Wednesday, October 30, 2013


..contd. from Part 1


The subject of the surveillance (and any other persons) must be unaware that surveillance photography is occurring or has taken place. When secretly taking pictures, the photographer must either be hidden from view or working behind the veil of a pretext.

When using a pretext, people will see that photography is occurring but shouldn’t know that it is a clandestine operation. They should believe the pictures are being taken for an unrelated reason. For example, the surveillance specialist photographing a subject on the far side of a lake could pretend to be a bird photographer. Surveillance team members, if any, could wear shirts with a club name embossed on them, and a worn copy of a birding book could be placed on the ground under the tripod which supports a camera adapted high magnification Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, ideally suited to clandestine work. A used book will support the pretext better than a new one.


Obviously, the sharper and more properly-exposed an image is, the better it is. But, high image quality is not a prime requisite for clandestine photography. A usable clandestine image is one that contains useful information. Whether the image is esthetically pleasing is irrelevant. A level of image quality that would render a wildlife photograph unacceptable may be suitable for a surveillance photograph.


Camera - A DSLR camera that can be controlled manually and that is capable of recording RAW images. When shooting to RAW, it is surprising the extent to which you can underexpose to achieve a sufficiently fast shutter speed and still have salvageable and thus usable images. (Camera illustration from Clandestine Photography by Raymond Siljander and Lance Juusola. Reproduced by permission of Charles C Thomas, Publisher, Ltd., Springfield, IL, USA 2012.)

Lens - Because surveillance photography involves long-distance work, often extremely long-distances, a powerful telephoto lens is essential, one that can capture an acceptable image of a subject a very long way off. Super telephoto lenses in the range of 400 mm and larger, can be useful.

The longer the lens, the greater protection you will have from detection. Photographers think that a 600 mm lens is powerful, and indeed it is. But a clandestine photographer will work with focal lengths in the thousands of millimeters. For example, a highly useful lens for surveillance from a great distance is the 3048 mm 12” Meade LX90GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, an instrument not normally associated with general photography. With a 1.4x tele-converter, this telescope’s effective focal length is 4267 mm. With afocal coupling, permitting photography through the eyepiece of a telescope, an effective focal length exceeding 5000 mm is achieved. The camera’s lens helps to increase the effective focal length of the telescope.

Tripod - And not just any tripod, but one that is extremely sturdy and capable of supporting heavy equipment. A matte-black tripod is more discreet than one that is lighter in color and shiny.

Remote controller - Optional, but recommended - The clandestine photographer using an extreme telephoto lens must manually select shutter speed and aperture settings for proper exposure. It matters not whether the photographer operates the camera by touching it or by using a wired or wireless remote controller. A remote controller helps to avoid camera shake that is likely to occur because of the high magnification involved.

Miscellaneous items - This is a hard category for which to provide examples since the things you may need will vary from assignment to assignmment. Rain gear and camouflage are just two examples. You will have to expand on this list when planning surveillance sessions.


Know your camera well enough to operate it by feel in the dark.

Organize miscellaneous tools and equipment much as would do in the darkroom so that you can locate and use them by feel.

Take steps to darken any reflective or bright components of your camera and gear. This includes the face of the lens.

Become familiar with how your camera functions under various day and night conditions with emphasis on working with available light (no flash) and telephoto lenses.

Become a student of physical surveillance. You must learn about effective concealment, avoiding detection, selecting an appropriate vantage point, “escape” routes, covert techniques, awareness of your surroundings, weather-proofing when needed, learning about your subject (habits, background, known hangouts, schedule, usual attire and so on). The subject is complex and there is a good deal to learn about a broad number of topics.

Be inventive. Think outside the box. If you wonder if an unorthodox method will work, try it without concern for what the skeptics may think or say. Skeptics stifle rather than encourage progress. The great American investor Thomas Alva Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten-thousand ways that won’t work.” In many respects, knowing what doesn’t work can be as valuable as knowing what does work.

Monday, October 28, 2013



Clandestine photography, commonly referred to as surveillance photography, is the photographing in secrecy of a person, object, activity or location.


There are many reasons for clandestine photography:

- documenting criminal activity,
- accumulating identification photographs of criminals and terrorists and their associates,
- gathering intelligence for military purposes,
- documenting fraudulent insurance disability claims, and
- filming an unfaithful spouse.


