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Tell me about your stealth street shooting technique
Old 09-20-2010   #1
Arjay
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Tell me about your stealth street shooting technique

I live in Munich, Germany, where the Oktoberfest (which is on right now) provides phantastic occasions for street shooting.

The problem: Its CROWDED and everybody is constantly in motion (possible even myself as the photographer).

Therefore, I am looking for tips and tricks on how to shoot candids, and I'd like to know how you do it.
  1. Do you shoot "from the hip" (even if you don't hold your camera at hip height)?
  2. How do you hold your camera (if you don't hold your camera at hip height)?
  3. How do you make sure you have a good camera-to-eye coordination if you're not using the viewfinder?
  4. What are your recommendation for a rule for the longest viable shutter speed (considering how you hold your camera)?
  5. What camera do you use (RF or SLR)?
  6. Do you have any specific tips for using SLRs - specifically how you're focusing?
  7. Zone focus or autofocus?
  8. If you're using autofocus: Do you use single or servo focus?
  9. What are your settings for AF focus point selection (single-point, multipoint, nearest posstible object etc.)?
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Old 09-20-2010   #2
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I just stand there and take photos, it's a festival they will expect a photographer
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Old 09-20-2010   #3
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1. Yes, if I'm stuck in a place and I REALLY don't want to get noticed.. on the street though I usually just shoot regularly even up close. People usually don't mind.
2. Neckstrap wrapped around my arm two times, I can just leave the camera hanging on my fingers without having to grip it, but when needed I have it in the right position almost instantly.
3. I don't, I don't really mind if my horizon is not straight or if the subject is slightly out of frame. You get better after a while with the guessing though, especially if you stick with 1 lens.
4. I move around a lot so I don't really want to go any slower than 1/125 or 1/250.
5. RF (M6/M8)
6. Center weight / center metering and MF if you can swing it
7. zone focus
8. single
9. single point (center weight)
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Old 09-20-2010   #4
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Hey, I'm in Munich myself! I've done some street in Munich, and generally had no problems. Oktoberfest seems like a great opportunity.

I preset exposure, light is usually quite predictable and stable when shooting at any given location. I preset focus to about 2-3m, depending on the lens I'm using (closer for 28mm, a bit further for the 35mm). I use my M6 or M4.

The most important tip, I think, is to not try to hide what you are doing. Do what you want to do, but do it openly. Frame through the viewfinder. You project your attitude and people will notice if you feel uncomfortable. If you feel what you are doing is voyeurism, your subjects will feel the same about it. If you feel comfortable, your subjects will feel that you're doing your thing and that it is natural. Good luck!
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Old 09-20-2010   #5
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Thank you folks for your quick answers!

To get this discussion going, and to also get offbeat answers, I want to tell you what I tried out yesterday:

I used my Nikon D300 in order to get fast "chimping" feedback, and here's what I tried:
  1. I shot without looking through the viewfinder.
  2. I held the camera in landscape orientation, with my right hand, and pressed the bottom left corner of the camera onto my chest, just below my chin. the camera looks left at 45 degrees to my chest.
  3. Holding the camera that close to my eyes, and using it at a FOV equivalent to 28mm and 35mm on a full frame 35mm camera, it seems fairly easy to estimate what the camera effectively is going to "see".
  4. From looking at my first pictures (which I am going to present later today), it seems I need to have a minimum shutter speed that is 3EV faster than what I would normally use for an equivalent 35mm camera FOV (example: 24mm on my D300 corresponds to 35mm for full frame, resulting speed is 3 EVs faster than 1/30s - > 1/250s). This takes into account that I myself might also be moving as I shoot.
  5. I used a DSLR for fast feedback. Once I have confirmed and refined my method, I'll also use it with my RF.
  6. That's where it is going to get really interesting - I think there's a way to even use AF in my DSLR, but I'm not yet done with testing.
  7. Zone focus, if my tests won't work out. Right now, I'm testing AF.
  8. Continuous AF. There's no focus confirmation on my D300 in Continuous, so I'll have to learn to trust the system...
  9. I am testing multipoint - my D300 seems to have a bias to focussing on the nearest available object, as long as that object is near the image center.
ndnik - your photo blog is awesome ...
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Last edited by Arjay : 09-20-2010 at 01:12.
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Old 09-20-2010   #6
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Whatever works for you, Arjay, but I think the three previous answers are spot on. Just exude an air of confidence, that you have a right to be there and do what you are doing, and people won't even think twice.

