Monday, July 26, 2010

Insuring your gear - Have you even considered it?

If the unthinkable should happen are you covered?

This is a topic that isn't addressed very often but is quite important. How much gear do you own? Could you afford to replace any or all of it if it got damaged/lost/stolen/vandalized? Most likely the answer is no, at least not at the drop of a hat anyway.

You have to insure your car if you want to drive and if you want a mortgage you have to have house insurance, plus both of those are big ticket items. Your camera gear, if it's valuable, should be treated the same way especially if you're using it to make money.

First things first I just need to say that I'm basing the information in this article off of my own experiences, costs and policies may differ depending on which company you deal with and where you live.

After I picked up my 5DMKII I realized I really needed to look into insurance, I was starting to carry around over $8000+ worth of gear to a photoshoot and it was making me nervous. A quick call to my insurance provider and I had all the info I needed. Since I only do photography on the side and use the money mainly for funding my addiction hobby I qualified for a "semi-professional" rate provided I didn't earn more than $5000 per year. The insurance company referred to this as "scheduling items". All I had to do was draw up a list of equipment I wanted to insure, note the replacement value and serial numbers, then submit it to the broker. My rate was $3.50 per $100 worth of gear I was insuring per year. So to insure $10,000 worth of equipment costs $350 per year or roughly $30/month. If you are making money doing photography then you should already be claiming that income as a small business on your taxes and this insurance is considered a business expense which can be written off. Also worth noting is that if you schedule items they are not subject to a deductible, you simply make the claim and get reimbursed.

To my knowledge just about everything is covered, say if I'm up in the mountains taking photos and I lose my footing and drop my camera over a cliff I'm safe. There are probably some limits to this but when I ran down the list of most likely scenarios they were all covered.

So what happens if you fall outside of the semi-professional range?

If you're an amateur photographer who doesn't make any money off of photography should you still insure it? That's up to you, if you have regular house insurance it should cover items like this however you will have to pay a deductible which may exceed the cost of replacing or fixing the piece of gear. $3.50/$100 is pretty cheap, $5 a month will cover $1700 worth of gear. If you think about it you may want to say no to that extended in-store warranty next time and just buy insurance instead.

If you're a pro and are making over $5000 a year I would hope that you don't even need to read this post because you already have your gear insured but if not I'll cover it anyway. I talked to my broker today before writing this article just to make sure I had the correct info, unfortunately professional rates aren't a straightforward number, they have to be calculated based on a number of things so I couldn't get an exact rate. The gentleman I talked to though said it was most likely still close to the $4/$100 range with the exception that you are also required to get liability insurance which is a minimum of $400/yr. If you're making a living doing photography though this is just a cost of doing business and having that extra liability insurance isn't a bad thing if all of a sudden a lightstand falls on a model ;)

What if you rent and don't have house insurance?
Get renters insurance. Period. Its that simple. I've known a few people who have lost everything in fires that weren't even started in their apartment (it was a duplex) but since they had no insurance they were left with nothing. From what I've heard renter's insurance is quite a bit cheaper than house insurance since you're only insuring your belongings and not the structure you live in (your landlord should have insurance for that).

That pretty much sums up all the info I have to give on this subject, hopefully it sheds some light on a topic that I haven't seen covered much.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Travel Photography - Destination Halifax NS

Peggy's Cove Pano I No Tourists Crop Flickr
Peggy's Cove just outside Halifax NS, Canada

Seagull and lighthouse moody blue.jpg
The narcissistic seagull of Peggy's Cove

**Note all photos from this trip can be seen here in my flickr gallery and they are geotagged if you want to know the photo's location***

As I write this my summer holidays come to an end and I'm back to work soon but I had a refreshing break and got to see some more of the beauty that our country has to offer.

My original summer holiday plan was supposed to take me to Serbia where a friend's father still has a house. We were going to check out the Adriatic coast and use their house in Serbia as somewhat of a basecamp. Unfortunately plans fell through this year but where one door closes another opens, a friend moved out to Halifax last year for school and was gracious enough to let me come out and stay with her for a week. I'd always wanted to see the east coast, I often see those tourism commercials and am always surprised by the how much Canada has to offer.

From the photographer friendly Peggy's Cove (shown at the top) to the period correct Alexander Keith's Brewery on the waterfront Halifax proved to be a fantastic place to visit.

(Alexander Keith's Brewery)

I've done a modest amount of travelling so far in my time and often I think "nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live here", Halifax did not receive the same internal reflection. Quite the opposite rather, I could definitely handle living in this amazing little city (not sure how the winters are though lol). The buildings in downtown Halifax are just awesome, they are all older style buildings with extravagant little embellishments as you can see below.

Facade on a building located across the street from St Mary's basilica

A random street shot just to show a typical downtown view

I definitely left of piece of myself behind in that port city, so many amazing places to visit that are within walking distance of the downtown. For example Point Pleasant park on the southern tip of Halifax is this dense forrested area that had me wondering if I was in northern Saskatchewan until the view opened up to reveal the water.

A glimpse of the harbour is revealed while walking to the shore at Point Pleasant.

Point Pleasant Pano II edit Flickr
This is my friend's "Secret Spot" at Point Pleasant that she was nice enough to share with me ;)

If you find Point Pleasant to be a little too rugged for your liking the Halifax Public Gardens may prove to be your cup of tea. Located between Spring Garden Road and Sackville St this huge Victorian style gardens is a very sculpted and well groomed botanical oasis just on the edge of the downtown district. Lots of sculptures and a variety of floral gardens greet you as you stroll along the walking paths.

