It happened again in San Francisco. A wedding photographer was attacked while photographing portraits at the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts, another in a long line of horrific situations that unfolded in a city that for some reason chose not to crack down on this series of camera crimes.
Because I was the victim of a camera robbery in San Francisco and have written extensively on the subject, several people have asked me this week, “What should I do? How to do paid photo gigs in San Francisco under these circumstances? Where can you take pictures without fear?”
Well, on the “stay away” list (backpacks full of gear, several $5,000 camera/lens combos hanging around their necks) include:
- That Palace of Fine Arts. Built in 1910 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition to resemble 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.
- Marin Headlands. The best overview of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Crissy field. The large park leading to the bridge. This is where my $6,500 worth of gear was stolen while cameras were rolling at a shoot in 2021.
I’ve been saying for a while that it’s time for the city to acknowledge the problem and take action. I’m not alone.
“The photographer told us to tell everyone, especially professional photographers, not to take photos in San Francisco, especially in scenic locations, as thugs target photographers for their expensive equipment,” writes Instagram account SFStreets415 , who originally shared viewers’ videos.
“Crime in and around tourist destinations has increased; We’re seeing a fair amount of car wrecking and robbery,” said Palace Theater executive Jason Hoover San Francisco standard. “We all hope that the city will start looking into effective solutions to prevent this type of crime. It hurts our business but more importantly it creates a negative image and perception of SF.”
With a mirrorless or DSLR camera body selling for $2,000 to $4,000 and a good lens starting at $1,000 and up, you can understand why professional camera gear has become so attractive to thieves. I never do a pro shoot without at least two bodies and multiple lenses. So for thieves, it’s like a bank robbery, with no surveillance cameras or police around. A simple payday.
Also, add this sad statistic: It’s far too easy for anyone to sell stolen gear on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay. Where are the requirements to enter serial numbers and prove that you are not selling demolition goods and that you are the owner?
But back to the big question: what does a photographer do when he or she is hired for a wedding or portrait shoot in San Francisco?
Some of my photographer friends have told me that they no longer take pictures without a security guard. But that didn’t help the KRON-TV TV team, whose security guard was shot dead in an attempted robbery in November 2021.
My solution since my robbery was to leave the big cameras at home and shoot with an iPhone instead, and it’s worked quite well. The newer 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 I traveled all over San Francisco with just an iPhone and a selfie stick and had no problems whatsoever. The key is that I don’t shoot in sparsely populated locations like the Palace of Fine Arts and Twin Peaks. I was there:
- north beach
- That ferry building
- That financial district
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Fort Point
- Nob hill
- That mission district
- Crissy field
Lots of people, lots of shops and heavy traffic, making a quick escape by car more problematic.
Smartphones like the Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel are all capable of taking great portraits, and there are enough great spots in town to pose a bride without putting yourself in danger. California Street at a cable car, the piers at the Ferry Building, the roof of the North Beach police station in front of the skyline. And I would take my smartphone with me anywhere in the city – even to the Palace of Fine Arts.
If I had to shoot with my Sony in San Francisco I would leave the camera bag at home, just carry a body and lens and feel relatively safe shooting in the above areas apart from Crissy Field and Fort Point of course .
The Fort is in turn a very popular tourist area right at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and provides an incredible backdrop for the classic shot of San Francisco. But it’s wide open, like Crissy Field, and the potential for a bad encounter there. I haven’t seen a police presence there yet.
I still stay away from Twin Peaks with any kind of camera (too remote, too many thefts of all kinds), but I’m cool to visit Fisherman’s Wharf and Alamo Square (home of the Painted Ladies’ Victorian houses) with my iPhone. I just won’t park a rental car there as both were badly hit by Smash and Grabs.
And I’m still waiting for San Francisco officials to take the black eye that came to their city seriously and do something about it. The police must be visible and arrest people, prosecutors must be prosecuted, and the mayor must crack down. Terrible headlines are spreading and they won’t go away until action is finally taken.
hp On this week’s edition of the iPhone Photo Show podcast, Christopher Kilkes, a local San Francisco photographer, talks to me about the city’s situation with cameras. please listen
About the author: Jefferson Graham is a Los Angeles-area writer/photographer and host of the travel photography streaming TV series Photowalks. This article was also published here.