The beauty of that approach is that you will get the photos you want, rather than the pictures the camera happens to get. And you will have a better time as you will be able to project yourself more "in the moment" than by hoping the camera is pointed somewhere interesting.

I have not many memories of the 1980 Oktoberfest , but the few that remain are good!
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Old 09-20-2010   #7
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I use a Canon 25 on my Model P or L1 with a big/ bright VC accessory finder set at F5.6/ 12 or 250 speed (hyperfocal distance) and "shoot and scoot" (get away fast) from eye level. The locals here are pretty camera shy and if you stay around long, they're gonna get pissed off or they put up that silly "V" sign with their fingers. I usually shoot at about 1-2 meters distance.
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Old 09-20-2010   #8
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Most of times I pretend to be dorky tourist looking around for photo opportunities, raising and lowering camera so I can approach people with wide angle lens closely. When using AF camera, I aim camera at ground, lock focus and recompose on move. Being busy with camera and myself seems to be best stealth mode. I believe many employ this technique.
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Old 09-20-2010   #9
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I've never visited the Oktoberfest, but I like very much to shoot in crowded situations, like open markets or crowded streets.
Normally I shoot with 400 iso BW film (mainly Fomapan 400), 35mm lens, and at a distance of 2-3 meters.

I've tried the standard approach (I mean camera to eye) but without good results because people is aware of me (I'm not pretty stealthy: 190cm and 110kg), and this awareness changes their expression.
For this reason I prefer the belly approach. 400 iso film, f from 5.6 to 8, time at least 1/250 and fixed focus at 2.5 - 3 meters. The training of how to handle the camera took a while, but now the results are pretty consistens and satisfying (at least for me). With this approach I'm able to capture the real face and body expressions and the perspective is really amazing.
I shoot both with motor SLR (Eos 3) and with manual SLR (OM-2), the latter being stealthier (less noisier) but slower (manual winding).

Another solution that I'm now testing (and training myself) is the Oly XA "from the hip", but the results are not still good enough.
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Old 09-20-2010   #10
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Here's my answers, maybe they will be useful?
  1. Not much (except with the TLR!) as I find I end up with more duff photos that way and I don't overly like the perspective with 35mm, it looks a bit, well, bit too discrete and impersonal.
  2. If I am street shooting in my hand with the strap wrapped around my hand (in case someone decides to have a go of grabbing it out of my hand) - less distracting to people that way than when around you neck. When doing landscapes or walking, always around my neck
  3. n/a
  4. With a TLR I can get very good 1/15th sec shutter speed most of the time, with my M2 and OM2 I really try to stay at or above 1/60th with wide and standard lenses, 1/125th with 100mm lenses. I will use the M2 at slower speeds and try to brace the camera by pushing my elbows into my body so they a have some ballast if that makes sense.
  5. RF, SLR and TLR -- at the moment mostly SLR and TLR
  6. Well, I preset a DOF when street shooting, usually f/5.6+ on the TLR or with my OM Zuiko 100mm lens if I can, or with 50mm around f/2.8 or f/4. Then when focussing, well I work bloody quick and focus but with a decent amount of DOF I have a little margin of error.
  7. Well, I don't zone focus really, I actually work to focus the image manually, takes a fair bit of practice to get the results. Sometimes I'll set my 28mm to f/5.6 at infinity or 50mm to infinity at f/8 and shoot but I am never as happy with the results.
  8. n/a
  9. n/a
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Old 09-20-2010   #11
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  1. Do you shoot "from the hip" (even if you don't hold your camera at hip height)?
    Rarely
  2. How do you hold your camera (if you don't hold your camera at hip height)?
    Just like normal, with the strap wrapped around my arm
  3. How do you make sure you have a good camera-to-eye coordination if you're not using the viewfinder?
    If you mean "how do you aim properly without looking through the viewfinder?", I only use a 50 so it becomes pretty easy after a while
  4. What are your recommendation for a rule for the longest viable shutter speed (considering how you hold your camera)?
    1/100 for most shooting
  5. What camera do you use (RF or SLR)?
    RF — Zorki C & 4
  6. Do you have any specific tips for using SLRs - specifically how you're focusing?
    Don't use them for street anymore
  7. Zone focus or autofocus?
    Zone, it being my only choice
  8. If you're using autofocus: Do you use single or servo focus?
    N/A
  9. What are your settings for AF focus point selection (single-point, multipoint, nearest posstible object etc.)?
    N/A
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Old 09-20-2010   #12
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what works for one might not work for the other. street photography is not so much from the way you shoot it, but what you see and how you go about capturing it. so no one approach will work for every situation.