Not sure who this is represented in this sculpture but it looked quite nice ;)

The reflections in the pond drew the attention of my camera quite quickly

Plenty of flora around for botany lovers

Among other places to see while visiting Halifax is St. Mary's basillica with its medieval looking architecture and exquisite stained glass windows and towering vaulted ceilings.

St. Mary's Basilica marvels passers by on Spring Garden Road

Amazing stained glass and huge arched ceiling definitely gives this place a surreal feeling.

The harbour, as would be expected, is quite a busy place and is loaded with shops and tourists. Land and boat tours are constantly departing and returning, museums, pubs, restaurants, and gifts shops litter the waterfront.


One place you should stop and see is Nova Scotian Crystal where you can watch the workers as they bend, shape, and blow the glass into stunning works of functional art.

A worker puts the finishing touches on a crystal glass.

Adjacent to the workshop is the storefront and gallery, nice pieces but unfortunately out of my budget

In the end there were a few places that I didn't have time to visit but the places that I did see were great. I met some really nice people, ate some fantastic food, and got to spend some time catching up with a good friend what more could you ask for ;)

Update: Photos from my Halifax trip are now available for purchase in book form!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grad Portraits - On Location Shoot

Another instalment in the "why do I do this to myself series" ;) The first was the hair salon shoot where I shot 20+ models in a very short space of time. This round it was 16 grad portrait sessions at 20 min each. Ironically I scored this job because one of the hair salon shoot models referred me ;)

All joking aside it was a fun shoot, the photos turned out well and by pushing myself I learnt a thing or two.

My main concern when I accepted the job was what happens if it rains? We were shooting at an acreage an hour from where I live. I drive a Mini Cooper, not exactly the most roomy vehicle ;) I arranged to have an SUV available so I could bring out my 9ft backdrop roll. The plan was to get there an hour early and setup an indoor studio in the large garage attached to the house, this way if it did suddenly rain we could just pop in and switch to studio shots.

As the shoot approached the forecast turned from sunny to thunderstorms and rain, the night before the shoot we had the worst storm in 3 decades according to the news. Also the night before the shoot there was some issues and I was not able to use the SUV. After tossing and turning for a few hours I devised a plan to use my 5ft wide backdrop role for single shots of the grads and then use my new foldout 5x7 backdrop, something I had just received in the mail a few days prior.

Here is the setup I envisioned and in the end it was exactly how I shot.

The backdrop roll was just wide enough for some 3/4 length shots as well as some with two subjects standing close. The main light was a White Lightning Ultra 1200 fired into a 40" Steve Kaeser softbox umbrella with a second Ultra 1200 gridded and pointing at the backdrop. Every once in awhile I'd turn the gridded strobe around to rimlight the subject from the back.

After the individual and two-person shots I'd move the grad over to the horizontally placed collapsible backdrop, then I'd bring in the parents on either side for some close up portraits. The collapsible backdrop was 7ft wide (in this position) but its got rounded corners so I still struggled to shoot a group of 3 at times.

It didn't end up raining at all that day though it was quite windy earlier on in the morning, since the studio portraits were already working well I decided to shoot half outdoors and half indoors for everyone.

The outdoor photos were quite a bit easier though I did have some issues earlier on with direct sunlight. When I had scouted the location it had been overcast so I couldn't quite tell where the sun would be. All of the key locations around the yard were situated so that afternoon sunlight worked best, for the earlier shots I had to use a few alternate locations or when possible just turn the subjects so they were backlit by the sun. Fill flash was pretty much mandatory so I put my 580EXII to work.

One thing that surprised me quite a bit was the longevity of the LP-E6 battery the 5D MK II uses. I already had a 2nd battery as a backup but since Canon spec'd the LP-E6 at around 550 shots I figured I should get a 3rd spare (16 grads x 100 photos each = 1600). After going out of my way to find a store that had any in stock I didn't end up needing it at all! I shot the whole day on one battery (~1600 photos!) and still had 1/4 battery left. There aren't many devices nowadays that even live up to their specified battery performance let alone triple them! Just another reason why I'm sticking with Canon. Oh and the 580EXII lasted on just one set of Sanyo Eneloop batteries too!


Would I do it again if asked? Yes but my bid would be at least 50% higher, I realized later I had undercut myself when I gave the initial quote.

What did I do wrong? All in all not much, see "what would I do differently"

What did I do right? Brought backup gear (though it was not needed) for just about every piece of equipment. Bringing tons of bottled water to keep hydrated, when you're talking all day long directing people for 8 hrs you need lots of water. Making a trip out to the location ahead of time so I knew exactly what I was up against. Shot in RAW, due to the lighting outdoors changing minute to minute the extra exposure latitude that RAW gave me helped immensely. Gear checklists so I didn't forget anything (except a posing stool).

What would I do differently? Secure a rock-solid method of transport for my 9ft backdrop paper. I also would have brought a posing stool, I had thought of it the night before but didn't write it down on my checklist (luckily the acreage had one for me).

What did I learn? Planning for the worst case scenario is always the way to go, weather can change and helpers might bail, always have a backup plan.

Gear used:
Canon 5DMKII, 24-105mm EFIS L lens, 580EXII, White Lightning Ultra 1200 x 2, Cameron portable backdrop stand, 5ft roll of studio grey paper, 5x7 Impact Collapsible Backdrop, Yong Nuo PT04-TM wireless triggers, ASUS 1005HA netbook for dumping files.

Backup gear I took but was unneeded: Canon T2i w 18-55mm IS kit lens, Canon G10, Interfit 42" dual reflector, Cameron 400W studio strobes x 2, 3 YN460 MKII speedlights, 2 Nikon SB-26 speedlights, 6 sets of Sanyo eneloop AA batteries.