On most occasions there aren’t any problems with looking smart and using a bespoke camera bag. However, when travelling in different cultures, and especially if the local daily income is less than you’d pay for a coffee, it makes sense not to be flaunting a fortune in expensive camera kit. Whilst most people are honest, there are always those who, for whatever reason, might pose a threat to you and your kit.
This is where a skill known as ‘situational awareness’ comes to your aid. Being constantly aware of your environment, spotting and eliminating risks before they become problems, and always having a ‘get out’ option will make your life both easier and safer.
These six simple ideas help you blend in, stop you looking like an outsider, and protect your camera equipment from theft.
- Dress to match the local scene. BLEND IN SO YOU AREN’T AN OBVIOUS SOURCE OF ATTENTION. That means no new trainers and designer tops when everyone around you is wearing tattered shorts and t-shirts, and no tattered shorts when all around you are in suits and hand-made leather shoes. In fact,it’s not just sensible security, it’s also being respectful to the local community. Communities share an identity, and if you choose to dress differently you mark yourself out as not one of the community.
- Ditch the camera bag and use an old backpack instead. You could consider using an open bag,but backpacks have the advantage of zips and fasteners on the pockets. Choose a ‘day sack’, a small backpack that is just large enough for the kit you are carrying, and make sure it is as tatty as the environment demands. A tired old ex-army backpack suggests that you are a traveller, gap-year student or hippy; you aren’t rich and that bag more likely contains old socks and underpants – not a worthwhile target at all.
- Put an anti-theft wire mesh bag inside the backpack. These can be bought easily and will prevent opportunists slashing the pack while it’s on your back and stealing the contents from behind you.
- Keep expensive kit out of view when it’s not needed. Keep that 200mm zoom in the backpack, not slung around your neck, when it’s not in use. And for smaller lenses, ditch the soft leather lens pouches and use hiking socks instead. If somebody does see you reaching into your bag,all they will see is socks rather than expensive leather pouches.
- Remember where you are and where you’ve just been. It’s all too easy, especially in a new location, to get lost in the moment, the shots, the atmosphere etc, and then think..where the Hell am I now? If things do go wrong, knowing how to reverse out of the situation is essential. Make a mental note of landmarks, street names and junctions so you’ll recognise them when you need to.
- When you stop for a rest, a coffee or a doze, ALWAYS slip a leg or an arm through the backpack straps so it can’t be removed without you knowing about it. Stashing it under the table is not good enough, not even in a supposedly secure location. I lost an entire camera bag that way whilst in the cafe of a very secure European museum; the ‘safe’ environment resulted in my guard going down and I placed my bag by my feet, under the table. It seems a well-trained child crawled under the table, removed the bag, passed it to an adult and that was the end of my kit.