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Saturday, 17 June 2023


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I do seem to have some of the skill of making my big camera not get noticed. I carried it around a lot in highschool, taking pictures in class and such, even, without other students or the teachers objecting. Served the yearbook very well, to be sure.

Earlier this month, a somewhat camera-shy friend was looking at a gallery I posted and said they hadn't noticed me taking 2 of the pictures of them, so I seem to still have some of it.

Neither case was at the "blatancy" level of, say, a Mamiya RB67, though, either. (Highschool was a Miranda Sensorex, sometimes with a 200mm f/3.5 telephoto, though, not small back then.)

Some photographers can make most any camera work a given situation- they’re that confident (and versatile).

As an introvert, I’m extremely shy, so when I see a situation, I ask myself- are you a photographer, or not?

I'll have to try the stand in one place thing with my GW690 for a while. My experience so far is that only other photographers pay attention to me (or rather, the camera) when I'm carrying it around.

I think a number of us could tell “big camera” stories”. One that comes to mind for me is walking around county fairgrounds up in Maine with a Nikon D2h. Several 4H kids approached me wanting to know if I could photograph them for the local paper.

Now older and less bold I tend to stay away from humans when walking with a camera. Few of them interest me anyway!

For reasons given by Mike, I have always shot with small cameras; sundry Olympus OMs and Leicas in the old days and now, in the digital age, sundry Sony A7s.

But what good is a small camera when the lens is big? My 90mm Leica Summicron APO ASPH had to go because it was so obtrusive. The Leica Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 served me much better. (And that wonderful retractable sunshade!).

When Sony came out with their small size f/2.5 40 and 50mm G lenses, both excellent fully open, the 40mm Batis (very nice rendering) had to go. As had the old Sony 55mm.

I love my 85 mm f/1.8 Batis, but it will be replaced the day Sony brings out a small 85 or 90mm f/2.5 or 2.8 or even 4.0 lens.

I spent three weeks one year walking around Italy with a Hasselblad camera and a 100mm lens. Shot hundreds and hundreds of frames of people. All people. Out in the streets, in parks, in cafes and museums. Nice, tight framing. Not a single person complained or seemed unsettled by my camera or my activity. I think people carry their paranoia with them and all the "tricks" for sneaking shots just reinforce their skewed beliefs that they are seen as suspect. As Buckeroo Banzai said, "Wherever you go, there you are." You bring the hesitancy with you and then you transmit the feeling that you "might" be doing something "wrong" to the strangers around you. I think the resistance many feel has nothing to do with camera size or visual appearance but everything to do with the vibe you put out there. Fix the vibe and you can photograph just about anywhere without disturbing the social landscape. Tricks unnecessary. Good attitude critical. A quick smile, and a comfortable understanding of what your goals are. Is it to "steal" and image or to make a new friend and collaborate on a nice photograph? Sometimes I walk with other photographers. The happier they are the more open the people around them are to being photographed. The ones who are furtive are never disappointed when their own paranoia is confirmed for them.

[Certainly confidence, attitude, and aptitude matter, a lot, as I expressed in several ways in this post. But the literature is full of accounts right from the very beginning of the various difficulties and adventures that photographers have had out shooting. There are videos(!) of Bruce Gilden and Garry Winogrand getting hassled. Even Elliott Erwitt, one of the greatest of candid life-on-the-fly photographers, has all sorts of tricks and subterfuges he uses, which he talks about in his writings and interviews. At beaches, he used to pose one of his children in front of him so he could shoot past them with a 200mm lens, enabling him to more freely shoot pictures of scantily-clad beachgoers. Robert Frank made several famous pictures of people reacting to him with anger or hostility. On and on the list goes. --Mike]

My current camera for candid photography is the Fujifilm X-E4 with the 27mm f2.8 pancake lens. It looks totally unprofessional.

When I'm out shooting I dress like a tourist. I'm ignored.

And like you mentioned I stand in one place and keep looking at my watch like I'm waiting for someone.

My last piece of stealth is being seventy-eight yers old. I mean who is going to threaten an old guy with a cheap looking camera dressed like a tourist and is standing in one place like he is waiting for someone.

Could it be it's frequently the person, and not the product?
I'm a 5'2" male, average looks, average body.
I lived in Asia for nearly 3 decades, in several countries, and traveled to many others. I always have a camera. For the first 20 years I shot film, hundreds of rolls over that time, and rarely encountered negativity. I used a Contax camera and Zeiss lenses... not real small. I also shot a lot of medium format, more hundreds of rolls, usually with folders, Zeiss Ikontas and an Agfa Super Isolette... highly noticeable, certainly not compact point & shoot!

I only recall a few times when people waved their hands at me demanding I put down my camera.
My camera bags are Domke, again not noticeable, and my dress is always bland, certainly never anything like a Hawai'ian shirt.

I was in India doing a workshop with a photojournalist, and one of the women complained about how people were always staring at her... a 6' Swedish blonde, extremely attractive, with excessive mammalian protuberances and tank tops. Who wouldn't at least take a glance! She had a hard time taking candid shots.

