The Myth Of The Invisible Camera

Not sure small cameras make you invisible when your big body is attached to them.  Ricoh GR.
Not sure small cameras make you invisible when your big body is attached to them. Ricoh GR.

We’ve heard it a million times: get a Leica or any other non-DSLR camera and you will become invisible when taking photos.  It sounds kind of convincing, and like thousands of photographers out there, I too bought into this myth.  I say that it is a myth because after endless hours of walking the streets with my assortment of small cameras, I have grown convinced that it is not the camera that makes you inconspicuous to your photographic subjects.  Rather, it is the environment and the noise level that do the trick.  Why is this the case?  Because no matter how small that camera gets, the unmistakable fact is that you are attached to it, and like they say, “you is a big thing.”  Stop within a few meters of anyone on the street when there’s no one else around and believe me, you will get noticed.  Don’t you notice people within your peripheral vision all the time?  It all boils down to how much you as a person stand out in your environment.  The photograph above was taken with the famous Ricoh GR, the darling of street photographers.  The gentleman was talking to the young lady trying to sell her one of this paintings, but somehow through his peripheral vision he became aware of my split-second presence with the diminutive Ricoh GR.  It had nothing to do with my choice of camera, but it had everything to do with my 5’11” frame and muscular (OK, pudgy if you insist on exactitude) complexion. Had I had a crowd around me, he would never had noticed my presence, even if I had a large Nikon DSLR strapped around my neck. The same with noise.  The sound level of a shutter release is a big deal in street photography.  That loud click from your DSLR will get you all the unwanted attention every time.  Here’s where cameras like the Leica M 240 and the Ricoh GR excel in a big way.  They are nearly silent, and normal street noise levels will easily drown any sound coming from them.  Noise, then, is all relative.  It will only get you noticed if the noise you generate reverberates over all the other environmental noise around you.

So what’s the point?  Basically, that all this invisible camera hype on the Internet is mostly just that, hype.  The real secret is blending in with the environment and connecting with your subject.  This last point was highlighted very well in Greg Koch’s recent article, where the virtues of connecting with the people you are photographing could not have been better stated.  Too many photographers de-humanize the photographic process by merely pointing their cameras in the direction of their subjects, clicking, and then walking away.  Sure, that works sometimes, but nothing beats establishing some sort of connection with these folks.  A nod of your head, a V sign, some small talk, or whatever, it is all better than mere silence and a hasty departure.  So blend in and be friendly and you’ll see that the type of camera you use will not matter as much.