When a child gets a new toy, their parents often tell them not to take it to school where it’s showcased to their peers and then never seen again. As a photographer, your newest toys often have to come to work with you in order for you to keep flourishing at what you do. However, losing your precious gear can be a terrifying and miserable experience, especially if it happens to be part of your livelihood.
As a person that can be absent-minded at times, I’ve had a few scares in the past but luckily never lost anything major. However, my experience shooting events taught me how easy it is to lose track of your stuff in the heat of the moment, particularly when you have guests pulling you in all different directions throughout the night (which is part of the fun of course).
I realized that a lot of my equipment induced panic arose simply from lacking the awareness to notice what was in my hand or on my person at any given point in time. As I gained experience and my skills as a photographer improved, I was learning new hacks to help prevent myself from losing track of my equipment, even when the pressure was on.
Here are some of the key things I put into practice that proved to be immensely helpful.
#1. Keep Your Gear Organized
If your gear bag is full of old memory cards from 2006, used tissues and parking tickets then this is one of the very first things you’re going to want to look at. First of all, get everything out of your bag that doesn’t need to be there.
Next, you can make sure that each piece of equipment has a designated position. You’ll want a case for your memory cards and your batteries and you may want to devise a system to separate your used batteries and cards from your fresh ones as you get through your shoot.
By removing any unnecessary clutter and organizing your equipment, you’re not only taking excellent preventive measures for the future but you’re also making yourself a more professional and efficient photographer.
#2. Sweat the Small Stuff
The smaller it is, the easier it can be lost. Tripod screws are among the list of small yet crucial camera accessories. You never want to show up with a camera, a tripod and no means of attaching the two so watch out for losing these and for that matter, anything else minute but vital to the task at hand.
#3. Watch Your Memory Cards Like a Hawk
SD cards are small, micro SD cards are even smaller which is why it’s better to opt-out of buying them and stick with their bigger brothers. You’ll want to have some method of managing and storing your media cards. I recommend using a media wallet or a case that can be kept in your camera bag or backpack.
You can even think up your own organization system such as using individual colored wallets or even by simply putting full cards face down into your case and leaving the empty cards face up.
The key thing to remember is that even if you lose your wonderful new camera, it can be replaced. The same attitude doesn’t fly for the images you take. That’s why looking after your files will be a bigger deal than looking after your camera when shooting for clients.
#4. Take Mental Snapshots
There’s a little trick that you or your assistants can try out next time you are running around with all that gear. It’s a matter of slowing your pace down and just noticing what you’re holding in your hands and in your pockets in the present moment. For example, if I’m holding my camera with a prime lens attached and I’ve got some lens caps in my pocket, I’ll take a mental snapshot detailing where I’m standing and what I’m doing at the time.
Your goal here is to create a few mental snapshots of where your equipment was during the shoot so if you lose anything, you can use your own memory to your advantage. It’s in this state of awareness that you might notice you’ve left some gear around the room or that something important is already missing which gives you a better chance of tracking it down before it’s gone for good.
#5. Wrap it Around Yourself
A killer and costless way to avoid losing your gear is simply to attach it to yourself. If you’re sitting down, pull the strap of your camera bag under your leg and hang it over your knee, this will prevent you from leaving it behind when you get up. Rather than leaving your camera on a flat surface, allow it to hang from your camera strap. The less you put your equipment down, the higher the chance you have of keeping it.
#6. Device Trackers
This one isn’t free but it’s still highly inexpensive in comparison to the value of your gear. You can buy very small tracking devices that can be placed inside your camera bag and in your memory card cases to track down your equipment if it goes missing (I use Tile). These devices connect with a smartphone application that can ring the tracker as well as locate it on a map. This will require you to have a device with Bluetooth and a mobile internet connection with you.
#7. Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot
Sometimes you’ll have a curious wedding guest ask you about your equipment and while they may just be genuinely interested in photography, they may also be sizing up whether your gear is worth seizing later on. Be smart about how you handle these situations.
#8. Make Yourself Easy to Find
If your camera has an articulating screen, you can attach a piece of paper behind it using some sticky tape or Blu-tack with your name, phone number, and email address that anyone that stumbles across your gear can use to contact you. You can also place a piece of paper with this information in your camera bag.
#9. Use Checklists
Good applications exist that will help you mark off your equipment at the end of a shoot to make sure you’re not leaving without your stuff. An excellent one is Google Keep which is compatible with Android and iOS. You’ll want to use your checklist before you leave for your shoot, when you get there and before you leave to maximize its gear-saving potential.
If you catch yourself feeling distracted a lot when you’re working, this one may be a game-changer for you. Dedicating a few minutes to meditation each day will help you be more present while you’re shooting and it might make the difference between spotting that suspicious guest checking out your camera bag and letting him make it out the door with all your precious equipment.
Meditation is known to improve focus and reduce stress levels, two of the biggest factors in saving your stuff.
The Silver Lining
You may lose a couple of cameras in your career or you may need to lose more before considering the ideas written about here. I know that making an effort for that stitch in time is not the most enjoyable side of your work, but you can either sit around and hope the photography gods have mercy on you when your luck falters or you can give them something to be proud of when they are deciding if your precious kit will unexpectedly return to you.
About the author: Tim Gardner is a professional photographer and videographer based in Melbourne, Australia. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Gardner shoots weddings and events and prefers a natural, candid style that captures the subject authentically. He is also passionate about filmmaking and enjoys being the cinematographer on set. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.
Image credits: Header photo by Nandhu Kumar