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A photo inventory (03/14/2004)
By Tom Hirsch

We insure our lives, our cars and our homes in case of unforeseen events. When we buy insurance on these things, we must prove that we are alive, or that we own a car or a house. But when we insure our household goods, we only need to prove that we owned them after they are lost, stolen, or burned. We will be asked to supply a detailed, written description of all items that are gone. It's not easy to remember everything that was lost, but a camera can help us inventory every item of value in the home. This can provide us with instant, total recall.

Any camera can be used for inventory purposes, but there are advantages to using one with a zoom lens so that you can zero in on an individual item without including too many other things in the picture. Also, you can use any film, or ISO setting with a digital camera, but I would recommend a good ISO 400 print film, or an ISO setting of 400 when shooting digital.

If you own a house, begin the inventory by photographing the exterior (in case of fire, not theft). Using the camera's wide-angle lens, take a shot of each side of the house, but be sure that you move back far enough to include some of the surrounding landscape for identification purposes.

Next, go to the garage and/or storage shed and photograph each wall or area that has items of value such as garden or lawn tools, bikes, lawn mower, etc.

Inside the house, use the following method in each room: Close all curtains and drapes in order to avoid window reflections, then take a series of wide-angle shots from various locations so you get a 360 degree panorama which includes everything in the room. Avoid flash reflections by shooting all shiny objects at a slight angle.

After you have finished the series of establishing shots, look for cabinets and closets where items might not have been visible. These should be photographed with doors opened to reveal their contents. If a closet is full, you might want to take two shots of the closet with half the contents in each shot. Don't forget to include shoe racks in bedrooms.

The kitchen will probably require the most photos. First, take a series of shots with all cabinet doors closed, then move in and, using the telephoto lens, take a shot of each cabinet with doors open to reveal the contents.

For everyday silverware, lay all the pieces out on a table and photograph them as a group. No need to arrange them in any attractive pattern, just make sure that each piece is visible. Cooking utensils and similar items can be handled the same way.

You can group valuable china, silverware, artwork, jewelry, etc., in a similar manner, but don't rely on photographs alone for insurance purposes. Have these things professionally appraised. Photos can help in identifying such items as having been in your possession, but pictures will not be of value when it comes to determining the value of the objects.

Small collectibles, such as statuettes, can be photographed with a member of your family holding one or two of these items close to their face. This will prove that these objects belonged to you in case of theft. Move in close or zoom in so the objects will be of maximum size. It wouldn't hurt to also photograph the objects de art individually, as close as possible, in order to show them with the greatest amount of detail.

When you finish the project and are submitting the film or memory card for processing, ask for double prints (some photo dealers have two-for-one days). Put one set of prints in a convenient drawer and the other set in a safe place such as a bank deposit box or the freezing compartment of your refrigerator (really!). Be sure to update the inventory as needed. 


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