A friend, a guy, average looking, a skinny 6'4", remarked when we were out & about in China that people were always looking at him while they were ignoring me. And another friend who looks like an offensive lineman understood it as simply the 'intimidation factor' in noting that due to my size I was never intimidating, and therfor not intrusive.

Due to my shortness it's easy for me to be inconspicuous, and no one ever looks at me when I have something tiny in my hand, like my Ricoh GR.

One other thing I have realized is that Americans are more sensitive to having their photos taken than people in most other countries.

Two simple rules for me. (1) Always having my wife somewhere in the frame and keeping up a conversation with her while taking the picture. (2) Nobody else's children even in the vicinity, much less in the frame.

1. Women have it easier than men when taking pictures of strangers I think, though I have to be honest, I haven't asked them - not sure how they'd know in any case.
2. Some days I have confidence to photograph strangers, others not.
3. Getting older helps with being invisible; it doesn't help with carrying a ton of heavy gear around nor with the long days necessary to optimise chances.

I found the Fuji medium size cameras very helpful when asking people if I could take a photo of them for my photo essays.

Yes, I think most people still consider smartphones to be personal note-taking devices and they fly under the radar. It's not exactly a misconception: despite the astonishing capabilities of today's smartphone, I believe most "serious" photographers--when they're being "serious"--prefer a dedicated camera.

One "disguise" that I think worked for me when I lived in a big "destination" city was to dress like a tourist. Not too difficult, as there's considerable overlap between sensible traveling attire/gear and sensible street shooting attire/gear. The disguise is in the attitude--in short (and paradoxically (and also, often in shorts)), making no effort at all to be discrete or to "blend in".

Generally, the gawking tourist is seen as anything from welcome guest to transient annoyance to be tolerated, but rarely anything threatening. And thanks to that overlap in gear functionality, there's no reason to engage in any subterfuge when interacting with people.

(Thinking about this now, I wonder how many of the tourists I saw were other local photographers doing the same?)

One could argue, though, that in a sense we become tourists the instant we pick up a camera, even at home. Or that, for certain kinds of photography at least, that's probably the right mentality.

I’ve taken photos with a Leica Monochrom and a black 35 Summilux or before that an M4-2 black and black 50 Summicron at the annual scientific meeting of my professional society and at its social functions for nearly 30 years. It’s amazing how many colleagues are astonished to see themselves in these pictures, telling me they have no recollection of me taking the shot.

I'm a bit surprised the Ricoh GR series of camera hasn't had a mention here. It's basically built for discreet photography on the street (quite good for landscapes too though). You can even disable the "on" light on top so it draws less attention, plus there's snap focus. In my experience, looking in a different direction than where you're shooting makes people think you're not actually taking a picture at that moment; pretty easy with a wide lens.

I too am a bit shy when it comes to street photography. I am male and would not likely be welcomed at a children's playground. I photographed my 3 year old granddaughter recently at a playground and had to be careful not to point my camera at any of the other children. My wife has still not forgiven me for not taking people photos when we were in Africa years ago. As a white person, again, male, and clearly wealthy compared to my potential subjects, I felt it was not appropriate to document their poverty for my own "artistic" purposes. The relatively large Nikon F2 with decent size lenses did not help. I prefer subjects that are either willing, like my family, or that don't care like the rocks and trees I most often photograph.

Your statement from Helen Levitt also appears in this article…

Kim provides various sources for his quotations at the end of the article.

Why do some so-called photographer feel the need to photograph people who don't want their pictures taken?I have never understood this, all you are doing is angering me unnecessarily.

These days I work primarily with 4x5 and 6x6 film cameras, so my cameras are large and on top of a tripod when I shoot. Last week I was on Amelia Island camping. My campsite was adjacent to the walking pier. I got up early before other campers became active, placed my Linhof variable viewfinder in my pocket, and went for a stroll looking for a few landscape shots. Once I found them, I quickly returned to my van, placed my backpack with my 4x5 kit on my back, and grabbed my tripod. It took about 15 minutes to take four exposures in two locations. Once I got close to the end of the pier, a few people were waiting to greet me and told me where deer could be found on the beach. I thanked them graciously and told them I would need to grab a different camera for the deer. They were smiling and friendly, but I, too, am shy with people I do not know, and I continued walking to my van.

I wonder if when people are out shooting, do they know what they want to shoot and do it quickly? Or do they spend too much time looking through their cameras which may cause people close by to be on guard? I was probably one of the quickest shooters in the business. Get in and get out! If you do not know what you want to shoot and people are in the vicinity, it might be best to take a stroll to see what might catch your eye and come back later to take the shot.

I do not use a dark cloth. Instead, I use a focusing bellows. Having my head under the blanket in the landscape would be too scary. It is the two-legged critters that scare me the most. I do not think I have ever been called a surveyor, but it is understandable, especially if a wooden tripod is being used.

