3 Tips How NOT to Look Like a “Creep” when Shooting in the Streets

Don't look like this guy.

One of the questions that I often get from aspiring street photographers is, “How do I not look like a ‘creep’ when shooting in public?” I believe that this is one of the main factors which bars many photographers from getting their feet wet with street photography. In many societies, taking photos of strangers on the street is definitely not the “norm,” and can be interpreted as offensive to many. However although a photographer may feel like a “creep” when shooting in public, he most likely isn’t.

Street photographers try to capture the beauty in everyday-life, and attempt to journal their life through their lens. The term “creep” implies that the person is shooting strangers for some ill or mischievous reason.

In order not to look like a “creep” in the streets, you must first change your mindset that you are not a creep. In thinking that you are being “creepy” by shooting random strangers in the street, your body language will show it as well. Your movement in the streets will be erratic, your eyes will be shifty, and you will make other people feel uncomfortable. It is sort of like a self-fulfilling prophecy in this way, therefore it is important for you to shift your frame of mind.

If you constantly tell yourself, “I am a street photographer there to capture the beauty in the mundane and I mean nobody ill will,” thoughts of being a creeper will disappear over time. Granted that every street photographer will have a difficult time doing so, the more you do it, the less awkward it will be.

In order to help you get over that feeling of being a “creep in the streets,” I will give you three quick tips on how not to look like a creeper when shooting street photography.

1. The smaller camera/lens you use, the better.

An image of me being "spotted" on the Seoul Metro when shooting from the hip. I acted casually and pretended I didn't take her photo, which caused the woman to look away shortly after.

There is nothing that screams “creep!” more than a photographer who takes photos of strangers in public with a Canon 1Ds Mark IV with a 70-200 f/2.8L lens pointed straight at them. Not only are people intimidated by such “professional” looking photographers, but they tend to be fearful as well. If I was a parent and I saw a guy like that pointing his beast of a camera straight at my kids, I wouldn’t feel comfortable—would you?

Therefore the remedy to this problem is to use the smallest camera/lens possible. Personally I use a Canon 5D with a 24mm f/2.8 or 35mm f/2 with my logos taped up with black gaffers tape to not look conspicuous. Some may even argue that my kit is much too large (which I agree to an extent) and that either point and shoots, micro 4/3rds, or rangefinders are much better. In-fact, I have been thinking about “downgrading” my camera in getting a smaller and more discrete one, such as the Canon S95, or the Fujifilm FinePix x100 that is projected to come out sometime next year. Oh yeah, and I have been taking a bunch of photos with my old Film Contax IIIa rangefinder as well.

The smaller your camera, the less you will be seen, and the less intimidating you will appear. When I am walking around with my point and shoot in public, people simply assume that I am a tourist or a regular-joe, and don’t notice me at all. However even with my “stealth-mode” 5D, I still do get a good amount of attention from others. Oh yeah, and don’t forget trying shooting from the hip as well.

2. The closer you are (with a wide-angle lens), the better.

Note how shooting this close with a wide-angle lens makes you feel as a part of the scene. Not only that, but they didn't notice me at all. I couldn't have gotten the same effect with a zoom lens. Another shot from the hip.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but shooting close to your subjects is a much better way to appear to be less “creepy” than shooting from far away (with a zoom lens). The reason why shooting close is less intimidating is because when you have a wide-angle lens (preferably prime), you can get people in your shot without having the camera pointed directly at them. This means if I am shooting with my 24mm, I can literally take photos of people’s faces from around two feet away, while having my camera pointed at something else. This way, people will not notice me as much.

When you shoot with a telephoto lens from a far distance, there are greater chances that you will look like a “creep” by others. This is because if you get caught when shooting others from a distance and having a lens pointed right at them, it will feel uncomfortable for many. Although I do not completely discount the merits of shooting street photography with a zoom lens (Tom Kaszuba and Thomas Leuthard take amazing candid street portraits), you should try shooting with a wide-angle lens first. Once you become a seasoned street photographer will not be phased by the reaction of others, then perhaps you should start experimenting with a zoom lens.

3. The more casual you look, the better.

When in London, I saw this guy smoking a cigarette in front of this store. I casually walked up, crouched, and took a shot. The guy didn't notice me, or merely disregarded me.

Ditch the huge camera backpack and opt in for a low-key messenger bag.

Oh yeah, and you most likely won’t want to walk around with a bright-orange jacket either. When you are in the streets, imagine you are in the jungle. You want to camouflage with your environment—so dress accordingly. Try your best to dress like how “everyone else is dressed.” For example if I am taking photos in Hollywood at night, I would don my leather jacket and skinny jeans to fit in with the crowd, instead of opting for shorts and a photographer-vest.

Be cognizant of your surroundings, and blend in. Be a chameleon  of the streets, and get shooting.


Gaffers tape:

I have had some questions regarding how to properly “tape up your logos.” Simply I use black gaffers tape, cut out a piece I need with a pair of scissors, and cover up any logos. Currently I have my “Canon” logo on top of my 5D covered, as well as the silver “5D” logo on the side. I even have some friends who tape up the logos on their lenses, but I feel that is a bit over-kill.

As you can see in my portrait with my camera, it has the Canon and 5D Logo Taped up with Black Gaffers tape.

You can pick up some gaffers tape here on Amazon. It is a bit expensive for a roll of “tape”, but I have noticed that I can use gaffers tape on practically anything. Imagine a more useful duct tape (without the sticky residue).

Messenger Bag:

My favorite bag when on the streets

I really like the Timbuk 2 Commute 2.0 bag, as it is casual yet carries all of my stuff really well. I got mine in potrero (an olive-color) which looks a lot more casual than a black one (looks like a laptop bag). It is a bit pricy, but it is a great investment, as it has a life-long warrantee. I was a bit hesitant to get it at first, but after getting it, I don’t regret it at all. Oh yeah and make sure you get this grippy shoulderpad with it if you decide to get it. It is a bit frustrating that it costs extra to get something that should have came with it, but it is a great add-on. Imho the bag is useless without it. (edit: my bag is a “Medium”, which is the perfect size)

If you want to spend less money, you can always get this one that has great reviews on Amazon (and is white cheap).

So my last question for you guys is how do you NOT look like a “creep” when shooting in public? I would love to hear all of your responses :)