Photography Gear Insurance

Backpacking to Mt Jarvis, Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska.

A backpacker (me) sets out on a trek toward Mt Jarvis, in fresh fall snow, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

One of the most problematic issues with photography is also one of the most glaring; the cost of all this gear. A new pro camera can easily  cost anywhere from two thousand to eight thousand dollars. A second camera, assorted lenses, tripods, ballheads, etc, etc, etc .. it’s insane how much this can quickly add up to (not to mention increasing photo requests for < $75.00 usage – another topic).

Compounded by the fragility of most of this gear, photographers face a real issue; use it, be careful with it, and try not to have to spend more $$$ on it than necessary; i.e., don’t break it. So, given the fragility of the gear, for most of us, that means insurance.

Several years ago I researched this, and it seemed that, for me, a personal articles policy with State Farm was the best route to go. It wasn’t too costly, and yes, they covered all my gear, knew I used it professionally, and life was good. Just to clarify,

Me: “I use this photo gear professionally, is it covered?”
State Farm: “Yes”.

I added the cost to my car insurance, and moved on. Too easy.

This past fall I bought a brand new 500mm lens from Allen’s Camera in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Great folks, and a great price. I then went to my local State Farm rep, showed them the receipt and added the expensive lens to my list of insured gear. All good.

A few weeks later, while on a trip using the lens, I get a phone call, asking if I use the lens professionally. I call back after my trip is done, and tell them yes.

Last week I get a letter officially stating they will not renew my insurance policy because my policy doesn’t cover professional use. I call back and politely ask ‘wtf?’

They now wanted to know what kind of photography I do. Do I shoot landscapes and wildlife, etc? ‘Yes, nature photography’, said I.

2 weeks later, they call me back to tell me that after going round in circles with their insurance adjusters, they have the bad news (for me) that they don’t cover nature photography use. If I shot weddings, they’d be all over it. But, alas, no coverage for nature photography. None at all. It’s too risky.

Aside: I’ll note the irony here. Earlier this summer, Steve Weaver joined me for a great 2 week trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We spent 2 weeks in the great wilderness shooting nature at its finest. Steve VERY nearly had to cancel the trip, because of an injury he suffered trying to protect his gear from hitting the floor, while shooting … you guessed it .. a wedding, just 6 weeks prior to our trip. Steve, next time, let your camera hit the floor, don’t fracture your elbow, and State Farm will buy you a new camera.

The moral to the story: know that your insurance company just might not be selling you what it is they’re telling you you’re buying.

So, now I’m in the business of shopping for gear insurance again. Total bummer, because I COULD be outside skiing. Carefully, of course, so as not to damage my camera gear.



14 thoughts on “Photography Gear Insurance

  1. Floris van Breugel

    Interesting… I have a policy with State Farm as well, a business policy that covers my gear. I suppose I should inquire specifically about the nature aspect of my photography to make sure it’s covered! They said if I throw my camera in a lake, they would cover it… I’m skeptical.

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  3. Jeff Boucher

    How did you find Allens Camera Carl? And how did you do business with them? Thier web site is incredibly lame….

  4. Carl D Post author

    Hey Floris

    Yeah, you might want to check. Or not .. they didn’t cancel mine, but said they wouldn’t renew it. If something happened to the gear, I think they’d cover it. But I don’t know. They were pretty definite that they had nothing that covered nature photography though.

    Hey Ron – They lady told me they had a policy that would cover wedding photographers, and this was after she’d spoken to their adjusters, so I’m assuming the information is correct. On the other hand, the agent I initially dealt with told me the policy covered my gear, regardless. (just to be clear – the personal articles policy, so I’m told now, doesn’t cover any pro gear .. the policy that would cover a wedding photographer is a separate one).

    Hey Jeff – I should write another blog about Allen’s. Their website is abysmal. It’s beyond abysmal. But ordering with them? Absolutely, unequivocally, easily, the best camera store folks I’ve ever dealt with.



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  6. Pete Zwiers

    Hey Carl,

    Might be different in Canada, but after looking into camera gear insurance I basically gave up on it. They wanted over $1,000 in premiums (back in 2005 or 06), and that was tacking it onto my commercial insurance policy for my printing business (not a separate policy)! I figure if I go 6 or 7 years without any problems then I would break – even if my 500mm & 1DMIII were to bite the dust. It’s year five this year so I’m getting close.

    BTW – I do the same thing with my vehicle windshields. My deductible is set very high so my insurance rates go down a lot. I could make a windshield claim every year on my vehicles, but if I stretch it out to 2 years then I save a lot of money (paying the windshield replacement on my own – not through a claim).

    Have a good Christmas up there man!
    – Pete

  7. Heather Forcier

    I too have my gear insured through State Farm as professionally used equipment so it is a separate policy from my others. I was clear at the time I picked up the coverage what I was using my equipment for and gave several scenarios (including dropping everything out of a kayak into a lake) and was told it would be covered.

    I thought a while ago gear insurance was available through NANPA, is this still true? If so I would have to assume it covers gear used for nature photography.

  8. Staff Writer Post author

    Hey Heather/Pete

    Thanks so much for your input here. I’m looking at both NANPA and also my current insurance provider for my hiking trips. Pete – that’s insane rate. I got a quote for about $15k worth of gear (which is somewhat embarrassing to admit I need) for about $100/yr.

    Heather, I’m curious what SF policy you have. My agent told me they have nothing whatsoever that would cover it, though that may be a state to state deal.



  9. Mark

    hey Carl. That sucks. I went through something similar when I changed State Farm agents years ago and really started selling on a more regular basis. The new guy set me up with something called an “Inland Marine Policy.”. Weird name, but it is basically a combination of all-risk gear insurance with a small amount of liability and office insurance. One of the immediate differences to a Personal Articles policy is that you don’t need to keep itemizing your gear for it to be covered. You just pick a base amount and any gear within that amount is covered. It’s worth asking about by name. It is really a type of general business insurance, so no disclaimers on the type of photographer you are.

    Weird that they would cover wedding photogs, don’t they know how dangerous tense brides can be? 🙂

  10. Carl D Post author

    Hey Mark

    You might want to check on that policy. That’s the policy my agent told me they could use for a business policy, but it wouldn’t cover what nature photographers do; I should maybe clarify. Perhaps the policy isn’t specific to ‘wedding photographers’, but more exclusive of folks who carry their gear around in places like mountains and lakes and forests, where wolves, buffalo and antelope roam. I think that’s their main thing; just that what we call ‘in the field’ is too risky and they wouldn’t cover that.

    I’d assume they’ll cover you if something happens to it at the moment, as they didn’t “drop me” or cancel my policy. They will simply not renew it. But it might be worth checking up on, as I’ll hazard a guess they won’t want to cover the kind of usage you do. It could be a state to state thing too, but I don’t think so. I think it’s a SF policy.



  11. David Kingham

    Hey Carl, I also have an inland marine policy on my gear, I was very clear about what may happen to my gear and they said it was all fine. I even put a claim in this year after I fell into a river and dunked my camera, I told them exactly what happened and they paid for repairs. Although now in retrospect I wish I would have paid for it myself because they jacked up my deductible from $100 to $500 for next year…lesson learned, don’t use it unless it’s for a major claim (like all your gear getting stolen)

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