What’s The Right Insurance For Your Photo Business?

March 16, 2016

By Jay Mallin

Virginina wedding Photographer Stephen Gosling still remembers the 10 most terrifying minutes of his life as if it happened yesterday…

It was five years ago when Gosling was in the food court of the Heathrow airport departures area, ready to fly home from his sister’s wedding. He wasn’t the official photographer for the event, but he’d still brought his gear and taken some family shots. Gosling recalls setting down his black camera bag just long enough to get a snack and pay the cashier. When he reached back down, the bag was gone.

Gosling screamed at the hapless cashier to call security immediately, then took off and raced through the closest shops, looking at every black bag—and there were a lot of them in Heathrow that day. Finally, defeated, Gosling returned to the food counter to find his wife and a security guard waiting. And they had his missing case. A clueless fellow passenger had walked off with the wrong one by mistake, then returned it.

For Gosling, the incident “was like the light of day dawning on me.” It had never occurred to him to think about insurance before. But within four days of stepping back on U.S. soil, he had bought it and his gear was covered.

Your gear is precious—without it, you’d be unemployed, notes C. Peter Hoffberger, vice president of The Hoffberger Insurance Group. Don’t let an accidentally shattered lens, stolen bag or soaked camera prevent you from working.

Your Best Bet: Property And Liability Coverage

Gosling purchased what are the two most common types of insurance for photographers—property and liability coverage. C. Peter Hoffberger, vice president of The Hoffberger Insurance Group, a Baltimore insurance agency that caters to professional photographers, says equipment insurance is probably what most frequently gets photographers thinking of insurance. Their gear is precious—without it they’re unemployed—and the replacement cost for equipment carefully chosen and accumulated over the years can be frightening if it’s stolen.

Or if it’s destroyed in another way. Hoffberger remembers one wedding shooter who “took the proverbial long walk off a short pier” in the middle of a wedding shoot. Backing up for a wider field of view, he says the photographer took one step too many and plunged into the water, gear and all. The wedding was salvaged with some extra equipment, and spare dry clothes. But the insurance company paid for the ruined camera gear “no questions asked,” he remembers.

Hoffberger says unattended gear is sometimes even stolen in the middle of weddings.

In photographers’ insurance policies the gear coverage is usually paired with liability insurance, which covers any damage photographers may do. It’s a good idea in any case, but as Gosling reports, it’s often a requirement now, because wedding halls and other venues are more and more frequently requiring certificates of liability insurance from photographers and any other vendors before they are allowed on the premises. Rental houses may require it as well before parting with gear.

Insurance companies are used to drawing up these certificates for their photographer clients—usually in the amount of $1 million, although Gosling reports he’s had venues ask for as much as $5 million in coverage, which he was able to buy for short periods to cover a particular event.

Out-Of-Pocket Costs

To craft an insurance policy covering $1 million in liability and covering $15,000 to $20,000 worth of gear will typically cost a photographer $850 a year, Hoffberger says. This will also include ancillary coverage for rental equipment and non-photo gear that you may temporarily have custody of (i.e. an item to be photographed). However, gear and professional liability insurance won’t cover a studio.

Those two types of insurance take care of typical business liabilities. But what about “bridezilla” scenarios, where a photographer, or his or her equipment, does or fails to do something that angers the wedding party or someone else?

Some of that, Hoffberger says, can be covered by professional liability or “errors and omissions” insurance: the camera card with the ceremony pictures somehow wipes itself clean, or another similar technology-fueled disaster. Purely photographer-made disasters, however-—flu on the day of the wedding with no backup, family photos without a single shot of the mother of the bride—he says probably are not going to be covered by such insurance. (Personal emergencies like illness are often covered in wedding contracts, while just plain screw-ups tend be “quality of work” issues that are no more covered than a house painter who does a bad job, Hoffberger says.)

And second shooters? Hoffberger says they should just be told up front: “My insurance does not cover your gear.” Insurance companies require that photographers provide lists of all their covered gear, with some additional provision for rentals, but second shooters’ gear is simply not on that list.

“I guess I would just say to the [wedding] photographer, don’t casually pick up labor, because you may casually be lending out your policy, or setting up a conflict if the assistant’s gear is damaged, stolen, or damages something,” he says. “You’re either picking that stuff up by inference, or your insurance company is going to deny it. It’s usually going to go the way you don’t want it to go.”

Mandatory Coverage

Finally, there’s one more type of insurance that some say should be mandatory for photographers: disability coverage. Hoffberger points out that for photographers, income ceases pretty much as soon as the shooter becomes disabled. “They (photographers) don’t really have any place else to turn. The hose is going to turn off as soon as you are unable to work,” he warns. “Disability insurance is key.”

Insurers differ on how much of your income they will cover under a disability policy, but it will never be 100 percent. The policies come with limitations on such specifics as how long you must be disabled before payments start, how long payments can last, and just how disabled you must be. In addition, Hoffberger and others warn that insurers will check to see how much taxable income you have reported in recent years. If you are someone who takes advantage of self-employment to max out tax deductions, the reduced income you are reporting on your tax forms then will also limit how much disability income an insurer will pay you.

Where to Shop for Insurance

A common source of photographer’s insurance is professional photography associations. For instance, the National Press Photographers’ Association and Professional Photographers of America offer group insurance to members. Check with your association for more info.

Additional sources targeted specifically for photographers:
TCP Insurance
Insure my equipment
Photographers Insurance
Package Choice
The Hartford
Finally, there’s even insurance for the wedding couple themselves. It includes coverage for catastrophes ranging from a snowstorm to a wedding guest leaving the event drunk and driving.


About the author: Jay Mallin is a photographer and video producer in Washington, D.C. He’s only had to make a claim on his own insurance once, but he sure was glad he had it.