While in a recent HOA meeting, the board members were planning for the upcoming Fourth of July Parade. The female HOA president asked me if I would be in town for the parade, and I said I would be. She asked if I would take a few snapshots of the parade and kiddie activities for the newsletter. Before I could answer, the male HOA vice president blurted, "No, do not do that. We do not want our children's pictures taken." I commented, "It must be tough to raise kids these days."

As far as what was said about the female messenger biker: "... one of the other messengers said to me, sympathetically, "We're all aggressive. We have to be. But she's the most aggressive of us all!" She would have had to be, especially 20+ years ago. A woman working in a predominately male profession has to work harder than the best male in the crowd to get and keep the job. That's why some of the fellas call us aggressive, and some may be, but most are just trying to do their best and are more on alert than some of their male coworkers. No matter who says otherwise, men and women are not made of the same stuff (females are XX, and males are XY). Women want the opportunity to work in their chosen profession and to be paid equally. That's all it is.

Have a ready smile. Be grateful. And have a website that they could google immediately

Oh? Mike? The Online Photographer? Cool!

My favorite was always a Vigilant 616. Great format and fair enough camera once you became familiar with it in the OCOL way. Folks would look it and smile or laugh.

LOL. When I don't look through the viewfinder, I can never keep the camera level.

I have had both successes and failures with all of the techniques above. When I am out on the street with my camera, the thing that intrigues me most is that a particular group of people on a particular street and time will only come together once. Collectively, they are like a snowflake - unique in their juxtaposition, their ironies, their contrasts, their complements.

I once put a Pentax 67 on a tripod* at 86th & Lex, northeast corner facing east and made my exposures of pedestrians with a cable release. No one on the street paid me the slightest attention. It was glorious. Nice big 45mm lens -- a wide view on that camera.

I now live in a state that has fewer people in it than my old neighborhood. I really miss that wonderful, polyglot mix, that heterogeneous living proof that life with difference does not have to be red in tooth and claw, but can just be a collection of strangers, intent on their business, ignoring the guy with the overgrown Pentax. Big camera, small camera. It can all work, if you are bold and lucky.

* Turns out to use a tripod on the street in NYC you technically need a permit from the Mayor's Office of Film and Television. This is observed most often in the breach, I think, NYC being NYC. But it is nice to know the rules, particularly if you take it into your head to flout them.

in the 70s to 90s when I was traveling all over the world on business, I bought a Minox 35. It was so small, flat black and unobtrusive plus virtually silent (leaf shutter), I think few people thought of it as a camera. I also liked it because it was auto and could be given to anyone to take photos of me and others.

But my favorite story with it was during several trips to Japan in the late 70s. On one trip I brought one of my engineers with me, a giant guy from Barbados whose hobby was weightlifting. Everywhere we went in places like Tokyo, he created a sensation - probably the only 6.5+ foot tall (~2 m) black guy in the city. Me, I could just stand back and shoot all I wanted; nobody noticed me!

Second comment - I think everything changed after we got all paranoid about terrorists after 9/11.

I think attitudes are changing about photos taken with phones. They may not get attention like a "big" camera, but they are often used because the photos can be instantly shared with the whole world. Now, that's a real invasion of privacy.

It has very little to do with the camera. Practice until it’s instinctive (OCOLOY?), be quick, smile if you are noticed.

I used to use a Pentax 67 for street stuff. Nobody cared.

I now use one camera on my chest with a 35/1.8 and one on my shoulder with a 135mm. Not common now. Nobody notices or cares.

I like people, and I smile….

Buy a blue jacket, have SECURITY embroidered on the back. Photograph anyone you want and if questioned gruffly say ‘Move on Now’ Oh, be sure to use a big pro spec camera

Maybe too late for this - I wrote it on the plane home from photographing the US Open and there was no wifi!: I get the sense that my opinion on this is a minority one, but I don't agree! I think carrying and operating a different camera may make YOU feel different. It may make YOU feel less obtrusive and more invisible. And the fact that YOU feel that way gives off a certain disarming effect to those around you.

But I believe the camera doesn't really matter nearly as much as the general attitude and vibe that the photographer gives off. If you feel like you are "sneaking" pictures, you probably are giving off that vibe and I think people can read that - they can sense it.

When I'm photographing on the street, I don't feel like I'm stealing anything. I'm just trying to find nice images. If someone asks, I talk to them about it - show them.

And certainly there are methods and tricks that help you blend in and disappear in a scene. Like Mike mentioned, settling in to the same spot for a while is disarming. I find that photographing without looking directly through the viewfinder is also disarming - sort of in the waist level finder style.

But bottom line, I think that different cameras make you feel different and whatever works for you - works.

Even though I’m late to the party, I have to agree that attitude is everything. I used to do street photography with a Hasselblad and later with a Bronica 6x7. There is no way to sneak around when you need 2 minutes to make sure the focus is spot on. And another 2 to compose. I found people to be very patient with me once they agreed to be photographed.

John Camp. Could not agree more. Now the internet, devices and social media has taken the BS to the stratosphere.

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