How I Learned to Be a “Fly on the Wall” Photographer

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 VC image samples (22 of 36)ISO 2001-100 sec at f - 2.8

There are many, many photographers that wish they were simply an observer and that no one would pay them any attention. And as many often try to be those photographers, unfortunately they get noticed. The main reason for this: combine the fact that the photographer is super nervous, the subject being photographed doesn’t know the photographer, and that the photographer is trying so hard to just get a photo and get out.

If you put all of these together, the photographer instead is more like the mosquito that you’re trying to swat because you don’t want the West Nile virus.

Instead, being this type of mythical photographer requires patience and mastery of your body language.

Move Slowly, Not Rapidly

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7s review images street photography (7 of 8)ISO 16001-400 sec at f - 5.6

Pro Tip: Turning off your camera’s AF assist lamp also helps a lot.

If you’re trying to be a fly on the wall, you should first realize that the human eye has been trained to pick up on fast moving subjects out of caution. This instinct was ingrained in us years and years ago. But if you move slowly, you have a much smaller chance of being seen or even recognized. The trick is to see a moment, set up, and bring the camera up to your eye slowly to capture it. Otherwise, try shooting from the hip or blindly shooting to begin with.

If you miss the moment, don’t beat yourself up. No photographer sits there in their final hours saying, “Oh, I wish I didn’t give up that shot.”

Don’t worry: your speed will come in time and practice.

Get the Subjects Comfortable With You

 

The fly on the wall type of photographer not only shoots on the streets, but also at events where a crowd can surely pack a small space. The best way to photograph people during an event is to not only read body language and discern whether or not you’re in a great moment to shoot, but to also make sure that people are comfortable with you. There are many, many ways to do this. What I learned from years of being a wedding photographer is to always have a sense of humor. Humor is the one thing that disarms anyone when you’re taking a picture of them.

It always works because everyone loves to laugh. When you make someone laugh, they immediately think of you as an easy going person and they become comfortable to the point of not even paying you any attention.

Be Calm and Follow Through

Pro Tip: Manual focus lenses are best used by looking at an area, quickly figuring out how far your subject is, setting that distance on the lens, bringing the camera to your eye, touching up the focus, and shooting.  In the end, it's also quite a rewarding experience to know that you've nailed the shot.

Pro Tip: Manual focus lenses are best used by looking at an area, quickly figuring out how far your subject is, setting that distance on the lens, bringing the camera to your eye, touching up the focus, and shooting.
In the end, it’s also quite a rewarding experience to know that you’ve nailed the shot.

Much of being a stealthy shooter requires you to breathe and control your heart rate to remain calm. It’s very easy for photographers to become akin to being in the zone, but in order to not be noticed you’ll need to be calm, aware, and continue to do what you’re doing without being dissuaded from doing it. Go ahead, take the picture. You’re not taking someone’s soul from them and taking a photo of someone is completely harmless.

There is absolutely no need to panic. What’s the worst that could happen?

Move Around

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm XM1 review images extras (21 of 21)ISO 50001-125 sec at f - 3.5

Moving around is a big part of being a fly on the wall. Like an actual fly, sometimes you can’t find it because it’s moving around often. And if someone thinks that you’re in one spot but you’re actually in another, then you’ve done a good job of making them not even notice you. Combine this with keeping calm and moving slowly and you’ll ensure that no one ever sees you.

If you’re at an event, this is what you’ll need to do to begin with because you’ll need to capture many people doing different activities. And if you keep moving around, you’ll never be tracked easily.

Chimp Your LCD Away From Others

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm 27mm f2.8 first impressions (14 of 18)ISO 8001-60 sec at f - 2.8

For those moments where you want to check your photos, be sure to go off somewhere in a corner to check them out on your LCD screen. If you’re at an event in a dark spot, that screen will emit a lot of light and give you away. That isn’t very stealthy.

But to be very honest, we recommend not looking at the photos to start with. Concentrate on capturing better moments because otherwise you may miss them.