A photographer accidentally knocks over and breaks a client’s vase in their home. The homeowner screams, “That’s’ a 600 year old vase!” The photographer replies, “Thanks goodness for that! I thought it was a new one.”

While most people think of photography as a “glamour” business, most of the aspects of running a photography business are as mundane and boring as in just about any other business or profession. Want to see everyone’s eyes roll back in their heads? Just start discussing insurance.  The theme of a successful Esurance ad campaign starts with Dennis Quaid’s intro, “Let′s be honest. No one likes dealing with insurance. It′s confusing. It′s a hassle.”  It‘s an effective intro because it’s so, so true.

We have emphasized countless times and will continue to do so, that having the proper insurance tailored to your business needs as a photographer is essential. If you can’t afford to pay for insurance you ought not be in business for yourself. The risk of having your life savings, home, and future earnings lost forever is simply too great a risk to run.

To fully protect you, your family, and your business, as a photographer you must have both property releases AND location agreements on your shoots. They are not the same.  Read our articles “Location Booby Prize” and “Stay out of my Territory” (Breaking Bad). One of our articles on insurance coverage caused some sleepless nights for some of our readers, is subtitled “A Drone Insurance Case….”.

Insurance coverage is often sold by people who are aware that their potential customers anticipate a snooze-fest upon first meeting.  Most insurance sales people try valiantly to sell you the most insurance coverage you can afford which always increases their commissions and only might help you out in a major disaster.

One high profile incident that has had much media coverage in NYC is about a massive fire that destroyed the upstate New York set of a new HBO series starring Mark Ruffalo and Rosie O’Donnell.  They were filming a “period piece” at a used car dealership in Ellenville a small town in the Catskill Mountains just outside of NYC.

A Road & Track story about this car tragedy is linked here.

“There’s nothing left,” said general manager Chris Busby to the press. “It’s a huge loss for us and HBO. They are just as heartbroken over this as we are.”  No one was injured, but about a dozen production vehicles for the show — which had filmed there all day Wednesday — were destroyed, Busby said.

As owner/drivers of cars both over 50 years old, both of us took this really hard. Some might say, “They are just old cars”. They don’t understand the lost caused by this calamity is heartbreaking. Some of the collector cars were destroyed and still others considered “vintage” (a/k/a “more expensive”) are gone forever. The existing building was destroyed as were the custom built sets made by HBO.

In the series based on a 1998 bestselling novel by Wally Lamb, Mark Ruffalo stars as twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey.  HBO calls the six-part series “a family saga that follows the parallel lives of identical twin brothers in a story of betrayal, sacrifice and forgiveness set against the backdrop of 20th-century America.” Yeah, that old story.

In order to evoke a past time in history, what can “date” a scene better than seeing the cars of that era.  When Ed’s 1968 Cougar is offered or sought out for use as a prop for commercials, videos and so on, Ed insists (as anyone should) that the ad agency/production company etc. must insure the car for more money than it would be worth on the open market.  Collectible cars, boats, jewelry, antiques and so on have more than “market value” to their owners if stolen or destroyed in connection with a photo shoot.

Is it likely that HBO and/or the production companies involved in the shoot obtained suitable insurance coverage given the nature of the props/cars they were building/renting? Yes. It wouldn’t surprise any attorney or insurance adjuster however, if they did not have adequate insurance. Might there be litigation concerning who is at fault and what the amount of the damages are? Sure, very likely.  Is it possible that the location agreement leaves certain issues in dispute? Very likely.

Insurance coverage provides payment if you are found to be at fault AND it pays for your attorney to defend your interests.  With the proper insurance, you do not pay your attorney a dime in 98 out of 100 cases.  A specific, well drafted location agreement gives you added protection against being held at fault in the event of certain catastrophes whether or not you have insurance coverage.  In other words, it’s CYA.

Note that production of the series had to be stopped.  Statistically there are about 1,000 fires per day in America.  Most don’t involve collectible cars or custom-made movie sets.  Even stranger things than a fire can happen on set however and many of you out there have witnessed accidents and folks getting hurt on set in situations more unusual than a fire.

Insurance commonly termed “business interruption insurance” can be purchased to prevent losses caused by a business being shut down.  When Katrina hit NOLA some casino/hotels had such insurance and were able to pay their employees, taxes and on going expenses in addition to paying to repair the physical damage.  One casino had enough coverage to make up for 95% of its daily gross. Good insurance. And photographers who did not have such insurance, which we assume was most, were left high and dry after the storm (so to speak). They not only lost their photo equipment, their offices, business records, they also lost their client base. If they had business interruption insurance, they would have been made whole fairly quickly.

If you do location shoots, use large crews, engage in aerial photography, film dangerous events, are using celebrities, rich folks, filming in expensive homes and so on you can’t have enough or too much insurance.  So to keep things affordable ask your insurance broker about obtaining an “umbrella policy”.  In plain English, an umbrella insurance policy is extra liability and/or indemnification insurance coverage that goes beyond the limits of your existing home, auto or business insurance limits. It provides an additional layer of security to those who are at risk for being sued for damages to other people’s property or injuries caused to others in an accident of virtually any type.

Many photographers who hire producers to produce big jobs, rely on the producer having (and charging for) such liability and indemnification insurance. If you suddenly have a big shoot and do not have these types of insurance, hiring it out to a producer is a great and easy way to go.

Depending on how your business is structured, it’s always best to contact a professional, in this case an insurance broker, to advise you about insurance. They can explain the different insurance types, such as Workman’s Comp (a “must have”), and the difference between liability and indemnification insurance. Just drink lots of coffee or other stimulating beverages to prevent your eyes rolling back into your head.

So, after all that we leave you with this question. What do hospital gowns and insurance policies have in common? You’re never covered as much as you think you are.