go out there and shoot, thats all i can suggest. learn from your mistakes, even if one of those mistakes gets you an angry approach or even a punch in the face..
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Old 09-20-2010   #13
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My stealth street shooting technique is to not attempt to be stealth, for there is nothing wrong with taking photos of people in public. People will react more openly and soon forget you if you dont try to sneak photos and be all "stealth".
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Old 09-20-2010   #14
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My best results have been with my Super Angulon (21mm). Camera around my neck/accross my body with my right hand holding the camera ready to bring up to my eye.

F3.4 and focus set to 2.5m means that everything from 2m to 5m is in focus. If closer I rock the focus to about 1.8m.

Accessory finder in the hot shoe and I use that to frame. Shutterspeed anywhere from 1/125th to 1/30th. I find this method to be very fast for me, I mostly shoot at night so maybe that helps people not notice as much.

I'm trying to shoot more with a 50mm at the moment but it's a lot harder (for me).
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Old 09-20-2010   #15
Arjay
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Here is one of my results from yesterday's shooting session on the Oktoberfest. The thing I like about this technique is that this way of holding the camera doesn't let people think I'm photographing. So, I can watch closely (even making eye contact) to get exactly what I need into the picture.

Here's an example:



More pictures from Sunday's session can be seen in my gallery.
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Old 09-20-2010   #16
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The key to achieving stealthness when street shooting is speed. This means you must know your camera/lens very well. Most people never even know they've been photographed when you're fast. The only way to be fast is to fully understand your camera and practice, practice, practice.

1. Do you shoot "from the hip" (even if you don't hold your camera at hip height)?

Rarely, my personal decision is photographs should be composed and cropped as little as possible.

2. How do you hold your camera (if you don't hold your camera at hip height)?


To my eye. When I use my Lumix G1 I occasionally use the rotating live view screen as a top view finder. But this is rare.

3. How do you make sure you have a good camera-to-eye coordination if you're not using the viewfinder?

I almost always use the view finder. Otherwise a wide-angle lens (at least 28 mm in 135 format terms) is useful if you can learn how to hold the camera level and parallel to the subject.

4. What are your recommendation for a rule for the longest viable shutter speed (considering how you hold your camera)?

This depends entirely on the lens, 1/focal length works is the standard advice. I use the shortest possible shutter speed.

5. What camera do you use (RF or SLR)?

RF (actually EVIL now) 90% of the time.

6. Do you have any specific tips for using SLRs - specifically how you're focusing?

SLR's are too difficult because of their size and loudness. I would zone focus using a lens with a focus scale. Or I would pre-focus. My D300/D700 has very fast AF and it can be set up to work very well.

7. Zone focus or autofocus?

Zone focus for me. But lots of practice learning SLR AF system would also work.

