You cannot imagine it how many cases this can help you out of trouble if you have your name on your belongings. It is a crazy simple solution that can save you from great losses!
Watermarking is a divisive topic I’m not writing about it now. Labeling your equipment is much more important and practical advice for anyone!
There are advices (mostly hoaxes) circulating the web about ICE (short for In Case of Emergency) numbers. This post has only a very far connection to it, but what I offer you can help in such cases of emergency too. A contact printed on your phone (or any other equipment) is much more accessible to anyone than a ICE (or any other) number in your phone or a QR code sticker.
This is why I think it is important to post not only a QR code on your camera and equipment, but your name and contacts easily readable to anyone – you don’t have to list all of your contacts of course. But please include at least a name and a phone number. I have my name in my website URL, so I usually use VolgyiAttila.hu as the name and add my phone number to it. Some times just like in my watermarks I use one of my emails that also have my name in the domain name.
Crazy simple but it works
When we were todlers our moms used to stitch our names or at least initials into our scarfs and hats. This childish method still has the force of effect now as adults. Among many other things I also lost some scarfs, hats and gloves too during my professional photographer career. It is not a great loss, but clothes can also be expensive and you don’t necessarily have to say good by to them if you take this one step precaution that can save other more valuable belongings too.
Have your name on everything!
Experienced colleagues working around the world usually have a label on their gear with their name and contacts. It makes it much easier to find your own gear among a lot of similar black cameras. It is really important to have such identification at larger media events where 5-10 (or even more) photographers start to line up their gear.
Especially if they start trying each others’ gears.
With amateurs there is a lower risk of piling up large value gear to have a difficulty to find their own. But mixing up things cannot only happen with those making a living out of photography. The real problem is when you loose something or forget it somewhere unattended.
There are some people who use some nice colorful sticker to identify their stuff. These also can make mass produced gear individual. However it is much more practical to have your name and contacts on it not only a Spiderman or other sticker. This way the marking not only lets you to recognise your stuff. This way others can also understand who is the owner and how to reach you if you leave it or someone accidentally takes it. Or course it won’t help you if someone wants to steal it, but the unintentional losses are easier to avoid this way.
It happens more often than you would imagine
One would think we all take great care of our larger value belongings and “this cannot happen to me”. It is great until it’s true. But there is a saying “It only happens once that never happened before.” And you will regret not having a label because it costs (almost) nothing and how handy it could come now…
Many would return them
You wouldn’t guess how often such things happen. People loose amazing things on public transport, theatres, cinemas, on the streets and everywhere else with many people present. I not only wrote about such stories on my blog, but some times with the help of the community I also managed to help to find the owner of a lost gear or connect the owner and the helpful finder.
A few days ago I read on the web someone found a camera gear and wanted to return it to the owner, but he had no clue how to find the owner. There was no clue in the bag to reach the owner who seemed to be a tourist regarding the pictures on the card. Luckily both the finder and the owner went back to the location where the last picture was taken and the bag was left so they met and the bag returned. But how easier and faster it could’ve been if there was at least a business card in the bag. Or a label on the camera with a phone number.
It also happens with professionals
We find some stuff of lower or higher value at almost every bigger sports competitions, festivals, in the Parliament, but often at other press events too. Most of the time they are things the owner would miss and we have no idea who might miss it, so we have a hard time to give it back to him or her. Often it is only a lens cap, a tripod or monopod or a a foldable chair. However there are much more valuable lost items in such working scenarios. Just in recent weeks I remember more expensive camera batteries, PowerBanks, memory cards found. Last time in a media centre volunteers found two laptops noone knew who they belonged to. There was no name or contact on or around them, not even in the bag left next to them and everyone already left the site. How easier it would’ve been just to call the owner with a number written on the machine than call everyone the locals knew and ask around who might miss a laptop.
I’m not perfect myself either. I too managed to loose quite a few things ranging from lens caps, memory cards, mobile phones and even a camera or a laptop with it’s bag. Thankfully all the more valuable ones all got back to me. In these cases of mine never the contact sticker was the tool to help me get them back – despite some of them were labeled properly. But in all these cases it could’ve been a solution if no other method would help me.
Write contacts on everything!
I cannot emphasize it enough how useful it is to have your name and contacts at least on the key elements of your gear (camera, lenses, flashes, laptops, phones, tablets, 4G modems, hard drives, etc.). If you want to be really thorough then it is the best to have your contacts on every peace of gear you use. Not just the more expensive ones like batteries, card readers, camera stands, but to the cheapest ones that don’t cost a penny, like lens caps and cables. On one hand these aren’t so cheap some times as they seem. Especially when you regularly manage to you loose a bunch of them.
Even for finding replacement for the least expensive item of your gear takes valuable time and energy from you that could be spent much better than shopping. And even the smallest thing can cause a big headache if it is missing when you would need it the most. And Murphy’s laws say everything gets lost when they are needed the most and the least time you have to find it or get a new one.
How to label?
I have seen a bunch of methods used by people. Some use permanent markers or labels printed home on an ink jet printer but some use special water resistant stickers. I think it is worth to invest in a simpler label machine. Office depot and other shops have a great variety in price and feature range too (I found these on Amazonon). The you only have to buy tapes to use with them to print the labels. These tapes usually have black on white, white on black, clear or even colour variations as you see it on the picture. I even met with textile tapes to be used with clothes. Just like with regular printers usually most of these machines come with at least one or a set of tapes included in the package that can last at least for a few labels you might need. A bunch of companies make such label printers and all brands have various products to choose from based on sizes, features. The basic ones are mechanic and are embossing the letters into a plastic tape. These don’t give so stylish result. I would rather use them on a hammer, but I’ve seen such labels on some cameras too. On a memory card however they surely don’t fit the card slot – even the thinner labels can have trouble with the tighter card slots. The more advanced label printers can be controlled digitally, you can set the letter size, spacing, maybe even font types and formatting too. Maybe some of them can print even a logo or even a picture, but it might be a bit too much for this use.
It can be a more budget friendly solution to join others in buying a label printer. Or to find someone who already has one and get him to print your labels for a fee. I’m sure some small or large scale printing shops have solutions to print similar stickers for you on a budget.
The most imponrtant is to have your contacts on most of your gear!
Addition: I have no problem showing my phone number. Who seeks it is quite easy to find it anyway. I only pixelated my phone number on the images because I prefer using email rather talking on the phone – unless you found my lost belongings, then please call me right away!
Update: Originally I forgot to include the very important data protection aspect of this advice. Thankfully my readers reminded me to do it once I write often about such things as well. When someone labels it’s belongings with contacts, the founder is not entitled to share those contacts with anyone. It may only be used to reach out to the owner and return his belongings. If you post a photo of the found objects you have to blur the personal data. Especially in the case of found ID-s that have even more sensitive personal data on them.