gear.
Documentation. You’re going to need an up-to-date list of all your big-ticket items, such as camera bodies, lenses, tripods, etc. You’ll need to record when you bought it, from whom and for how much. This determines your maximum replacement value (see above) so it’s really important to keep this accurate and up-to-date. You’ll need serial numbers, too. I get most of my gear through big, online retailers like B&H and Hunt’s, so I can go back to them for receipts and proof of purchases but you might want to save, scan, or copy your receipts. Having this information makes filing a claim or reporting a theft much easier. Keep this in the cloud, in case your computer is damaged or stolen or if the loss happens while traveling. I keep that data in a Google Sheet that’s shared with my insurance agent. Having photos (also in the cloud) of your gear can be helpful, especially if there are any easily identifiable markings which, along with serial numbers, help police check pawn shops and online marketplaces for stolen goods.
Scheduled v. unscheduled. All those items you documented for your insurance agent, like camera bodies and lenses, those are now “scheduled items.” Anything else you might regularly use that isn’t listed on the schedule, such as a backpack or battery charger, is an “unscheduled item.” Policies vary as to how much or if an insurer will reimburse for unscheduled items.
Financial health ratings
Reliability. Not all insurance companies are in robust health. Some are on shaky financial ground. Check the ratings agencies, like Fitch, Moody’s, AM Best or Standard & Poors before deciding on a company. Also look for companies with a good reputation with customers and for paying claims. An association like NANPA can take some of that effort off your shoulders by only making member benefit agreements with solid, stable, reliable, and reputable firms with good customer service. Chubb, the underwriter, has been around for almost 140 years and gets consistently high ratings for financial stability and customer service.
As one long-time NANPA member insured through the member benefits provider, Chubb/Rand, said, “As a traveling photographer, I awoke to what may be a common nightmare, theft of the majority of my camera equipment from my van. I immediately called Kristin, who promptly got the claim process started. Within a day or two I was contacted by an agent from Chubb for a statement. As soon as the police report was filed, I received a check. No fuss.”
Nobody wants or plans for something bad happening with their camera gear but sometimes bad things happen. When they do, it’s a big relief to know you’re properly insured for damages. You’ve invested a lot in your photography equipment. It’s worth protecting it.
For more information on equipment insurance or any of the other types of policies available from member benefits providers like Chubb, Rand, and Front Row, sign in to the Members’ Area and look under Discounts.