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Take Your Photos Fast: Composition & Camera Settings
The biggest thing you can do to take your photos inconspicuously? Take your pictures as quickly as you can. Before you whip out your camera, decide how you want to compose the image and get in position. This will save a lot of time.
Another thing you can do is to have your camera settings set ahead of time. If you can save modes on your camera, perhaps one for shots in the sunlight, another for shadows, another for mixed lighting, or whatever mix of settings you'll be encountering, then that will save fiddling time. You'll have to tweak a few things once the camera is out, of course, but knowing exactly what you need to do will shave time off of that as well. Think before you shoot!
Many cameras have rotatable LCD screens, meaning that you can shoot from a variety of positions without having it up near your face, which is a very conspicuous place to shoot from. Shooting from your waist may take a little practice, but take a good shot as you walk by without pause is a good skill to have under your belt, especially for street photographers.
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Camera At Ready
Practicing your “draw" technique for your camera from wherever you decide to keep it is a must. Of course, if you pull it out fast, there's always a possibility that it might just go flying off to a rock or a hard place. So, make sure you have a secure grip on your camera, and keep a wristband on.
Many cameras have some sort of “sleep" mode, where the screen and other functions will be off to save power, but the camera is still ready to take pictures at a moment's notice. Check out your user manual to see if your camera has this feature.
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If you don't draw attention to yourself, you don't draw attention to your camera. If you stick out like a sore thumb, people will take notice of you and whatever you do, including taking photographs. Dress plainly, without anything flashy or colorful, and match the style of the place that you'll be visiting - within reason, of course.
Keep your camera accessible—but not visible. Wearing it around the neck may be convenient, but having such a “nerd necklace" is a signal to everyone around you that you might be taking photos of them, which will put them on guard. Keep it under a half-zipped jacket, or slung at your waist in an open camera case. If you have long baggy sleeves, even just holding it in your hand may be alright. Smaller cameras are better for this purpose, especially high-end point & shoots, which may fit comfortably in the smallest of spaces without sacrificing image quality.
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Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide
Just because you can take pictures without people noticing doesn't mean that you always should. Use your best judgment about a shot. If the people knew, would they be offended? Would they rather that the picture not make its way to the cover of the local newspaper? When it doubt, it's always best to ask permission from the subject, either before or after.