How to Take Pictures of People Without Them Noticing (Not Creeping!)

Every so often you encounter a baby that doesn’t like a camera pointed at his/her face. We “met” three years ago at a pancake breakfast social near the Fountain Valley firehouse. At that time, I was new at candid photography and I decided to get some practice at it. I don’t think I did a good job looking back, because I came back with lots of posed pictures and awkward pictures of wide-eyed people noticing the camera, including this youngster here. If I was going to shoot for a magazine or a newspaper, I needed to be much more discreet while I’m capturing someone’s moment.

70% of all the photos I’ve taken were probably candid, as in the subject was acting naturally as I was taking the photo. Some of the best moments occur when the person being photographed doesn’t know that he/she is being photographed. Photographers, especially photojournalists and wedding photographers, live for these moments. It reminds them that life is spontaneous and nothing is all planned out. No matter how fast cameras become, a photographer always has to be on his/her toes to get that once in a life-time shot. Sometimes, these moments can be completely ruined because the subject(s) notice someone taking a picture of them, which makes them stop what they’re doing.

Sadly, we don’t live in a world where everyone is comfortable with having their picture taken, and making invisible cameras is out of the question as well. You can blame stalkers, peeping toms, perverts, tourists, and shutter-happy dads for giving street photography a bad rap. That leaves the rest of us to try and sneak photos of people as life passes by them for innocent purposes.

I hope this post also makes clear the distinction between candid photography and creeping. Even if you notice a photographer trying to take a photo of you, you should be able to tell whether or not they are trying to capture your moment for the sake of memory-keeping or for perverse reasons. For example, a professional will show you the picture and explain himself in an airy way while a creeper might just walk away really fast. It’s important, for everyone’s mutual benefit, to be able to tell between the good and the bad.

Assuming you know the basics of photography, here’s how:

Imagine you are at a nice family BBQ trying to photograph your uncle eating a sloppy rack of ribs. All of the barbecue sauce smothers his lips and cheeks, and his face is just too funny to not photograph. Here’s what you do:

1. Point your camera somewhere else. You want to make it seem that you aren’t taking a photo of him, but rather a photo of something happening to the side of him. Move on to step two once he is convinced.

2. Slowly point the camera directly at him and click! Only one click (unless you can afford to blow your cover right then and there)!

3. Look past your subject once you put the camera down. Continue with the charade of you photographing something happening behind him.

4. If this isn’t someone you are familiar with, ask their permission for you to use the photo. Time to come clean. You will probably need to identify the person you just photographed for a newspaper or magazine, so you have to make sure he/she approves of the photo as well. If you think the photo looks good/funny, chances are they will too. You must respect their wishes, however.

5. Rinse, and repeat! You probably have an aunt that is heartily touching glasses with other relatives or a step-brother who is carrying his little sister on his shoulders in the pool as well. You will be sorry later if you don’t catch them in the action.

Now get out there and freeze frame some memories! To be able to take candid pictures is to unlock a new, advanced, and more meaningful level of photography. All you need is patience and practice.


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