This happened recently to a friend of mine and I feel it's worth to write down some ways to avoid it so it doesnt happen to YOU.
She was coming out from a Starbucks with a bag that contained a Nikon D200, a lens and filters for InfraRed shooting and a Mac laptop, she wasnt paying much attention to her surroundings and when she was about to get into her car, a person in a motorcycle ran past her and snatched the bag from her.
Just like that you can lose your gear.
Now, it's a normal thing for photographers to show off equipment or make clear what brand of cameras you use, and therefore your bags/straps/cases/etc. display in big letters: SONY, NIKON, CANON, PENTAX, OLYMPUS, etc. Same applies for laptops, either the suitcase you carry it on or the laptop itself will scream the brand it is.
The problem is, by exposing this things in public places, you become a walking neon sign that says: STEAL HERE PLEASE, making the job for thieves all too easy.
Therefore, Im posting a few guidelines to avoid losing your equipment to the hands of burglars:
1.- Buy a ugly-old-worn out-bag to put your gear inside. This will act as natural camouflage for your cases. Instead of looking like bag that contains expensive equipment (and even if your camera isnt a fancy and expensive DSLR, do it) it will look like a backpack with books, clothing, tools, etc.
Gary Friedman suggests in his published works to buy a diaper bag and store your equipment there. This is also an excellent suggestion. If for whatever reason you need to leave your camera in your car, the bag wont attract attention to it. Who is going to want to steal a diaper bag?
Another complement for this is to always carry the bags with an annoyed face, this will give the impression youre carrying something you are fed up off or annoyed with, killing all interest in your bag.
2.- Be discreet. Do not boast loudly "Oh, I'm going to take out my new DSLR with 1000 Megapixels that costed me 100,000 dollars/pounds/pesos/rupees/etc." If you need to take your gear to a public place, do the job you're going to do without attracting people's attention to your gear. It's almost a fact that when people see someone really interested in the picture being taken, they will look at the photographer interested themselves, but try to be a low profile photographer when working in the street or public and crowded areas.
3.- Do not take out your gear in internet cafés/coffee shops/restaurants/malls/etc. Unless is STRICTLY necessary to do it, avoid taking it out of the bags in public places like those or similar. There is always a person sitting quietly in those places looking for a person with expensive gear to steal, and as soon as you take your eyes off it, its gone. It can happen also that one of the workers at those places is working with someone on the outside and gives the tip that youre carrying a lot of gear and as soon as you leave the place, snatch snatch, bye bye.
4.- Go with someone you trust when shooting out of home. It's possible that not always someone can go with you, but whenever it's possible, take someone you trust with you when shooting in the street/parks/public places in general. If the worst happens, its better to have some backup that none at all. This especially applies when going out during night time.
5.- Carry your bags infront of you. This one is simple but really effective, usually backpacks go on your back (duh) and bags on your side, but it's A LOT better to carry it infront of you. This will keep your gear in your direct line of sight and will prevent that youre surpised from behind or a flank.
6.- Insure your gear. If possible and affordable to you, look into insuring your gear. This way is the worst happens (heavens forbid), you still have a way to get it back or get the means to replace the stolen gear.
7.- Learn to use both eyes when shooting. This is a photographic technique, but also a safety measure. If you learn to use the eye that's not on the viewfinder to look at the scene youre taking photos of and around it, you will be able to spot if someone is around or coming at you with mean intentions. It will be hard and even make you dizzy at the start, but its possible. The brain can focus on two different points at the same time and process it, its just a matter of training. Learning to do this will also help you when taking pictures, if something changes in the scene, you will be able to see it in real time.
8.- Always mind your surroundings. If you go to a known or unknown public place, always always always pay attention to noises or silence, to people around you, look for spots that someone can use to hide and surprise you. If you go to an unkown place, look for exit points to leave quickly if you have to. If its a known place, dont let your guard down, you dont know if something has changed in it youre unaware of that may work against you. Also, take someone with you.
9.- Don't use headphones when shooting outdoors. A lot of us love to listen to music all the time, even more when taking pictures, it helps you get in the mood or get creative or whatever effect it has on you. The big BUT in this is that your ears no longer hear the sounds around you, which may be the only warning you may have before something bad happens. Whenever you shoot outdoors, dont take your mp3 player and headphones to the shoot. It's better to sacrifice the music for a while than having to yield your gear (and your mp3 player too).
10.- If you leave your gear in your car, store it in the trunk, behind the seats and keep your car in your sight whenever possible. This last point depends a lot on the place you go to, but if you can, leave your car near the place you'll be going to and in your sight. This way if you see someone trying to open it, you will be able to act immediatly. If you cant leave it within sight, store your gear in places out of sight for other people, the trunk/behind or below the seats/under other stuff that wont attract attention will work. Remember point #1 too.
You have worked hard to buy your gear, getting it stolen it's one of the most annoying and frustating things that can happen to you, BUT YOU CAN PREVENT IT!
Don't let someone else get hold of your gear, thieves usually get paid a lot less than the real the worth of the equipment, a lot lot lot less.
If you have suggestions of how to prevent this from happening not included here, let me know with a reply and I'll include it in this guide.
Until next time, and be safe when shooting!