When Insurance Is No Insurance

When Insurance Is No Insurance

Lost or Stolen?

Many folks ask me what do I do for camera and gear insurance when I am on the road. In theory I have it covered by a very credible company. Though this theory has never been put to the test. (It has on the other hand cost me a lot in premiums.)

I joined the National Press Photographers Association or NPPA for just this reason – insurance. NPPA works with Hays Affinity to provide insurance for it’s members photographic equipment. It is not cheap, but it does cover your gear when you travel, that is if, and this is a big IF, you tell them in advance about every trip you take. That has been a mill stone around my neck that seems impossible to live up to. At least for this ADD photographer. There is no easy number to call and say, “Hey Mr Hays agent, I leave tomorrow for Outer Nowhereistan and will be back on the following Thursday. Is my gear covered?”  Instead, you have to log into their website and download the “Overseas Travel Addendum” fill it out and fax it or send it to an agent and hope for the best. Not very user friendly and not that easy to plan and get done prior to a trip. Plus, as with any insurance company you always need a current list of your gear on file with them and they will need to adjust your premiums to reflect that new gear.

Don’t do what I did.

Here is a lesson learned the hard way. I have not had anything lost or stolen for years. Oh, sure, I miss place my keys at home or I leave my wallet in my pants and then can’t find it the next day. I would venture to say that most folks can relate to this. But, the inevitable happens. Earlier this last year I bought with good hard earned money a Fujifilm X100, the much celebrated and much sought after retro digital range finder. A great camera. This past trip to the USA I used it to shoot some family photos of some friends while visiting them in the US. Somewhere between the photo shoot and packing to leave, the Camera has disappeared. Yes, that is right, my sweet, sexy little X100 has vanished. They only thing left is the charger and a cool lens hood. But, I am covered for theft, right? Nope. I would have been had I added the little guy to my insured list of gear. Unfortunately, it is the only item of gear not on the list. The only one! I am sick. But it is a lesson learned and will not happen again. Would it have been covered? Not sure, as I did not inform them of my travel plans.

The moral to the story is get your gear covered and keep your list updated. When was the last time you updated your gear list? GO DO IT NOW!

Update: I have found my camera. I had put it in the glove box of my sister-in-laws car. Apparently, so it wouldn’t get stolen or so I wouldn’t loose it when we went into a restaurant for dinner. It was a forgetful and embarrassing thing to have happen. Yet, I have decided to post this story anyway. The lessons still remain and the questions still need to be asked:

  1. Are you insured?
  2. Is your gear list up to date?
  3. What is your insurer’s policies on travel?

Get busy, you have a lot of work to do!

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About The Author

Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer. In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.


  1. Erin Wilson

    Is this really the best option for insurance?  I’ll be curious to see if your readers have any other suggestions.  I can’t quite imagine a more awkward, arcane system.

    • Matt Brandon

      I am open changing (in fact talking with another company now) but most insurance companies shutter at the thought of camera gear going to the places I go. Plus, living abroad is a no no for insurance companies. Malaysian companies don’t even offer insurance for gear at all or so I have been told.

      • Keshan Gunasinghe

        Yeah I have the sam problem here in Singapore. I can’t find insurance for my gear anywhere!
        PS. I just got an X100 too. It’s now my everyday camera. I used it for most of my recent trip to Brazil, leaving the 5D for just for animal/jungle stuff. A great learning too. Really makes you think when your limited to one fixed focal length for most of a trip. Super fun to use too!

  2. Mgmorse

    Thanks for the timely reminder, Matt. I had my camera bag stolen right out from under my nose while I was folding laundry in an Italian laundromat; it was a big, fat time waster getting the police report completed, so best option is still “don’t get thieved.”  I did get a nice, new version of all my gear with the insurance payment. At your suggestion, I’m updating my inventory list first thing in the AM.

  3. Mateamiche

    Glad you found it!!
    I lost my 50mm 1.4 lens the other day…couldn’t find it anywhere and could remember when I used last. Last photo I took was on a shoot at somebody’s house, not there…Then I remember I went to the local camera store and tried out a Think Tank bag and put my camera on it….So I went to the store (12 days had passed) and went strait to the bag, put my hand inside and there it was!! Can’t believe how lucky I was….but it got me thinking on insurance, I don’t have any!

