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First published in ITIJ 87, April 2008

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Peter Corbett puts photographic insurance in the picture

In the year to December 2007, more than six million digital cameras were sold in the UK alone, amounting in value not too far short of £1 billion. Of these, a very significant number fell into the highest spec categories, 10 to 12 megapixels and 12 megapixels and over. These sectors also showed the fastest growth over the previous year, getting on for 280-per-cent and more than 840-per-cent growth respectively, confirming a trend that’s been increasingly noticeable for some time – that more and more people, amateur snappers as well as dedicated enthusiasts, semi-pros and pros, are buying digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. The sale of lenses for these cameras was up by 40 per cent in the same year, and that of other accessories, tripods, bags and so on, was up as well.

The significance of this? Very few people actually buy their kit at the maker’s suggested price (whether that’s on the High Street or over the Internet), but even then the value of the contents of even the typical holidaymaker-photographer’s bag can easily be around a thousand pounds. My own bag, with its camera body, the lens which came with it, the old telephoto lens from my analogue camera and the specialist macro one I bought on impulse, is typical – and I’m not a good photographer, just someone who enjoys trying. So, imagine what the value of a semi-pro or pro’s camera case would be and then consider the risks of loss or damage to the kit in it if the photographer takes it overseas. It could simply get lost in transit. It could get stolen. It could get trampled on by elephants (not joking – check out the number of photographic safaris that are advertised in the photo press). You don’t need me to list the possible causes, but you might not be aware that the body-only cost of a pro-level DSLR camera is £3000 or more. Add the cost of lenses at often well over £1000 a time, plus a decent flash and various other requisites... Well, it speaks for itself, and means that some kind of specialist cover needs to be arranged.

cameraInsurance cover

I caught up with three the specialists in the field at Focus on Imaging, Europe’s top annual photographic and imaging industry exhibition, but first I checked out the kind of cover that’s available in the UK for the holidaymaker-photographer who may simply buy travel insurance based on the level of medical or cancellation cover, or perhaps just because it was cheap without thinking about the contents of That Bag.

First of all, the Post Office, heavily advertised and very popular. Valuables cover is limited to £300, with a single item limit also of £300. That specialist lens I bought alone cost a lot more than that. You can buy extra cover, but how many holidaymakers would bother?

Next, I Googled ‘travel insurance’ and checked out the first on the list – cover was limited to £200 in total and per item, though it could be increased. Finally, my bank provides me with free travel insurance. Very convenient. I don’t need to think about it. It’s there. And the cover is the same as the Post Office’s – good job I checked. I hadn’t realised it was so out of kilter with my needs – I’ll have to look around for extra cover next time I go away.

Like many others, I do of course have my own household insurance and this will give me a certain amount of complementary cover, but without checking I’d be willing to bet that it’s probably not as cosy a security blanket for even my relatively modest kit is as I might hope.

Now to the other end of market, which can of course also include serious amateurs – I never fail to be amazed by the amounts some amateurs invest in their hobby – and the thoughts of the three specialists I spoke to at Focus on Imaging. You’d think that pros should be far more conscious of the value of their kit, though as Nik Stewert of Aaduki Multimedia Insurance pointed out, they often carry so much equipment that it’s easy to overlook the value of the smaller items. Aaduki sensibly urges them to keep a careful check on their equipment inventory – if they keep it all on a spreadsheet it will help with any claim they might make. I’ll come back to that shortly.

"the body-only cost of a pro-level DSLR camera is £3000 or more"

It’s also important pro photographers remember that their kit has much more than a simple monetary value; it’s also, quite simply, the tools of their trade. That bag – or more likely that metal case – they carry is not just something they haul around with them as they juggle kids, passports, fluffy donkeys and souvenir sombreros as holidaymakers do. It’s what they use to make their living, as crucial to them as bow and arrows were to Robin Hood. As a result they don’t rely on casually bought, short-term cover. They go in for annual polices which can also give them a whole raft of other cover – fire, professional indemnity, third party, consequential loss, sickness and accident, that kind of thing.  But, said Nik Stewert, if all they want is equipment insurance that’s no problem. Aaduki (which, allegedly, was Versatile Insurance’s second choice name for the business after their first choice was found to mean something really obscene in one of the countries that some the company’s clients were likely to visit) is an independent broker that places its business right across the market and provides cover for amateurs as well as pros. It offers three standard policies – UK plus 60 days worldwide; UK, EU and 60 days worldwide; and worldwide – with a fourth option coming on to the market in April, details of which were still under wraps a the time of writing. The company also creates bespoke policies for those occasions when the ‘off the peg’ option doesn’t fit the bill and, though a broker itself, will work with other brokers to work out the best option for their clients.

