How To Be a Stealth Street Photographer
Invisible. Stealthy. Unobtrusive. That is the goal for all of us taking candid street photography. So how does one do that well?
You can sign up to be a nanny in an urban city.
That worked for Vivian Maier, but maybe it is not the answer for most street photographers.
Choose clothing that makes you less visible. Or more.
The traditional advice is to wear neutral clothing. Yet, Patrick Brown, an award winning photojournalist, recommends dressing like a tourist. He often takes pictures of people who really do not want their pictures taken. The last thing he does not want to look like is a professional photographer. So in clothing, I guess, it is your choice.
Perhaps there is one choice that matters and that is whether your camera strap brands your camera with a logo. That prominent Nikon or Canon or Olympus logo does nothing but bring unwarranted attention. Have I changed mine? Nope. But now is the time.
Don’t be sneaky.
The goal is to blend in. Make sure you have your body language in check. What does that mean? Well, I am not entirely sure, but I often feel guilty when I am out taking street photography. People are very good at reading body language. I wonder if I stick out like a sore thumb sometimes.
Choose your type of street photography.
Some types of street photography are less intrusive than other types. If you did not read the blogs on Reflections and Geometric Street Photography you might go back and take a look at them. The pictures, which are gorgeous, will make it clear how you can shoot without making people uncomfortable.
My Instagram and real life friend, Alan Hernandez, is not a street photographer. In his conversation with me after he posted this picture taken in Krakow he said, “It [street photography] will always make me uncomfy. But in this I saw the reflection, and then the church, then thought “this could be a good scene”. They walked up as if to help. Not sure if it counts as street photography but it does for me.” It does for me, also, Alan. You can see Alan’s Instagram gallery at @alan17h.
Aside from the ease of taking a stealth reflection picture, the results can be riveting, as in this example by Eric Pouchinov. You can see his gallery on Instagram at @pouchinov.
Choose your camera and the settings in the camera.
Smaller is generally better when choosing camera size. I shoot with a smallish Olympus that has a live, tilt viewing screen. I do not have to bring my camera to my eye to take a picture, with the added bonus of being able to choose the focal point by where I touch the screen to take the picture. This works perfectly until the sun is too bright for me to see the screen. I am working on a plan “B” for those times. If you only have a large camera and want to try traditional, up-close street photography, haul out your mobile phone. It is small and always with you. As far as settings, there is one essential setting, and that is “silent shutter mode”.
Choose how you carry your camera.
If you want to get serious about taking close-up street photography, consider Paul Brake’s advice below. This is my Plan B. I am putting myself back In Boot Camp to learn to do this, starting with my iPhone.
Paul observed in a comment to a question posted on the Facebook group, Urban Street Photography, “Personally I find 35mm [lens] as a perfect choice but that may be too close for some people. As touched upon, any 85mm [lens] is great for distance taking full and half body shots. The main thing is to keep your lens as affordably fast as possible to keep your speed high (I never go below 1/500th), and so you can shoot in low light without excessive ISO levels--although you should not be afraid of grain in your shots as it often adds character to the image. One of the best ways of remaining discreet and getting close to the subject is to learn a focus range of a lens (say everything is focused between 3 to 5 feet from the focal point) switch off auto-focus and/or to eliminate the need to manually focus. And practice "shooting from the hip" as opposed to putting the camera to your eye.”
Paul’s photo below uses the hip shot shooting angle. Paul gave this description of taking the picture, “That shot was taken in Midtown Manhattan during a blizzard. Another hip shot from a low angle as my camera was inside a plastic bag with just the end of the lens sticking out. Wet, cold, and miserable, but with the lights, gave up some amazing photo opportunities as the sun set.”
Paul is a professional photographer in NYC. You can read about him in this article posted by Lens Culture. He has more than 23,000 followers on his Instagram account @paul_brake which is certainly a testament to his ability to produce images that lots of people find compelling. You can also see his work on Facebook at Street Photography NYC .
In spite of our best efforts, sometimes we get noticed when we are out taking street photography. I want to write a blog with some vignettes of things that have happened to street photographers. Please leave me a message here or on social media or at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a little story to tell. Thanks!