The Ins and Outs of Production Insurance

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When you’re taking the leap into shooting photos or videos professionally, there are many things to consider. However, one element that doesn’t occur to most people is the need to acquire insurance to protect yourself, your team and the equipment being used. Budgets are typically very limited, and additional expenses are surely unwelcome. However, even though insurance is completely removed from the creative process, the protection it offers is indispensable. Read on to find out why most professionals insist on it.

In many ways, purchasing insurance is one of the factors that separate professionals from amateurs. Making a statement like this is always dangerous territory, because some people are sensitive when it comes to professional/amateur designations. However, LA-based writer/director/producer P.J. Palmer has my back: “I would argue that production insurance does separate the amateur from the professional. You can really hurt yourself without it.”

Moshe Zusman, a professional photographer, identified the need for insurance early on: “Some people work their first year or two before they realize they need insurance, which is a mistake.” Even though the average deductible is $500—which means that if $700 worth of gear is destroyed, the insurance company only pays $200—it's still entirely worth it to invest in proper insurance for your work. "Putting in claims is never any fun, but on one occasion years ago, if we hadn’t had insurance, I’d probably still be paying that off," says P.J. "In the scope of things, it’s not that much money.”

Insurance protects you from accidental damage and the theft of your equipment; however, there's more to it. You can also be protected from damage to locations and liabilities from injuries, and you can even provide workers’ compensation for yourself and crew members. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s possible to buy insurance that will only cover you for a specific time period, such as a four-day film shoot, or a single event, like a wedding. These policies are cheaper than annual coverage; however, if you end up needing to purchase these plans more than a couple times a year, it makes sense to get insurance that covers everything you do for the entire year.

Photo shot by Armin DeFiesta, moments before a rogue gust of wind arrived. His Instagram shot below shows the aftermath.

Besides financially protecting you in the event that a camera rig goes crashing to the ground, there are other not-so-obvious benefits to investing in production insurance. In the event that a catastrophic meltdown prevents you from being able to deliver a critically important product, insurance can protect you from lawsuits over errors and omissions. As a professional, you'll obviously do everything in your power to avoid this from happening. However, insurance is all about protecting you from events that are beyond your control.

Even though insurance isn't a part of the creative process, it's possible to leverage it in order to open doors, which can lead to more creative options. "When you have insurance, and you can prove it, you can get locations for free," says P.J. Convincing property owners to allow you to shoot can be a challenge; however, being able to present them with up-to-date insurance paperwork helps with the trust factor." Another thing to keep in mind is permits. If you need to get permits in order to shoot in a specific location, most cities require that you have insurance in order to be granted one.

Acquiring insurance is relatively easy to do. In the United States, it’s as simple as calling your local insurance office and speaking to an agent. Their job is to sell you insurance, so they’ll be more than happy to help you out. However, it’s strongly advisable to put in some extra effort and seek out an agent who specializes in the type of insurance you need. Agents with lots of experience in a given field will know the right questions to ask you, and they’ll also know how to come up with polices that can save you money.

"Make sure you contact a company that has a special policy for photographers—they know a lot about the coverage and the needs," says Zusman. "I recommend a general-liability, half-a-million to a million dollars of coverage to cover you while you work, in addition to insurance for the equipment." Even though those numbers sound high, a million dollars in coverage is a standard figure, even for low-to-no-budget independent film crews, fledgling photographers, and weekend warriors of all stripes.

Tips for Getting the Most out of Production Insurance

  1. Write down the serial numbers and value of each piece of equipment that supports your business (cameras, wireless triggers, printers, etc.), and update it every time you acquire or sell gear.
  2. Laws vary from state to state, so it's really important to do your homework in order to determine what kind of coverage you'll need, depending on where you're working.
  3. Shoots that involve weapons, moving vehicles, and boats require different kinds of insurance, which is another reason why it's important to work with an experienced agent.
  4. Some insurance companies allow you to generate your own certificates, so if you serendipitously find a new location to shoot in during production, you can generate and print out an insurance certificate on set.

Many thanks to P.J. Palmer, Moshe Zusman and Armin DeFiesta for their contributions to this article, and thank you for visiting B&H Insights.

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Can you provide a listing of the insurance companies that are more commonly used by pro photographers?  

Unfortunately, we don't have a listing like this that we can share. Some photographers get insurance through professional associations like the PPA and the ASMP, and others find specialized insurance agencies from networking with fellow photographers. I suggest checking out what the associations have to offer, and reaching out to other pro photographers in your area and elsewhere for recommendations.