It happened again in San Francisco. A wedding photographer was attacked while shooting portraits at the magnificent Palace of Fine Arts, yet another in a long line of terrible situations unfolding in a city that has, for whatever reason, chosen not to crack down on these series of camera crimes.
Because I’m a victim of camera theft in San Francisco and have much written on the subject, several people have asked me this week: “What to do? How can you do paid photo gigs in San Francisco under these circumstances? Where can you shoot, without fear?
Well, on the “stay away” list (backpacks full of gear, several $5,000 camera/lens combos hanging from your neck) include:
- The Palace of Fine Arts. Built in 1910 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition to look like a beautiful Roman ruin with a Greco-Roman rotunda and a beautiful lagoon.
- twin peaks. Great overview of the city.
- treasure island. For breathtaking views of the San Francisco skyline.
- Sailor Spikes. The best view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Crissy Field. The large park that leads to the bridge. This is where my $6,500 gear was stolen while cameras were rolling on a 2021 shoot.
I’ve been saying for some time that it’s time for the city to recognize the problem and take action. I’m not alone.
“The photographer told us to tell everyone, especially professional photographers, not to take pictures in San Francisco, especially in scenic spots, because thugs target photographers for their expensive equipment,” writes the Instagram account SFStreets415which originally shared viewer videos.
“Crime in and around tourist destinations is on the rise; we see our good amount of cars smashed and seized, ”Palace Theater general manager Jason Hoover told the San Francisco Standard. “It is our hope that the city begins to seriously consider effective solutions to prevent this type of crime. It harms our business but, more importantly, gives a negative image and perception of SF. »
With a mirrorless or DSLR camera body selling for between $2,000 and $4,000 and a good lens ranging from $1,000 and up, you can see why professional camera gear has become so attractive to thieves. I never do a pro shoot without at least two cameras and several lenses. So for thieves it’s like robbing a bank, with no security cameras or police forces nearby. An easy payday.
Plus, add this sad statistic: Anyone can sell stolen equipment too easily on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and eBay. Where are the requirements to type in serial numbers and prove that you are not selling stolen goods and that you are the owner?
But back to the big question: what does a photographer do if they’re hired to do wedding or portrait photography in San Francisco?
Some of my photographer buddies have told me that they no longer take pictures without a security guard present. But that didn’t help the KRON-TV television crew, whose guard was shot and killed during a robbery attempt in November 2021.
My solution since my flight has been to leave the big cameras at home and shoot with an iPhone instead and it worked pretty well. Recent iPhone models have a great camera, especially for video, and the device can be turned off remotely, making it much less valuable to thieves.
This year, with just an iPhone and a Selfie Stick, I’ve been shooting all over San Francisco and had no problems. The key is that I don’t shoot in sparsely populated places like the Palace of Fine Arts and Twin Peaks. I have been in:
- Chinese district
- North Beach
- The ferry building
- The financial district
- Fisherman’s wharf
- Strong tip
- Hill of Nob
- The mission district
- Crissy Field
Lots of people, lots of shops and heavy traffic which makes a quick car trip more problematic.
Smartphones like the Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel are all capable of great portraits and there are enough great spots in the city to pose for a bride without putting yourself in danger. California Street on a cable car, the docks near the Ferry Building, the roof above the North Beach Police Station against the skyline. And I would take my smartphone anywhere in the city, even to the Palais des Beaux-Arts.
If I were to take photos with my Sony in San Francisco, I would leave the camera bag at home, only have one body and one lens, and feel relatively safe in the areas mentioned above, minus, of course, Crissy Field and Fort Point.
The Fort is a very popular tourist area, again, right at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, and it makes an amazing backdrop for the classic San Francisco shot. But it’s wide open, like Crissy Field, and the potential for a bad encounter there. I haven’t seen any law enforcement presence there yet.
I always stay away from Twin Peaks with any kind of camera (too far away, too many thefts of all kinds) but I’m cool to visit Fisherman’s Wharf and Alamo Square (home to the Victorian Painted Ladies houses ) with my iPhone. I just won’t park a rental car there as both have been hit hard with crashes and grabs.
And I’m still waiting for San Francisco officials to take the black eye that has come to their city seriously and do something about it. The police must be visible and arrest people, the prosecutor must prosecute and the mayor must crack down. Terrible headlines proliferate and they won’t go away until action is finally taken.
PS In this week’s edition of the iPhone Photo Show podcast, a local San Francisco photographer Christopher Kilkes joins me in discussing the situation in the city with cameras. Please listen.
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