In my opinion, it's the people that are the most rewarding subjects to shoot when visiting some place new; and while stopping to ask someone to pose for your shot will either get you a smile or that quick wave of rejection, the photo that you end up with usually looks a bit rehearsed. One thing you'll find that people from all over have in common is that they tend to stiffen up when a camera is out.
The most revealing photos are therefore usually candid. This is when the subject of the photo does not realize that a camera is being pointed at them or that their photo is being taken. This is usually done by taking the photo 'from the hip.' It can be tricky to take good photos without looking through the viewfinder or LCD display, but with a little practice and the right camera settings, you will find that you'll be able to walk away with photos that really capture the essence of the subject.
To start with, it should be fairly easy to figure out that large digital SLR cameras are going to be difficult to work with in this situation. That is why I always carry a smaller point and shoot camera.
When choosing a point and shoot camera that is suitable, one should keep these three things in mind.
1. Size. The smaller the camera the less noticeable it will be.
2. Sound. The ability to turn down, or turn the camera sounds off completely. It will make it difficult to take stealthy shots when your camera's beeps and clicks attract the attention of your subjects.
3. Focus. Check that your camera has a quick auto focus or a "snap mode'. Most of the Ricoh handheld cameras have what is called a snap mode. This mode will fix the distance to focus at 2.5m, and will therefore not require any time for the camera to focus on the subject. You just have to practice shooting in the 2.5m happy zone. Check if your camera has a similar mode.
I'm sure there are many other cameras suitable for this type of thing; but I can highly recommend the Ricoh GR Digital series as the perfect cameras for candid photography. It's small, you can make the camera completely silent, and the snap mode is magic to work with.
Now that you have your camera and you understand the concept of stealth, it's time practice not being noticed. There are many ways to hold the camera to make it less noticeable, but my favorite technique is to hold my camera together with my bags shoulder strap. I've also held the camera together with a fast food bag in hand with much success.
Framing is the most difficult aspect using this method. This can only be improved with practice.
Candid photography can be very exciting, but there are definitely times when it is not acceptable. Religious ceremonies and nightclubs are big nono's, as are countless other situations where people would frown on their photo being taken in secret. Use your own judgment and try not to upset anyone, too much. â˜º
Robert is an American Expat/photographer based in Okinawa, Japan. His work has been published in The Okinawan, The AmCham Colleague, Okinawa Ocean Culture & Environment Action Network, and Japan Update publications. Capturing the island life and delivering to you.
More of Robert's work can be found at: http://robertmallon.net