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Lomo Espionage & Photo Taking Etiquette

How this mild mannered, middle-aged woman, strikes fear into the hearts of good people everywhere by wielding a lomo camera.

You know how it is. You’ve got a new camera and you’re anxious to try it out. You want to photograph a variety of objects and scenes; inside and outdoors, nature and portraits, color and black and white, at different times of day…

My new Lubitel 166+ arrived. Being an inexperienced photographer, and afraid I might damage it, I did nothing the first day but admire the camera and read the manual – and try to convince myself to trust the leather strap (if you’re not supposed to use those metal wire clips, why do they send them?).

2nd Day: I loaded the film, put the camera in the soft, padded lunch box that I use for a camera case, and set out to take my first photo during my lunchtime walk. It was a work day. I was a little forlorn to be in the industrial part of town; but desperate to take a photo. The sky was gray and cloud-filled. Not 100 yards from the office door, I spotted the skeleton of a tree against this sky and decided to go for it. My intention was to take all the time in the world (within the half hour allotted for lunch) to focus; to spend enough time thinking about aperture and shutter speed, and dialing in those focus rings, so that I would feel super confident about the shot.

Okay well, for those of you who don’t know, getting a shot of a distant tree top with a twin lens reflex is a bit of a challenge. I stood across the street from the tree. I had to lift the camera over my head, and hold it upside down. Focusing seemed pretty much out of the question, but I made an attempt. It took several awkward minutes, and in the end I just clicked the shutter and hoped for the best like I always do. At that time, a women came up from the parking lot behind me and said, “Hi.”

“Hi.” I answered, assuming she was escaping her office for a walk too.
“Hey”, she said. “What are you doing?”
I was smiling, and told her that having a camera with me made my walk more exciting.
“Do you work around here?” she asked.
“Right there”, I pointed.
“You take pictures of buildings?”
“No. I was taking a photo of that tree.” I’m expecting any minute now she’ll ask to take a closer look at my odd camera (the manual said this would happen). It occurs to me to ask to take her portrait; but she is neither pretty nor ugly.

As she walks back to her building it dawns on me slowly… She wasn’t being friendly. She was suspicious! My goodness, I had not realized the depth of corporate intrigue lurking in Sparks, Nevada.

I move on to photograph a railway sign. I make a hasty shot; too aware of the drivers passing by. They are watching me. As if I am a criminal.

It reminded me of a few weeks before…I was taking my first night shots with the Horizon, standing at the base of someone’s long driveway. I was attempting to photograph a bright display of X-mas lights with no flash and no tripod. At the same moment that I was leaving, a young man opened the front door of the house and stood in the entry watching me – with what must have been suspicion too. I became aware that with it’s hulking black plastic body and protruding handle, the Horizon could look like a new-age gun. From a distance, it could.

I should have explained myself, “Hi. I was just taking a photo of your lovely Christmas lights with my new camera. I hope you don’t mind.” It would have been the polite and right thing to do. But I walked quickly to my car and could still feel his eyes on me as I drove away. Do you think he lost sleep that night and bought an alarm system for his home, expecting I was scoping out the house to burglarize it later?

In your day-to-day photo-taking adventures, does this sort of thing ever happen to you? Is it the camera, or my gray hair or bulky coat that are threatening? Are we expected to knock on doors, disturb people’s dinners, and ask permission to photograph Christmas mas lights? If there is an established code of “photo-taking etiquette” – please direct me to it. While we’re at it – any tips for discreet focusing?

I know I don’t need to ask permission to photograph a tree in an industrial part of town; but now, I can’t help wondering about the woman who addressed me… What is she hiding?

written by vici

24 comments

  1. annegreat

    annegreat

    When I took a photo of a display in the shop window of a bakery, the sales woman came quickly outside and accused me for industrial spying. But that has been the only time this has happened to me so far. Luckily ...

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  2. ipdegirl

    ipdegirl

    You'd think in this day and age, what with cameras being so prevalent, that people would be a little more comfortable around them. If I was trying to do something nefarious do you think I'd do it in broad daylight with a goofy looking camera? I was accused of being an accomplice to crime a few months ago. Here's a link to my essay...http://lofiphotog.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/need-to-be-redeemed/

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  3. photogt

    Don't worry about it, I've been accused of killing Princess Diana!!!
    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  4. woosang

    woosang

    People should relax. At the end of the day let them call the police, you are doing nothing wrong. I wish the general public would understand, worry about the guy hiding with his mobile phone & not the lady with her big camera and red coat.. Stupidity breeds suspicion

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  5. vici

    vici

    a bakery! wow.
    All of you are right - if someone was up to espionage, they'd use a more discreet camera.

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  6. thankyoufaa

    thankyoufaa

    Thanks for this article! It made me laugh because I often feel so inconspicuous when I'm out and about taking photos too. I think a lot of people don't really get why we'd be taking a photo of something "silly" like a normal boring tree that just sits there outside their building every day. What's so interesting about that? But photographers, and perhaps especially lomographers, know that an average object can make a beautiful and intriguing photograph if we just take the time to look with an artistic eye and snap away.

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  7. thankyoufaa

    thankyoufaa

    And just because I can't believe I made the mistake, I meant *conspicuous, rather than inconspicuous. Oh my. Neither of them look like a real word anymore.

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  8. ingwaybee

    ingwaybee

    Great article, I know exactly what you mean. I usually take pictures in deserted areas or places where there are few people or people a good distance from my camera. I read somewhere that when taking pictures in public putting the camera up to your face immediately draws attention to you and causes suspicion. You could try shooting from the hip, guessing the focus, metering the exposure on a close by object. Then facing away from your subject turn towards the subject slowly, pause and sneakily open the shutter without looking at the subject or your camera then continue to turn away. It sounds silly and like an awful lot of effort but I guess this is how photographers can stay invisible.

