HandMade Photographic Images

On The Street - Becoming Invisible

George L Smyth

EquipmentStreet photography, or taking candid pictures of people, involves the skill of disappearing into the scene. When you are visible to others they may react to you before you have an opportunity to record the scene. When this happens the scene is no longer what you envisioned, but partially the result of your presence as a photographer.

The first part of becoming invisible is obvious, do not draw attention to yourself. Dull clothing allows one to meld into the background and avoid becoming an object of focus. As noted in a previous section, the use of a small camera allows one to retain the demeanor of lack of interest. When one sees a photographer with a small camera, the impression is that the person is just another tourist, and can be disregarded.

The more people in the area, the less visible you will be. Crowds of people not only offer more possibilities to photograph, but also add a level of anonymity. When few people are around, each person becomes more important, when many people are around, their focus has many possibilities, so getting lost within a crowd is easy.

The movement of the camera is revealing, so the less the better. Hold the camera close to the head so that it can be swiftly lifted into position with as little movement as possible. Take the picture quickly then move on. Any video of Gary Winogrand in action shows exactly how this should be done.

A simple means of remaining invisible is to pretend to be photographing something else. If a scene can be anticipated then take a series of pictures that happen to include the one of interest. This is easily done by starting outside the scene, moving the camera while pressing the shutter release, and somewhere along the line happening to include the scene of interest.

Shooting with the sun at your back when it is low on the horizon will not only offer the possibility of interesting shadows, but with the sun in the eyes of the subject and your camera in the shadow of your body, your actions become more difficult to discern.

Finally, shooting from the hip is always a possibility, and one that I employ on a regular basis. This is where one's knowledge of their camera becomes even more important, and tilts the advantage to those using a single focus lens with knowledge of that lens. Shooting from the hip can also offer a more interesting angle. We do not see with our eyes from our hips, so this different perspective will depart from the normal fare.

Blending into the surroundings can not only give confidence, but also removes one from influencing the scene that they are trying to record without interference. Learning to become invisible is a valuable tool in the arsenal of the person who wishes to photograph on the streets.