    • Matt Brandon

      OK, that is just plan crazy! Wow, how blessed are you!

  4. Chris Plante

    I don’t carry camera insurance. I may be covered with my home owners content insurance though. I have all my receipts and should check into it. Anyways, I am a hobbyist so have less to to lose, I suppose. My gear isn’t valued near as much the “pro’s”. In many cases, the amount of insurance paid for years could add up to a large expense. I always try to balance the “what if” with “how much” when in comes to any insurance. 
    Also, insurance companies make money by NOT paying out claims. I believe this is why they make it “not user friendly”. That way there is a higher likely-hood of us forgetting. When we forget a detail, they don’t pay a claim.

    • Matt Brandon

      Though I don’t like to be such a skeptic, you could be right. Certainly companies have done worse to same a buck.

    • Jordan Nielsen

      You have to remember that it is a legal document you signed with your insurance company. They say they will be faithful to their side as long as we are faithful on ours. If we do not provide accurate information, they have every legal right not to insure us. 

  5. Jordan Nielsen

    From the limited knowledge I do have about insurance, I know that it is best to talk to and work with an insurance professional that is knowledgable about the field you wish to insure in. As well, doing the research on the company that insures you is very important as well. The company may have amazing rates, but in the end, they will never give you anything, because they are impossible to deal with. Working with an insurance pro will help you decide which company to go with.

    I once had a lawyer tell me , jokingly, the montra that all insurance companies have, “the purpose of the insurance company is to not pay.” Their in the business to make money not give it away. So research is key!Glad you found your camera, Matt! 

  6. Chris Reichman

    As an American wedding photographer i use Travelers and it covers everything and is afordible. But when I brought up the annual trip I make to Kenya, my agent laughed at me. “that’s like going to the wild west” was her exact statement. So if your staying in the country finding coverage isn’t that hard, but if your like Matt and live anywhere other than “safe America” good luck.
    Matt, thanks for the reminder, I need to check my list and if I hear of any better insurance I’ll pass it along.

  7. Duncan Fawkes

    Glad you found it! My insurance here in the UK (with Aaduki) seems more straightforward – its an amount insured with only items over 1k having to be listed (and I think that’s fair enough). Covers 45 (or 60) days worldwide without telling them (but gonna double check that!).

    Certainly believe when they make things difficult like you say it’s a purposeful disincentive to catch you out and a pretty despicable practice IMO. Worth looking at other providers.

  8. Radoslaw Komuda

    Sorry to hear that. I think that X100 is very cool and for a photographer like you – a perfect way to shoot some casual photos. 😉

    BTW: Do you watch pictures the very same evening, after a shooting day? For example when on an assignment? Or you just back up them and get ready for the next day of shooting. Could you present your regular day, a day of shooting and when post-productiong? Would appreciate that… ;>

    • Matt Brandon

      Good thought. I’ll post something on this soon. Thanks

  9. Matt Brandon

    The problem is, when you buy insurance in the US or the UK the companies assume, rightly so, you live there and will travel abroad. But for me, I live abroad and travel to the US. My life is one long trip. This screws with the insurance company’s reality. So I need to find insurance here in Malaysia. But from what I can tell there is so little need for it here that it is not offered by anyone. I am in contact with one insurer at the moment. I’ll keep you posted.

  10. Piet Van den Eynde

    Great story 🙂 I misplace items all of the time like that. Strange policy though about having to call in your travel plans. My gear is insured too. Worldwide. Period. I once had a lens stolen from me (not even by force, as some policies require) and got reimbursed swiftly…

  11. Jack

    Matt, Sorry about the loss of the X100. Great advice on your post though. My wife is constantly haranguing me to keep my insurance list up to date. Like you, I’ve spent a fortune on premiums but never had to file a claim. Yet. 

  12. Ruimacedo

    Very interesting, but, if you have put the x100 in the list and send it to the insurance company???

    • Matt Brandon

      Not sure what you mean Ruimacedo. If it had been on the list, it would have been insured.

