Editor’s Note: Leo and Brittany are celebrating their anniversary, so I wanted to share this post from 2015 to help them celebrate. It’s a cautionary tale with a happy ending, and features some of their amazing images. Be sure to check out RadRedCreative.com for their most recent work.
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, my name is Leo Trevino. My wife Brittany and I run a wedding photo/cinema company in Tampa, FL called Rad Red Creative. Recently, Brad graciously asked if I would be comfortable sharing a burglary/theft experience we went through in early February of this year. Sure, it’s an incredibly-terrible-devastating experience to have, but we both earned an enormous amount of wisdom from it and today I hope to impart some of that wisdom unto you.
Alright here we go; it was a dark and stormy Monday morning (no really it was) on Feb. 9th of this year. Pleasant dreams ended as my iPhone alarm went off, pulling me back into reality alerting me that it was yet again Monday and work had to get done. Like most mornings, I started through my routine, phone in hand while I sifted through Instagram notifications, emails and texts and indeed I received a text. It was from my neighbor, who is also a close friend, that told me about several cars at our town-home complex were broken into and burglarized.
My flat feet couldn’t have moved faster as I hustled my way down the stairs, ripped my keys off the wall and bolted past the rain drops to my car. I unlocked the passenger door and found that my car was completely trashed. The entire contents of my glove compartment and center console were flung all throughout the front and rear seats. My car looked like someone went recreational dumpster diving; some of the trash didn’t even look like it was mine. Although it was a mess, nothing seemed stolen. Regardless, I called my absentee landlord and made them aware of the situation and then called the police department and began to file a police report.
Phew! Nothing was stolen. A few hours later one of my best-friends and colleagues sent me a reminder that we had a shoot later that evening and to be ready by 5pm. “Cool, I’ll be ready,” I responded. Sure enough, I started that beloved prep process that photographers do before a shoot. Check the batteries to make sure they’re charged. Make sure you have enough memory cards. Pick out what lenses you want to use. Make sure your camera bodies have tripod plates if need be. Well it wasn’t long into that checklist I started to realize I left some gear in the trunk of my car from photoshoots the day prior. “CRAPP!!!”
Again I found myself bustling down the stairs and out to my car. I popped the trunk and behold!!!!!!! NOTHING was there. That’s right folks, my gear was stolen. I absolutely couldn’t believe it. I ran right back upstairs to my office, double checked all of our Pelican Cases and camera bags and nothing. At the time, my wife wasn’t home, so like any other photo/video professional at this time of devastation, I fell to my knees and started sobbing.
Never in a million, billion years did I think I would be a victim to burglary, at least not on this scale. Sure, growing up I’ve had my bike stolen. I’ve been bullied for lunch money and I may have lost a few high tech gadgets here and there but nothing like this. We’re talking a Canon 5D Mark II body, a Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art, a Mamiya 645AFD body with Mamiya 50mm lens, (2X) Canon Speedlite 580 EXII, a Sigma 50mm 1.4 lens, a Canon 85mm, and a Canon 20mm lens which basically amounts to $5,000+ worth of gear just GONE. To any weekend warrior who may have a corporate full-time job with salary, this may not be a big deal. In fact, I WISH I had some form of salary to fall back on. As for us, my wife and I do this [wedding photography] full-time so there is no other paycheck. There is no other salary or form of income. Cameras, lenses and light are how we express ourselves as artists but it’s also how we pay the bills and keep food in our stomachs; it’s a way of life and someone just messed with our livelihood.
Later that evening we spent time talking to our parents and close family members about what had transpired, seeking guidance and solace. After we spoke with them, I decided to share our story with friends and extended family over social media asking for their prayer and support. I’ll never forget how miserable we felt.
Let’s fast forward.
It’s now the end April just past the thick of wedding season and we’re firing on all cylinders! Don’t get me wrong… it wasn’t easy. We had to rent lenses, camera bodies, and speedlites just so we could manage all the weddings we had the past few months. When we couldn’t rent, we had generous friends and local professionals that let us borrow gear when they didn’t have a shoot. Eventually, we spent a vast portion of our savings to purchase essential gear that we could afford to replace. One thing we will never forget, is the outrageous amount of love and support we received when we launched a GoFundMe account to help offset expenses.
Neither my wife Brittany or I are the type to receive handouts or ask for money but we were continually asked by loved ones to set up a fundraiser so they could help us and WOW! We were absolutely blown away! After the fundraiser, we also had some random jobs come our way that also helped rebuild our chunk of missing gear. Finally, after all the paperwork was filled out, our renters’ insurance company sent their check and here we are; alive, breathing and still living our dream of creating and capturing beautiful wedding moments. It’s been a long and grueling process but we made it out alive, with better gear than we previously had.
What gear did you end up buying to replace what you lost?
