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Van Riper    Frank Van Riper on Photography

STREET-SMART GUIDE TO AVOIDING CAMERA THIEVERY

By Frank Van Riper
Special to Camera Works

"Look," I told Judy, pointing to the license plate of the car in front of us.
"It says Mazel Tov." (Actually, the tag on the car said "Masltov.")
"I thought you said 'Hasselblad,'" my wife replied.
"You know," I opined.
"I could get us a plate saying 'Hasselblad'-or 'Haslbld.' Wouldn't that be cool?"
"Only if you want our cameras stolen from the trunk," Judy said.

Sadly, my wife and professional partner was right. Broadcasting one's affinity for an expensive camera on one's license plate is an excellent way to invite theft, or worse: armed robbery. In fact, that was just what I had told my stepson Dan when years ago he presented us with a handsome metal plaque bearing our logo, "Goodman/Van Riper Photography," saying he hoped we would affix it near our front door.

No sense advertising that our house contains the pricey and hockable tools of the photographer's trade, I told Dan. [The plaque now adorns the door of our home office.] You get the idea. With vacation time here, many of us will be traveling with our cameras and that, unfortunately, increases the risk of loss or theft. As of today (and I am touching wood as I write this) I never have suffered the theft of any of my camera equipment, though I have traveled with my gear all over the country and the world. Part of this is dumb luck, to be sure. But part of it, too, derives from the caution born of being a native New Yorker whose Bronx upbringing nurtured a certain street wisdom about holding onto one's stuff.

As you get ready to hit the road to make pictures, keep in mind some of these pointers, from a fellow photographer-and Yankee fan:

--Never leave your camera-ever. Think of your Nikon or Canon as you would an infant or toddler. Out and about you would never leave a young child's side, even for a second, lest the little one suddenly tumble off a chair or run into the street. So, too, an instant is all it takes for someone to grab an unwatched camera from a table or a car.

--And speaking of cars…They really offer little protection. Any crook can tell you how easy they are to break into. So doesn't it stand to reason that you should never leave your camera in one? Granted, sometimes you must, especially if your gear includes a heavy camera bag that you'd love to be free of, if only for a short while. Here let me repeat one of our cardinal rules: Judy and I never, ever make a stop and then stow our gear in the trunk or in the back of the car. Even if it means making a separate stop, away from our ultimate destination, we always make sure our equipment is safely out of sight before we stop the car-and lock it, of course, with our trusty Club on the steering wheel.

A New Yorker's paranoia? Maybe. But once a colleague relayed how all her camera equipment was stolen from her locked car trunk in downtown Washington, DC. She had been shepherding her visiting parents around town when, sure enough, she stopped the car for lunch and locked her cameras safely (she thought) in her trunk. But a thief had been watching, too. The trunk was jimmied and empty when the photographer and her parents returned from their meal. [Today, if Judy and I grab a bite after a job, we always make sure to at least bring our exposed film with us, along with our cameras. Most times, though, we bring our main camera bag, too, since it now is a Tamrac Rolling Strong Box that's much easier to lug around than a hernia-inducing shoulder bag.

--I haven't tried this yet, but I will, especially the next time Judy and I go abroad. Lowepro, another great camera bag and accessory maker, now offers "Pacsafe" that can secure a medium sized camera bag in slash-proof stainless steel mesh that can be locked to a stationary object like a bedpost or closet pole This is one of those ideas that seems obvious-except no one has come up with it till now. The beauty part is that this excellent bit of security rolls up into a convenient carrying case when not in use. Granted, such a device won't stop a determined thief, but it will deter the casual "larcenist" looking for an easy score. [It's the same reason I always use my Club on my Ford Explorer, even when going to the drugstore or grabbing a coffee. I worked too hard to get that gorgeous gas-guzzler to let someone make off with it easily. You should feel the same way about your cameras].

OK, let's say the worst happens and someone does rip off your camera, or tripod, or whatever. Always file a police report, even if you're abroad and there is little real chance of a serious follow-up. Notorious sweethearts that insurance companies are (don't get me started), they often will insist on a copy of an official report of a theft before they'll even consider paying dime one on your claim.

But that's cool, because before your trip you did make sure all your insurance premiums were paid up and that your equipment rider was up to date, right? Right?

Frank Van Riper is a Washington-based commercial and documentary photographer and author. His latest book is Down East Maine/A World Apart (Down East Books). He can be reached at fvanriper@aol.com.

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