8. If you're using autofocus: Do you use single or servo focus?

I use single. I do not use the shutter release to set AF. AF is set with a button on the body and the I compose. Either lens focal length or aperture insures the DOF covers the subject(s).

9. What are your settings for AF focus point selection (single-point, multipoint, nearest posstible object etc.)?

I use single point as mentioned above Lots of practice with a competent multi-point system will work too. I have confidence in the D300/D700 multi-point AF. However, I still prefer focus and recompose. I want to decide when the shutter releases instead of the AF system.
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Old 09-20-2010   #17
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  1. Do you shoot "from the hip" (even if you don't hold your camera at hip height)?
    About half of the times, I shoot from the hip. I'm not all that good at it. and I only resort to shooting from the hip with a digital camera. spray and pray. with film, I "be a man about it" and put the camera to my eye.
  2. How do you hold your camera (if you don't hold your camera at hip height)?
    I hold it vertically, close to my chest. makes for a good place to shoot from there, or to raise it to the eye with little fuss.
  3. How do you make sure you have a good camera-to-eye coordination if you're not using the viewfinder?
    Practice, practice, practice. and shoot in volume because you are relying on luck.
  4. What are your recommendation for a rule for the longest viable shutter speed (considering how you hold your camera)?
    Grabbing shots, I want to be at least 1/250. Ideally, 1/1000
  5. What camera do you use (RF or SLR)?
    both, depends on what camera looks good to me for that day.
  6. Do you have any specific tips for using SLRs - specifically how you're focusing?
    99% of the time I use the "back button" for AF functionality. center spot, and focus and recompose. you can get pretty fast if you stick to it and learn it. I wish Canon would make a DSLR with the eye control focus! What I'm having fun with now is experimenting with the A-DEP mode at ISO400.
  7. Zone focus or autofocus?
    RF: zone 90%. SLR: AF all the way
  8. If you're using autofocus: Do you use single or servo focus?
    AI focus, a hybrid of the two methods.
  9. What are your settings for AF focus point selection (single-point, multipoint, nearest posstible object etc.)?
    Centerpoint, I can not trust automatic multi-point selection. What I would give to have eye control focus again!
oh, and here, a picture.

Workers by lightcapturestudio, on Flickr


shot from the hip, minimal cropping (for rotation) at the fullframe equiv of 50mm.

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Old 09-21-2010   #18
Nikkor AIS
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As of late, I refuse to be stealthy in any manner. I'm a photographer taking pictures of people and things on the street. Period. However, I will look past/beyond the person whom I just shot. Often they will look back as if saying, "What the hell is he looking at?" And when asked, "Did you just take my picture?" I'm even starting to walk towards them with a warm smile and say hello. Which is new for me.

It's a Leica thing . I'm serious, these magnificent cameras have redefined my mind set on the street. While I still have my Nikons, I really love the intimacy and rush I get when I shoot with the Leicas "up close and personal." I think it adds something to the photo that they are aware of my presence, if only for an instant.


























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Old 09-21-2010   #19
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Here is my ultimate stealth shooting technique.

You will need: A Leica, a Leica motor winder, some gaffer tape, a boomerang, a ninja costume, and some throwing knives, oh, and some film.

1. Buy a Leica motor winder, and some gaffer tape.

2. Attach your motor winder to the Leica.

3.Tape your Leica to the boomerang.

4. Don your ninja outfit.

5. Sprint around the place in your ninja outfit, finding potential victims.... er.... people.

6. When a suitable target is spotted, tape the shutter button of your Leica down, so it is continuously firing, thanks to the motor.

7. Throw your Leica/Boomerang at the mark, then catch it when it comes back, all the while doing flying ninja kicks in mid air.

8. You hopefully have some nice photos from the boomerang throw.

9. Sprint away, throwing your throwing knives behind you as to avoid being chased.

10. Wash, rinse, repeat.
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Old 09-21-2010   #20
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The most important thing is to know you're equipment so you're not fussing with it when you should be taking photos...

if using AF, then I focus where I anticipate the subject will be and lock it there... this is pretty much the same thing as zone focusing...