  13. Matt Brandon

    Update: I have been talking with an insurance company via email and phone for the past two weeks about insuring my gear. I was stoked when they came back with a very reasonable quote and stated, “This policy will provide coverage for your belongings while at your foreign residence or while traveling. We do not need to be notified when you travel, only in the event of a claim or service issue.” WOW! Sounds great and at a rate that was under $500 a year. I filled out the application. They asked for money, I filled in my details…. Then I got an email this morning. “Oh! Your a photographer? The policy does have an exclusion for items used for business purposes, it wont work.” Frustrating.

    This makes an important point that I should remind you of, if you who make a living with your gear you probably can not get it insured though your home owners or property insurance. It business. Lets keep looking. In the mean time, there is always NPPA.

  14. Matt Brandon

    Okay, I found some phenomenal gear insurance. So I want to pass it on to you.  I have to give credit where credit is due. Clements, the folks who said they could not insure my equipment as my gear was my business, suggested I contact productioninsurance.com. and they specialize in insurance for the entertainment industry.

    When I told Production Insurance I had thousands of dollars worth of camera gear and that I was living overseas and traveled extensively they didn’t even blink. So I gave them a list of my gear and its costs and filled out a quotation request and within 10 min.s I was looking at the lowest rate I’ve ever seen for my gear insurance. $25,000 of insurance for $270! That’s like ¢.72 a day! I asked about all my other concerns and it didn’t seem to be an issue.  Living abroad did not seem to be an issue as long as I have a US address. I do not have to notify them of my travel as this is a world-wide coverage.

    Obviously, I haven’t had to make a claim so I don’t know how difficult or easy that will be. But they seem to be the best thing going at this point, certainly much cheaper than the insurance company that in NPPA uses. So, if you are in the market for gear insurance and live in the United States these people can be of help. Here is their link Production Insurance. I spoke with an agent Phillip Kohn give him a call and tell him I sent you.

    Supple-Merrill & Driscoll, Inc.
    Phone: (626) 795-9921 x111
    Fax: (626) 844-6403

    • Erin Wilson

      This sounds like a great solution, Matt.  Not only because you’re getting a reasonable rate, but because you’re dealing with people who understand the nature of your work.  That, seems to me, is priceless.

  15. Zoomdirectmedia

    Unfortunately I have left my 2 months old X100 in a taxi in Viena. For good. Your advices reminds me again of this high necessity. I will insure my gear!

  16. Stan Olszewski

    I use Hays as well and they have been very responsive.  Hays is a bit expensive but I’ve only heard good things about them from other, local, photographers.  I set my plan with Hays on the phone and through e-mail the day before my month long assignment to Vietnam.  The representative wasn’t excited about the process, but it she was helpful none the less.

    I only have items insured which cost more than my deductible.  Is this the best method?  I’m not sure, but adding the smaller items increased my premium too much for my taste.

    If you don’t mind me asking, Matt, what is your premium and how much does it cover?

    • Matt

      Stan, forgive this lost reply. I pay $270 for around for around $25,000 worth of gear.

  17. Robin Wyatt

    I had bookmarked this page, intending to come back to it once I had my new 5D Mk III in hand. I was relieved of my last camera in India recently, and was saddened to find that my Photoguard policy had so many exclusions on theft that I felt like I may as well have had no cover at all. Now I just tried productioninsurance.com as you suggested, Matt, and it seems from their quotation form that one needs to be US-based. I am UK-based (technically, though I’m next to never there). How did you manage this one with them, I wonder? I would be extremely interested to hear from any other British photographers out there in a similar position.

    • Matt

      Robin, I can’t help you there. I don’t know why they will insure me but not you. Maybe because I have a US mailing address? I don’t know. Frankly, they are not that communicative. Which worries me. But they come highly recommended and I can afford them.

      • Robin Wyatt

        Thanks, Matt. I suspect it’s the address, yes. I’ve so far been unable to find a single company that meets my needs, insuring me while I’m out of the UK for the majority of my time. Frustrating!

        • Matt

          I am sorry. Believe me when I say, I feel your pain!


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