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  9. vici

    vici

    Thank you all, for the lovely comments and tips!

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  10. trw

    trw

    Thanks for the great article. You are so right about feeling like a criminal sometimes when taking pictures. You almost feel like you have to sneak around with the camera. I was on a recent flight and trying to take pictures out the window at 30,000 feet trying to capture some amazing cloud formations. I think the guy next to me thought I was crazy and kept giving me "the look." I'm trying not to worry about it anymore and just take pleasure in photographing things. Other folks just don't know the fun they're missing!

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  11. ebolatheelectricmonk

    ebolatheelectricmonk

    All right, most of the time I get the good shots, because after the usual 30seconds of astonishment ("this is a camera? - you use film? - is something like this still sold today?") most people come to the conclusion that I'm weird. They're probably right, but nevertheless I'm virtually out of sight for them, as I pose no threat. I can go on shooting without being noticed.
    Just once I had a problem while taking photographs of an interesting looking building in Tel Aviv. It turned out to be the American Embassy. How the hell should I know, if they even didn't raise the flag on top of the building, because of their fear of terrorist attacs???
    Paranoid embassy of a paranoid America in a very paranoid country. George Orwell got it right decades ago...

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  12. regjoey

    regjoey

    Hai, what a nice story. I am new here and I Lomography Lubitel bought one on Ebay. He should arrive next week. I hope I make it just as good results. powered by
    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  13. minty_

    minty_

    What a great article! Because I live practically in the middle of nowhere, I don't usually get any suspicious looks. There are not that many people here. But if I happen to be in a city with my camera, I can feel everybody staring at me! No one has ever said anything (...This could be also because Finns don't talk that much to strangers...) or accused me for something but I'm sure that one day they will, particularly since these lovely plastic wonders are rarities in here.

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  14. natalieerachel

    natalieerachel

    I had my spinner in my bag while I was going through airport security and they scanned it three times, and pulled it out of my bag to inspect it...

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  15. galopin

    galopin

    Scan aren't very good for film, and for exposed film it's worse. :/

    Good article, i can find my self in this! I usually wait and take my shots when there is less people... i think that the lomo lc-a is good for discreete shot. With a big reflex it's another story...

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  16. jesslynman

    jesslynman

    hey vici
    you are not alone on this topic!
    but great one though, made me smile~
    in my place, i get weird quizzical, looks from passerby but they had good intentions.
    they were either wondering if
    a) its a toy camera that doesn't work
    or
    b) is it still using film
    or
    c) (which is my favourite) whether i could take a picture of them!
    usually i would just give them the instax later on
    cheers and lomo on :)

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  17. markdarnay

    markdarnay

    @photogt: What was your weapon of choice?
    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  18. abhoan

    abhoan

    its happened to me too many times, one day I was trying to set my camera aperture and this fellow comes to me asking me if I took a shot of his wife! I gave him the camera and asked him to check if I did. He gave me back my TLR after he didn't find anything inside it

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  19. pangmark

    pangmark

    Ha ha. I was reading a similar article on here and the fellow lomoloco said to smile. Since then i've been trying that. I'm usually a smiler but get caught up in the photo all serious and stuff (or feeling guilty) and look a bit threatening. Actually i have people come up to me asking if i'll take their photo and graciously thank me afterwards. I do live in the land of smiles that is Thailand :D

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  20. ceduxi0n

    ceduxi0n

    the Spinner360 looks like a weapon. :D

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  21. isoterica

    isoterica

    People are suspicious by nature. I suppose that is somehow part of the survival instinct. Some do not like their personal photographs taken and will tell you no. Always respect their wishes. Others worry that you are casing their house and yet they put a great Halloween or Christmas display up to get public attention. It probably would have helped if you called out "I love your Christmas lights!". You would have put them at ease most likely and you would feel better for communicating after wards-- rather than like you are doing something sneaky or worse.. wrong. You did nothing wrong. Particularly if you weren't on their property.

    I was taking texture photos in a hospital parking garage once, on my way out from a test there. A security guard approached me and asked me to stop. I smiled, showed him [this was digital] what was on my camera [harmless macro shots] and then I left. They say it is best to be open about what you do, if people become uncomfortable move on because there are always more shots-- and always smile. You are out there having fun so you should be smiling anyway though I know we all make serious faces when shooting. The more open you are, the more friendly you are, the less sneaky or imposing you will feel over time. You will still run into situations now and then.. but if you don't feel strange doing it then chances are you won't draw attention to yourself either.

    Btw Chicago is a city of cameras. It's like every forth person has one and they shoot all manner of things. Maybe practice in a place where cameras are common to get comfortable. Also shooting from the hip rather than holding the camera to your face helps. People don't expect you to be clicking away down there. [You can practice with a digital or just try your luck blind] Another thing you can do is appear to be the studious camera student or awestruck tourist and if someone looks back at you through the viewfinder continue panning, look elsewhere like they weren't your intended shot. Still another thing you can do is if they look at you like 'what are you doing'.. point to something nearby and smile as if you were shooting that-- hey, maybe you were!

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  22. dakadev_pui

    dakadev_pui

    happened to me too many times!

    almost 2 years ago · report as spam
  23. vici

    vici

    almost 2 years ago · report as spam
  24. af-capture

    af-capture

    nice read...really an art approaching and photographing people as well.

    7 months ago · report as spam

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: 中文(繁體版).