Really, just go out and shoot!

Oktoberfest & crowds... you won't be the only one with a camera so why not attach a flash to your D300 and fire away? May as well go all out and be a Bruce Gilden for a day.
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Old 09-22-2010   #21
israel_alanis
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Hi Arjay, I usually don't hide, the more normal side of the pass of people is easier for me to take pictures of them.

1 .- I shot even I don't hold camera at hip.
2 .- usually hold the camera with my right hand with finger ready, a pre-focus 3.4 meters with a range of 2-7 meters with f8, or pre focus of 2.5 meters and 1.6 -4.5 meters of range.
3 .- I'm not sure I have a good coordination with the camera, but I usually use a 40mm allowing me a good range of accuracy, when using 75mm I turn to see in a discreet and fast way the person I want to photograph, I locate where it is and after I look my camera trying to direct it to where I remember is my subject. Sometimes the pictures taken of 1 to 3 meters many times already as placing the camera. Some time if I detect good mood I shot in front just putting my camera in front of them.:s
4 .- I live in Mexico City, and here people do not walk slow, so usually use 100 or 250 speed, when slow places such as parks, trucks, shopping malls, etc, I can shoot up to 50 speed.
5 .- I use my beautiful Robot Royal and canonet. SLR D90,D300.
6 .- Many of the economic lens of the SLR's do not have specified in focus ring distances in meters or feet to make pre focus. in this case I have to trust the camera's autofocus is ideal, but in my experience even with a D90 to D300 autofocus sometimes fails for light conditions and you can lose a good photograph. If your lens is marked distances, the ideal is to make a pre-focus in combination with an f to have a good range of focus without problems.
7 .- Zone focus forever.
8 .- If you use Canon or Nikon will use long servo autofocus focus, is a good tool to follow your subject.
9 .- The truth I do not why, but I always use a single AF point.

Arjay Greetings.
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Old 09-22-2010   #22
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Just as a note, shooting from the hip has its merits besides being less conspicuous. I'm a pretty tall guy, so whenever I shoot regularly I have to think about lowering myself a bit, otherwise it may look a bit like a top down photo. Shooting from the hip can be a nice reminder for me to keep this in the back of my head and to see the benefit of changing your own perspective on things.

regular:


vs from the hip:
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Old 09-22-2010   #23
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Ditto. Big events & festivals, especially those involving drinking large quantities of alcohol, are some of the places where being super discreet/stealthy/sneaky is hardly necessary.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sparrow View Post
I just stand there and take photos, it's a festival they will expect a photographer
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Old 09-22-2010   #24
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Alpacaman, your message made me chuckle! Indeed, even if I take pictures stealthily, I maintain a smile on my face, because there's no guarantee that I will not be uncovered. Actually, yesterday this happened to me twice:

'Did you just shoot me?'
'Yeah , because you look great'
'Oh really? Well, then that's ok. have a nice evening!'
'And you too.'

Quote:
Originally Posted by jky View Post
Oktoberfest & crowds... you won't be the only one with a camera so why not attach a flash to your D300 and fire away? May as well go all out and be a Bruce Gilden for a day.
Hm. Last night I saw someone using his Leica R SLR with a flash Gilden-style. Actually, I found his way of shooting quite disruptive with the flash and all.

Israel, after doing a series of stealth pictures, the sun had set and there wasn't enough light to go on using my technique. Interestingly, the experience of shooting that way was so reassuring, that I continued into the night, taking my pictures the normal way, and I still had fun. However, I didn't dare to get as close as I did when I photographed stealthily (1 to 1.8 meters for stealth shooting).

Renzsu - I love your pictures, especially the second one. I often look into yourt Flicke because I can learn from the way you take your pictures.
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Old 09-22-2010   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jky View Post
[...] so why not attach a flash to your D300 and fire away? May as well go all out and be a Bruce Gilden for a day.
I got to try that sometime, the state fair is coming up.. hmmm.
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