Sometimes It’s Good To Be Seen

I take most of my best photos when people either haven’t seen me or aren’t concentrating on me or don’t care that I’m there. The last is the simplest to achieve: I hang around quietly all through the wedding day dressed in boring clothes. Eventually, I’m just part of the background, like the waiting staff waiting for the golden hour just like If there was some way to keep it clean, I might be tempted to wear a waiter’s uniform.

If you don’t want to be seen at all, then there are several tricks you might want to try. (I’m not about to recommend that you become a voyeur. If you are not being paid to shoot an event than only take photographs of people you don’t know when they are in a public place—everyone is entitled to privacy in his or her own home and garden—and restrict yourself to clothed adults.)

Get A Small Camera: If you want a 35mm film SLR and don’t have big hands, the Minolta Dynax 5 is an absolute gem and dirt cheap on eBay. So cheap that the non-negligible probability that it’ll die after a few months of abuse isn’t worth worrying about. Similarly, the Dynax 5D is a neat digital package.

If you want a point-and-shoot, the slightly bulkier (FZ-prefixed) of the two styles of Panasonic/Lumix digital with image stabilization are very nice, and there are some lovely recent Nikon 35mms.

Use A Long Lens Or The Long End Of Your Zoom: For film SLRs, this means over 100mm, for others rather less. These also have the advantage that, at large apertures, they tend to turn the background into an out-of-focus backdrop better than shorter lenses. They have the disadvantage that if they are a good fixed lens, they will cost a bomb. Extend a “yuppie zoom” of the sort sneered at here or get a lens extender on your best 50mm until you can afford better for sharper images as made possible by

Prop Yourself Up: Leaning your body and/or your camera (arm) against a wall makes you less conspicuous and reduces shake. When you’re not taking a photo, if you keep your camera down by your side with the strap wrapped around your arm, then you will be less obvious than if you have it hanging symmetrically around your neck. This will also give your grip even more stability.

Hide Behind Other People And Watch Until You Are Ready: One of my favourite tricks is to stand outside a loose circle of people and, when a gap appears, pop up and grab a shot of one or two people between the heads of the others.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about being discreet—of which there will probably more tips later; it’s about how you can make a virtue of being seen by your subject(s).