Successful clandestine photography requires a degree of photographic proficiency to ensure the recording of relevant, usable pictures, and expertise in the clandestine arts. Tactical skill is needed to surreptitiously locate a camera where it won’t be easily detected but where relevant photographs can be taken. Such skills also facilitate leaving the area without detection after taking pictures and without leaving behind evidence of the surveillance operation.

A skilled clandestine photographer is committed to recording usable images under diverse field conditions. He or she may need to do things that other photographers would never do. Some methods may appear absurd – for example, the simultaneous use of a tele-extender and a focal-reducer or deliberately under-exposing by several stops. If a technique works, permitting the photographer to capture an otherwise unattainable image, the clandestine photographer will use it regardless of how unorthodox it is. The professional clandestine photographer must be innovative. Not content with the existing state of things he or she is always alert for improved methods. When seeking a solution to complex problems and challenges, the clandestine photographer thinks beyond tradition - thinking outside the box.

Clandestine photography is incredibly challenging. The clandestine photographer often works under field conditions that can be so unfavorable that other photographers would hesitate to attempt it. He or she must sometimes take pictures from long distances under adverse lighting and weather conditions, traversing and occupying inhospitable terrain, and perhaps working in a dangerous, active counter-surveillance environment.


Some people are dedicated photographers, while for others a camera is just a tool of their trade. For example, wedding or sport photographers chose photography as a career, and image quality is uppermost in their minds. Conversely, a United States Navy SEAL is not a well-qualified photographer per se even though he or she may use a camera during special reconnaissance. Similarly, a police detective assigned to a surveillance team is a detective foremost, not a photographer, even though he or she may regularly use cameras during physical surveillance. For the Navy SEAL and the police detective, photography is merely one of the many tradecraft tools they use.


Since clandestine photography clearly does not involve the cooperation of the subject, the photographer must go to where the subject may be found engaged in the activity that is meant to be photographed, and at times when that activity is likely to be taking place. The location could be a dark alley, a building, a remote location in the countryside or a busy market – just about anywhere. And the time could be just about any hour of the night or day.

Circumstances may require taking pictures from both extreme and short distances. On one occasion, photography of a subject from more than half a mile away may be required. At another time, filming the same subject from a distance of only a few feet in a bar or restaurant may be necessary.

Because people function during all hours of the day, the ability to photograph under all levels of illumination is required. Although the nighttime environment presents special challenges for the clandestine photographer, the challenges are mostly manageable. In some instances, the surveillance specialist can photograph a subject using high ISO and available light. In other instances, photographing with an image intensifier night vision device may be called for.

To be continued ...


Composition, the act of composing the image in the viewfinder, is a visual process of organizing the elements and individual details of a scene into a balanced and pleasing arrangement. Because what one person finds pleasing, someone else will not, composition is largely a matter of personal taste.

We take that into account. There is no right or wrong composition in photography. A composition that conveys a photographer's intended meaning is an effective one. A composition that doesn't or that confuses the viewer is not.

A photograph that communicates its message - that says what you want it to say, says it clearly, and that interests its viewer - is an effective composition.

How you arrange a scene's elements in your camera's viewfinder will not only determine the effectiveness of your picture's graphic design, but will also contribute to how well its message is conveyed. There is more to good composition, though, than the placement of elements. Lighting, shutter speed, depth of field and other considerations contribute to a picture's mood and clarity of what the picture is saying, and therefore the effectiveness of its composition.


Some of the so-called "rules" of composition presented here should be considered as guidelines. They are based on recreating similarities in the make-up of many different images that many people have found to be aesthetically-pleasing. We do not intend that a rule of composition or a design concept be taken as a hard and fast rule that must be observed. Besides, some renowned photographs violate all the rules of composition and are still excellent pictures. This doesn't mean that the rules are without value. They are tremendously valuable. They are time-proven, and provide great guidelines for photographers at any level. We use them all the time.


Years ago, artists who had been born with an innate sense of design created works that were perceived, by other skilled artists, as having good composition. Not only that, but their works were very popular with the general public and art aficionados. Analysis of such works showed patterns and trends in the organization and inter-relationships of lines, shapes, forms and colors that were recognized as contributing to the effectiveness of the works. It was found that others could employ these patterns as techniques in improving their own works. When they were defined, they became known as the rules of composition.


