Image Security for Free

I’m kicking myself a little because I saw an interesting article a while ago about camera security, what measures can be taken to help prevent theft, some of the security options available to buy and all that kind of thing, but of course I neglected to bookmark the article and now it’s lost in the sea of pages trying to sell security kit or CCTV.

That said, I didn’t find the article all that useful for myself. Ultimately if a thief wants your kit they’ll have it off you. If you’re walking through an unfamiliar backstreet of Palermo and get mugged, having your camera attached to your neck with a non-cuttable strap isn’t going to prevent you from being forced to release the gear. It might deter the grab-and-run thief, but only if they know your strap can’t be cut. ¬†Personally I’d fear having someone grab my camera and start to run off with me permanently attached to it. I’d rather let it go than end up being throttled by my own strap.

Other options for security might involve tags, either overt ones which attach to camera cases, or covert trackable stickers which attach to cameras. These might help in certain situations, though tags on bags are a bit pointless unless your kit stays with the bags once it’s stolen. I’m not sure how likely that is.

Besides the obvious holes in the logic of some of these solutions, I don’t spend much time walking around places where mugging is a high probability. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the larger risk for me is theft from the boot of my car while I’m having lunch at a motorway service station, so my own security measures are targeted at preventing that.

Firstly, I keep all my kit locked out of sight in the boot with no clues in the rest of the car about what I might be carrying. This fulfils my responsibility under my camera insurance policy, though of course a theft would still leave me without essential kit until I could purchase replacements. But ultimately kit is replaceable. Perhaps the biggest problem for me if someone lifted my cameras from my car would be if I suffered the theft just after I’d just shot a job. The thief would unknowingly be lifting all the day’s work as well as the tools.

So my routine if I need a comfort break on the way back from a job is to ensure I’ve removed all memory cards before I set off and put them in a pocket. Ideally I do this before leaving the site of the job so that I’m not opening the boot of my car in a service area car park, risking some nefarious character a view of the contents. This way if I am burgled, I might suffer the trauma and inconvenience of lost equipment while my client doesn’t have to suffer the inconvenience of lost images too.

A stack of 3 Compact Flash cards, another one is in a card reader.

Keeping cards safe until I can transfer images is critical

I would say the most valuable asset any photographer has is the images he or she takes. Equipment can be replaced, if it isn’t rare (none of my gear is rare), but the photos normally can’t be. I take good precautions over my cameras and lenses while I’m out and about, but a simple security measure which costs nothing helps protect the images a client is paying for.

Sorry, you can’t shoot here, here, or here…

A moment of reminiscence: About a year before I finally broke into photojournalism, I applied for a photography course at Bournemouth College of Art and Design and during the interview I was asked: “What would you do if photography was banned tomorrow?” I was caught off-guard, and hadn’t really made any plans for the following day. I’d assumed I was going back to work in the camera shop, but if photography was to be banned there didn’t seem much future in that. Caught off-guard I mumbled something about being keen on the music industry, and so lost the chance to get a place on the course.

Had the lecturers with their sneaky interview questions really known how desperate I was to become a photographer, they would have offered me a place on the spot – but with hindsight, I wasn’t ready to do the course and my fluffed answer proved it.

The question that scuppered my early career might seem like a daft one, but in more areas of life, and in more areas of the country, it’s becoming difficult to just go and take pictures.

Despite the popularity of sites like Facebook, people are often more guarded about having their photo taken than perhaps they were just a couple of decades ago, and sometimes understandably so, but it’s starting to look as if a back-door privacy law may be in development in our courts (mostly geared, it has to be said, to protecting the privacy of the rich and influential). This is an area I know I’ll have to revisit in more depth at a later date.

Meanwhile, many areas of town and city centres are now privately owned, with over-zealous security guards ready to pounce on anyone who looks like they might be taking photos. Canary Wharf in London is quite notorious for photographers being stopped by security bods and police on the lookout for potential terrorist scouts, though quite why a terrorist would go around with a bulky DSLR and lens is anyone’s guess. People with camera phones seem not to get stopped in quite such numbers.

Taking photos in public parks and gardens isn’t without risk of intervention either. When I needed to take a portrait of an elderly gentleman sitting outside on a park bench (which, excluding myself, elderly gentleman and park keeper, was empty) I was approached by the friendly-looking parkie who wanted to know why I was taking pictures, saying “I can’t be too careful, you might be one of them peadophiles.” I didn’t punch him as that might have been misconstrued¬† as a terrorist attack.

Thankfully it seems the poor record of photographers turning out to be members of terrorist cells (and the banning of the use of S44 powers) has meant the police have reduced the number of stops being made under anti-terror laws, and the insane fear of anyone with a camera being a “peterfile” appears to have subsided a little. For now.

english woodland mushrooms

There's not "mushroom" for photographers these days.

But while parks, shopping centres and internationally vital financial districts might need the cautious approach, what now of the proposed sale of over 900,000 acres Forestry Commission land? It could mean that taking pictures in the countryside will become more restricted. Of course it’s harder to police such areas, and if a landowner doesn’t want you to take photos on their land they can only ask you to leave and use reasonable force to remove you. You’re unlikely to get arrested, unless you do something really stupid, but it’s another possible hassle.

You might be wondering why I’m even mentioning this, but if landowners start to restrict public access to their woodland, and maybe start to get heavy-handed about it, they may not be able to do much in a legal sense, but it could be yet another area where photography becomes restricted.

Could we see a time where property and privacy law come together to mean we can only take photos from public footpaths of scenes with no people in? Maybe I should have taken that college question more seriously after all.


Update: If you would like to sign a petition against the UK Governments’ proposed sell-off of publicly-owned forest land, head over to the 38 Degrees website and add your voice.