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.