Legal and Security Experts on How Photographers Can Protect Themselves and their Businesses

November 17, 2017

Illustration by Sharon Ber

An accident or injury on an assignment—to you or a fixer or crew member you hire—can do more than ruin a shoot. It could bankrupt you or leave you unable to work. The risks to photographers covering conflicts, strife or natural disasters are well known, but accidents can happen to any freelancer, and have serious consequences. PDN has interviewed a number of experts on legal and security issues to learn how photographers can stay safe and protect themselves in worst-case scenarios. We’ve excerpted some of these stories here. Subscribers to PDN can read the full versions of these stories, plus more advice on legal and business protections by clicking on the links below or going to

Crew Injury on Your Set: How to Protect Yourself (and Your Crew)

If you’re shooting a job and someone on your set gets seriously injured, the only thing between you and financial ruin may be workers’ compensation insurance coverage for the injured party. Photographers are responsible for making sure everyone on their crew is covered, because if they’re not, the photographer is liable for costs stemming from injuries on set, and can also face heavy fines if they’re caught with an uninsured crew.

Unfortunately, worker’s comp insurance can be tricky to understand. To ease the process, producers that PDN spoke with suggest working with brokers and getting workers’ comp as part of an insurance package. Photographers can also hire a payroll service for the shoot, which deducts taxes to make sure that models or independent contractors on set are covered.

Some photographers also suggest keeping the insurance as a line item on the job estimate. While this doesn’t guarantee the client will ultimately cover it, one photographer’s rep notes, “By law, it needs to be paid, so it is a hard cost for the photographers and a very difficult and expensive line item to remove. We try very hard not to remove it.” PDN subscribers can learn more about workers’ comp in the full article here.

Insurance: What Coverage You Need

What should be included in an insurance package? Karen Stetz, who brokers insurance for APA members, recommends a Business Owners’ Package policy. In short, she suggests a policy that includes: a $2 to $4 million limit General Liability coverage; a $1 million limit Hired/non-owned Auto coverage; a $75,000 limit Hired Auto Physical Damage coverage; a $500,000 to $1 million limit Errors and Omissions Liability coverage (also called Professional Liability Insurance); a $1,000 limit Business Personal Property coverage; a $50,000 Computer coverage; equipment coverage and workers’ comp coverage—just for starters. As a package, Stetz says the minimum premium for a plan like this costs roughly $500/year, and it varies depending on the value of the equipment and what optional coverage(s) you select. PDN subscribers can learn more about each type of insurance in the full interview, available online here.

How to Pay the Bills if You’re Too Sick or Injured to Work

On top of insuring their businesses, photographers also need to protect themselves. That’s where disability insurance comes in. Disability insurance will cover what medical insurance won’t. Photographers who elect to sign up for it can have their mortgage, groceries and utilities covered when they are unable to work. “Buy as much disability insurance as you can get, and do it while you’re young and healthy,” advises Wealth Advisory Group managing director Aaron Schindler, who is the preferred disability insurance broker for APA. Costs vary, but expect to pay around 3 percent of your gross income for coverage. PDN subscribers can learn more about what type of coverage to look for, details about monthly payouts, duration of payouts, partial disability coverage and information about filing a claim by clicking here.

U.S. Customs Searches Have Journalists Stepping Up Their Digital Security

Journalists should be wary as they go through customs at U.S. borders. Although Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has claimed since 2009 the right to search and/or seize electronic devices (including cameras), recent stops of photojournalists entering the country on assignment have increased concern among journalists and their advocates that CBP will demand access to these devices. Those who comply could be compromising sources, fixers and other associates that they are ethically bound to protect. Organizations such as the ACLU, NPPA and Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute are challenging the warrantless search practices, but until laws change, journalists have to take steps to protect their data when crossing borders—and, in today’s digital age of hackers, scammers and other security breaches, it’s a smart move to ensure your digital assets are completely secure. PDN subscribers can explore recommended practices for encrypting their devices and communications, keeping their software up to date and other practical travel tips for securing digital data in the full article here.

A Security Expert’s Advice for Dangerous Assignments

Eliot Stempf, who provides security advice for photojournalists and reporters working at Buzzfeed News, told PDN that he recommends freelancers always have an emergency plan in place for a worst-case scenario (abduction, arrest, traumatic injury, etc.). Part of that emergency plan should include sharing a contact sheet outlining where you’re going, who you’re meeting, etc. with colleagues and people you intend to check in with. Then, set up a check-in schedule with those contacts. “A solid one is 9 AM and 9 PM daily,” he says. “The idea is that the closer together you place check-ins, [the smaller] the window before people on the outside say, ‘Where is she?’”

Other advice Stempf has for photojournalists is to embrace mentorship and community. Carry a medical kit and know how to use it, he says, not only in instances where you may get injured, but if your driver, fixer or colleague becomes injured as well. Especially for freelancers, “You need to be a part of a community. You’re not going alone and you shouldn’t think of yourself as going alone. It’s essential to develop networks.” PDN subscribers can read the full interview here.

Oh Sh*t! Photographers Recount Their Worst Gear Mishaps

Nick Hall was once stranded on a boat in a storm with no radio while photographing in Micronesia. “Ever since then, I always travel with my SPOT emergency satellite messenger, so I can check in every day with my wife when I’m in a remote wilderness area,” he says. “You pre-program it, take it with you, and when you turn it on, you can press a button to send three different messages: “Hello, I’m OK” to a certain number of email [accounts], a distress call to those emails, and then you can send an SOS to alert international emergency services if you’re really in trouble. Adam Richlin’s drone was confiscated in Nicaragua. It was a problem for the shoot, he says, but notes, “I don’t go to a travel shoot with things I’m not willing to lose or that aren’t insured. When [the border agent] took my drone, I was mad, but I was also willing to give it to him because it was insured.” PDN subscribers can read how photographers have handled mishaps on land, sea and in airports here and here.

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