We hope in this section to help everyone to compose better pictures, but especially the person who has no idea of composition - the photographer for whom taking a picture means just picking up a camera to point it and shoot it with little thought for the arrangement of the elements in a scene. Such a person would rarely be pleased with the results of his or her normal photography, and could benefit enormously from an understanding of the elements of composition.

Anyone who has an interest in improving their pictures would do well to go through this section and use the tips and hints it contains in their photography to see if their pictures improve.

By religiously observing the principles of composition, they will become firmly cemented in your mind. Employing them will become second nature to you. If you don’t find there is an improvement in your pictures and people aren't commenting on how great they look, we will be greatly surprised.

Once you have the rules of composition down pat, experiment and break a rule here or there when you feel the image will work better without it. That’s called individual style, and the creativity that stems from it produces some great images. The point is that you will know when to break a rule of composition once you know what the rules are and how they work.

Why make films?

Making a film - be it a short or a feature - is largely a labour of love, so it's always worth clarifying why you are embarking on such madness and adventure. 

You could be making it for:

Experience - you might want to experiment with pulling a team together to make a story on film.

A showreel - you might be pursuing a career in filmmaking and want to demonstrate your skills.
Partnerships - you'd like to try working with certain people to see if you can go on to collaborate on projects in the future.

Kudos - you may have found a high profile director/writer/actor, who'll help you raise your filmmaking profile, or want to use your film to elevate your own industry profile.

Testing an idea out - you've always thought a certain story would work well on screen or you've got a feature film idea that you want to try out on a small scale first.

Money - you may have been asked to work on a production with a budget to pay its crew. (This is very rare as short films don't generally pay in any financial dividends.)

Where is the film going to be shown?

Your reasons for making the film should also relate to where the film is going to be shown. You could be making it for:

Your front room - many filmmakers start out by testing their ideas on family and friends.

A showreel - maybe you're building a body of work to prove to others that you have filmmaking skills and/or to persuade them to give you some funding to make another film.

The Internet - a great means of getting your work out there and getting feedback from a wide range of people, internationally.

Television - if your film is of a high quality, a television channel may screen it, especially if it fits into a slot with other short films.

The cinema - one of the hardest places to get a short film screened, but some very successful shorts have been shown before feature films on general release. Some cinemas also run short film events.

Festivals - a great opportunity to get your film on the big screen, watched by an audience of industry people and by filmmaking peers.

The answers to 'why' and 'where' determine the standard you need to work to - there is a minimum standard of technical quality required for broadcast on television and a very different quality for transfer from tape to film.

Why you are making a short film, and where you want it to go, will determine what you shoot on, which equipment you use, budgets, crew numbers and potential markets. You and your team's objectives set the parameters of what you are going to create. Be clear about these objectives and then crack on with the project.

There are small pots of money available to help create short films - especially those on digital formats. The industry is also full of people who are willing to do work at reduced rates because they like an idea, they like someone involved with the project or they simply remember what it was like to start out in filmmaking. They might also help because they think it would be good experience for their staff or their showreel.

I started off on short films more than a decade ago with the bulky VHS cameras, and have done over 50 shorts till date. The last was about 4 years ago titled "Muttham Katti Muttham" (Hugs and Kisses) based on a true incident. The film won a State award. It can be seen at

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The "My dear Kuttichatthan" trick

I was fascinated by the first 3D Indian movie - My Dear Kuttichatthan, brought to us by Appachan in Malayalam and then dubbed into almost all the languages you can think of. I was fascinated by how the kids happily walked on the walls and ceiling of a house, for a song. Several years later I was tutored by the great Appachan himself on how to shoot such scenes. It was simple - very simple indeed. Turn the camera sideways or upside down.

This technique has been used in more movies than you can imagine and still works as well or better than many CGI simulations. Need an actor to walk across the ceiling? Build a floor that looks like a ceiling and turn the camera upside down. Need a creature scuttling across the wall in defiance of gravity? Construct a floor that looks like a wall and turn the camera on its side.

Try it out today and explore how easy it is to cheat your mind.

See the song I am referring to at