“Yes sir, thank you for asking!” As you read what gear was stolen, it’s obvious that we were still using pretty old gear. It also wasn’t ALL of our gear. Once we had our finances in order, I made the obvious decision to buy the 5D Mark 3, making it our second 5DM3 body. I then bought the 50L (because it’s dreamy and excellent), the Sigma 35mm Art series (it’s so incredibly sharp OMG), as well as the good ol’ Canon 85mm 1.8. I sold my Canon 24-70mm L and bought the 16-35mm L (what can I say I wanted to go wider). We needed one more camera body and that’s where the Canon 7D Mark 2 comes in!
But isn’t that mainly a sports and wildlife camera?
Yes and Yes. It’s very clear the 7DM2 was aimed at sports and wildlife hence the mind-blowing FPS speed and 65-point AF system, but all of that can also be applied to the fast-paced world of wedding photography. Being a crop-sensor body, it’s had my back in a few churches where I needed that extra reach! Our company, Rad Red Creative, also does wedding cinema, so the Dual Pixel CMOS AF comes in super handy when we do glidecam shots. The camera is a dream, and once I saw Scott Kelby’s “Real World Field Report” on the Canon 7D Mark II, I was sold and bought it later that evening.
Okay back to my sob-story.
Honestly, the day we had gear stolen I wanted to give up. I wanted to hand over the rest of my gear to the first pawn shop I could find and just sip beer after beer underneath the nearest overpass while collecting cigarette butts. Yes alright fine, all of what I said reeks of melodrama. Still doesn’t change my view of how badly that whole situation still SUCKED (for lack of a better phrase). Not only did someone mess with our livelihood and it was infuriating; but let’s be honest, I too was a major contributor to my own folly. After all I was the numb-nuts who left $5,000+ worth of gear in the trunk of my car! I mean c’mon who else does that?!
Here are some lessons I’ve learned. Keep in mind some of these lessons/tips may be obvious to some readers but perhaps there are other readers out there (like myself) who may not be aware of what could happen and what precautions to take.
- DON’T EVER LEAVE ANY GEAR IN YOUR CAR!!!!
Duh! To be honest, I don’t ever leave gear in my car intentionally. The Sunday before our gear was stolen, we had two long shoots that day. When we got home, I grabbed my camera bag thinking all my gear was in the bag. Indeed it was not. Instead of checking to make sure, I just closed my trunk, carried my camera bag inside and got ready for bed. Big mistake. Always double check your car to make sure everything is inside your home, studio, office, hotel room – anywhere but the car.
- You Can Never Have Enough Insurance
If you rent an apartment or townhouse, have renters insurance. If you own a home, obviously have home-owners insurance. Renters insurance was able to give us $2,500 because the theft happened while our car was parked outside our townhouse. If you’re a professional photographer/cinematographer, have Liability and Business Insurance. Make sure your gear is covered under accidental damage, theft or any other catastrophe. I would name some companies but each state in the U.S. has different rules for these things. My sub-advice: Partner with a local lawyer or financial advisor on how to better protect yourself and your precious gear. My wife and I didn’t know that our current business insurance didn’t offer theft coverage in the state of Florida. I recommend getting Photocare for extra coverage (available by itself or through PPA).
- Be Discrete
If you live in a low-income area, don’t go walking around announcing that you’re a photographer unless you want to be mugged. I have friends with stories of coming home from a shoot and while lugging camera gear into their home, have been robbed at gun point. Buy bags that don’t look like camera bags, keep light-stands and tripods in some sort of casing. It may sound excessive but you never know who could be watching. Okay, that also sounds a bit paranoid but, just be wise and be discreet.
- Keep Cards And Cameras Completely Separated
Two camera bodies were stolen from me but I did NOT lose any images. Why? After a shoot I keep memory cards in a wallet, on my person, always. When I get home, I dump them on to a drive and then back that drive up, and back that drive up again. That’s data safety 101.
- Pay Attention To Your Gear
Treat it like a toddler, and by that I mean always know where your gear is; even if you have to have to bring an assistant or second shooter to help you keep track. I’m the top offender when it comes to this rule. When I’m on a shoot the only things I’m concentrating on is my light, my subject and where I put my camera. I switch lenses quick and fast and my wife says I’m notorious for leaving gear behind. Good thing she’s there to pick up my slack! At any rate, it’s something I need to work on and now I even limit how much gear I take on a shoot.
In this day and age, gear-theft/burglary is almost inevitable. I don’t like being a pessimist but it’s the world we live in. There are people out there, ready to make money any way they can even if it means putting your livelihood at risk. The important thing to remember is to stay protected by having insurance and definitely don’t give up on pursuing your dreams. Although I say I wanted to quit and give up (due to a momentary lapse of judgment), there was something that kept me fighting for our livelihood and that thing was: Passion.
I hope this could be of some help and support to those who may have experienced or are currently sharing my experience. Just know that if you persevere and stay focused on your passions, you can make it out of most situations.
Leo and his wife Brittany are full-time professional wedding photographers/cinematographers based out of Tampa, FL and travel worldwide. You can follow them on Instagram, Facebook, check out their short wedding films on Vimeo, and see more work at RadRedCreative.com