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Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

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Frankfurt, Germany
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Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

This is something I wish I knew a week ago. While walking with friends on the sidewalk near the Church of the Spilled Blood, an aggressive hawker appeared with a handful of photos offering them for sale. We waved him off and walked quicker. He vigorously persisted, targeting my wife and I. She pushed ahead and we accelerated to the point where we were almost running to get away. He stayed with me for a few steps and then grabbed me around shoulders, momentarily immobilizing me, and said, "My friend! Look at my photos!". I spun out of his grip and he threw his hands in the air and immediately turned away. I took one step and could tell that my camera bag with empty. It had been zipped and buckled with the zippers tucked away and was now totally open and empty, my expensive camera and lens gone. All of this took place in about 5 seconds.

After returning home, a friend put me onto a video he had seen on a popular photography blog last week that was about, you guessed it, a group of organized thieves stealing an expensive telephoto lens right off someones camera in a similar fasion to what happened to me. As a matter of fact, I'm sure one of the men in the video was the lead guy of the group that attacked me. Since then, I've learned of at least two similar attacks which occured last week.

A Russian acquaintance told me that these groups are well-organized and often connected to organized crime and sometimes even powerful local figures which make the police hesitant to do anything.

I've traveled the world, take care in and notice my surroundings and I've been in some dodgy places but I had never seen anything like that. And now, having watched the video of how they operate, I can see that once one is tageted there is really no escape so the only answer is not to be targeted and that means leaving the DSLR at home and taking the point and shoot instead. You may not get to sell the images to Getty but you will be more likely to return home with your gear.

Bethesda MD
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1. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

Sorry to hear, glad you're safe. If you have any additional location details (on your incident or the others about which you've heard) could you please share them?

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530 posts
13 reviews
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2. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

sorry to hear about your bad experience

i am going to visit St Pb next month and i am really fond of taking pictures during my trip

in fact photography count up to at least half and not less of enjoyment of my holiday

i want to know how you carried your camera at the time of the incidence for my reference for precaution

did you put your camera inside your bag zipped and buckled and carried the bag slinged over the opposite shoulder?

leaving the DSLR at home spoil the trip as well.

where can i find the video you mentioned?

thanks for your advice

Canberra, Australia
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321 posts
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3. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

I found it.


San Francisco...
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217 posts
394 reviews
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4. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

Hire a security guard!

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530 posts
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5. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

thanks for your help

San Francisco
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2 reviews
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6. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

Basically the same thing happened to me at the very same place on July 22nd. A guy approached me waving some brochures shouting about some store and pushing them in my face. I turned away and started walking quickly while my wife pulled even further. After a few seconds I felt him pushing something like a baseball cap on my head while still shouting about the store. And then suddenly the commotion was over and the guy disappeared. I stopped walking relieved it was over, looking for my wife when I suddenly felt lighter. Pulling my DSLR up I saw that my pretty expensive Nikkor 24-70 2.8 lens was GONE. Puzzled I started looking around when some Russian guy caught my stare and started screaming in Russian something like "Gypsies! Gypsies! They ran that way!" I stumbled in the direction he was pointing back to the basilica but of course there were no traces of the incident. I couldn't even remember the face of the guy who attacked me. Tried talking to a few traffic cops nearby but they were too busy or didn't speak any English so there was no point. Good thing I got to keep my D800. I was carrying it on my hip using the BackRapid sling but usually had my right resting on the lens hood.

So traveller beware! It's not only DSLR targeting gangs. My wife and I spent 4 days in the city and after my camera was gone we thought we weren't really standing out of the crowd. No backpacks, cameras, sport shoes or any other signature signs of a clueless tourist. I was usually wearing dark jeans, black shoes, dark shirt, a jacket and a simple black messenger bag. So imagine this: we rode Metro four times and I got targeted by pickpockets twice...

First time we were entering the train at Nevsky. A guy ascended with me looking me straight in the eye. I was a little bit fazed by that and after a moment I looked down and saw his hand right on my breast reaching down towards the thin wallet in my jacket. When I looked up, he grinned and slipped off the train.

Next time it was at Vosstania where we were changing trains. Again, when boarding I noticed my bag becoming slightly lighter. Quickly turning around I see a dark skinned man holding it and then quickly throwing his hands in the air, laughing heartily as in "what a charming misunderstanding, my friend!" Although I was so pissed off by the previous two incidents that I was constantly on alert and determined to kick a** whenever it happens again, this once more threw me off balance ("Was it really what I thought it was?" "He seems so innocent" etc) and he was off the train and far away before I figured things out. I felt like a complete idiot again.

When we shared our stories with our hotel staff they told us about several others happening to their guests like some Swedes getting circled with Roma women and somehow getting their credit cards stolen with thousands of euros drawn in a matter of minutes. These gangs are really amazingly organized.

St Petersburg is a lovely town, friendly people, amazing culture, beautiful architecture but please be careful. Don't carry anything worth more than 100 EUR, avoid crowded places and metro and stay safe.

St. Petersburg...
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5 posts
8 reviews
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7. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

just do not let people get too close to you and keep under control the situation around you all the time. If you see the man going in your direction put your hand on the bag and keep moving bypass the man.

Very sorry for that happens((

New York
Destination Expert
for Moscow
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8. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

Oh boy what a place. In a place like that I carry a little cash spread over several different pockets and an atm card which is useless w\o a pin code.

PS: how abt chaining the camera to your person or the backpack? Even a laptop type security cable should work unless these guys carry wire cutters which I don't expect they do.

Sydney, Australia
Destination Expert
for Sydney, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Islands
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9. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

The thing that worries me is the taking of the lens, but that is preferable to the camera, at leats you keep the memory card.

We had GD carry the camera, no camera case, and nothing else. GS had his ID and a few rubles in his pocket and kept his hand firmly entrneched in areas we knew were ??

I had the card and it was in a small sachet which was tied shut with a ribbon then pinned to my bra.

We saw one pikpocket attempting to "work" Catherine's Garden's. We were waiitng for someone, we watched him quite closely and he became aware we knew what he was up to. He had returned when we were leaving.

A tip I was given years ago is dont lift your arms to bat them away, keep your arms close and stride purposefully towards a buidling entrance or exit especially if there is someone on the door, even if you have no ticket, usually the "ticket officers" are aware of who works the area..

St. Petersburg...
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2,216 posts
18 reviews
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10. Re: Do Not Carry a DSLR in St. Petersburg!

very sorry to hear about your bad experience in SPb.

>> No backpacks, cameras, sport shoes or any other signature signs of a clueless tourist.

it's usually a facial expression what gives out a tourist, especially an American tourist...