“The important thing,” Nik said, “is to offer photographers – and we include videographers in this too – flexibility of cover, cover that’s right for them at the time they want it.” And this, unusually, can include providing cover in parts of the world that are, shall we say, even less friendly than central Manchester after a United/City football match. “We suggest that photographers going overseas should check the Foreign Office website to identify those less desirable locations,” said Nik. “They should then check with us to see if their existing cover needs to be extended to take the extra risks into account. It’s done on a case-by-case basis, and because we deal with a number of underwriters we can often provide cover even in places where it’s normally unavailable.” He added, however, that in some cases premiums for this kind of cover could be ‘realistic’, with war zones being excluded, though photographers shouldn’t just assume what they might think is a war zone actually is. Cover is possible in, for instance, Kabul, but probably not on the front line in Helmand (which makes me wonder if all that news gear used to get images of Prince Harry in Afghanistan was covered – I asked the BBC about their equipment but no one would tell me).

camera2Damaged goods

What about items which are lost or damaged overseas and need replacing urgently? This is where the spreadsheet comes in, explained Nik. If equipment is itemised, with full details including serial numbers and specification as well as the obvious make, model, etc, with copies left with Aaduki and perhaps with a colleague or a relative, the claim can be dealt with very quickly, either with replacements being couriered to the photographer or with authorisation for a local purchase – in some cases money can be transferred directly to a credit card or to a bank account.

Oddly, it’s not always in the iffy areas of the world where equipment is stolen, Christopher Wood, CEO of Photo-Shield told me. There are risks even, for example, in the leafy grounds of a country church during a wedding when the photographer leaves a bag on the ground and gathers everyone together for the inevitable family group shots. Photo-Shield, a division of Winsover Howden, specialises in providing cover for semi-pros and pros – indeed for anyone who uses photographic equipment to help them earn a living – but not for amateurs, with its polices underwritten by Sterling Insurance. Like Aaduki, its clients include videographers as well as photographers, though as Christopher stressed, paparazzi are not welcome.

“Accredited press photographers are no problem,“ he said, “but paps are very different in the way they behave and I’m afraid the risks are too great for us to offer them any cover.”

There are three basic Photo-Shield policies, dubbed Silver, Gold and Sapphire, though policies can also be created on a bespoke basis to suit specific needs. In each of the three named cases, photographic equipment is covered to a maximum of £5,000, hired-in equipment to £2500 and laptops to £1000, with each option having a different level of public liability, professional indemnity, legal expense and personal accident cover. Claims can be handled at a distance so that snappers working overseas can carry on with the minimum of delay with replacement items being sent where possible or hire charges being authorised where it’s more practical.

"Pro photographers don’t rely on casually bought, short-term cover"

Finally, but only because I’ve dealt with them in alphabetical order, is Towergate, which runs the Camerasure scheme for photographers and videographers. Camerasure, which has been running for more than 20 years, is underwritten by Aviva and claims to be the market leader in the sector, offering, like Aaduki, policies for amateurs, semi-pros and pros. Its amateur and semi-pro policies can be bought online, but, as Camerasure’s Roy Meiklejon explained, not the pro policy. “It’s crucial they get that right,” he said, “and though the cover is based on a standard policy, we aim to create a policy that’s tailored to each individual photographer’s needs.” He added: “We also work with other brokers and intermediaries to provide insurances for their client photographers. These photographers receive Towergate policies, but in every other way they continue to deal with their chosen broker.”

I asked Roy if Camerasure policies were unique in anyway. “We don’t ask for a list of equipment,” he said, “we simply ask for a total, and if anything is damaged beyond repair we aim to replace it with a new identical item or something similar.” He added: “Of course if they want to upgrade they always can,” acknowledging the almost breathtaking rate at which cameras in particular are replaced by new models.

Photographers can also cover the loss of equipment pinched from their studio without forcible entry, as long as the insured is in the building or the theft is from their car ‘during the working day’, which, as Roy explained, means that as long as the photographer hasn’t actually knocked off for the day – and he or she takes reasonable precautions – their kit is covered even in the wee small hours. This cover is valid at home and overseas.

Talking about overseas, amateur and semi-pro policies include 45 days worldwide coverage, while pro policies can include overseas single assignments of up to 90 days. War zones are excluded, and Roy Meiklejon joins Aaduki’s Nik Stewert in suggesting photographers should check with the Foreign Office if they are in any doubt and then double check that their cover isn’t suspended just when they need it.

Interestingly, the company’s website adds that film – remember that, it was the funny stuff that came in a roll that you had to feed carefully into your camera – damaged by X-ray scanners at airports, something that used to be a major bone of contention, is also covered. Actually, I shouldn’t joke too much about that – talking to the Ilford people at the same exhibition, I was told that while black and white film sales had bottomed out, sales to serious photographers, amateurs and pros, were still reasonably healthy, so insurers shouldn’t assume that it’s now a completely digital business.

Claims made overseas for lost or damaged equipment are generally handled by the photographer hiring whatever he needs locally and then claiming the cost back through their business interruption insurance.

"The important thing is to offer flexibility of cover”

So far, I’ve looked at the all-risks cover that’s available from three specialist companies. There are others – for instance, if you ever read the weekly British Journal of Photography, you’ll be familiar with the regular loose insert from Morgan Richardson – and there is also a wealth of other kinds of cover available, third party, professional indemnity, and so on. Through them, the serious amateur, the semi-pro and the pro can make sure the kit they have bought, whether for work or for pleasure, is properly covered. But when I go to Portugal with the ever-loving in April, I will be making sure my insurance covers the stuff in my camera bag.

I wonder how many people on the same plane will have done the same.