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Guerrilla Documentary: Hidden Field Cameras

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

Hidden cameras may allow you to get your lens where you never thought possible, but there are a couple of different ways to approach it.

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    The Hidden Eye

    One of the landmarks of guerilla documentary filmmaking is the ability to film things that people had no idea you were privy to. Often times this means acquiring footage where you would never be allowed with a camera. You are already stepping into the rebel seat with your approach to filmmaking and journalism, so it is a natural step to then take the hidden camera approach.

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    Using a Digital Video Camera

    The first thing people think about when they are trying to do a hidden camera situation is that they want to get the best footage possible and they do not want to have to buy any more equipment. Both of these things are true and so it is best to use the digital video camera you are already using in this situation as well. If the camera is small enough, and currently many semi-professional digital video camcorders are, you can simply place it in a bag or wrapped with some type of garment. This will get you a certain amount of distance as long as you practice ahead of time. Try doing it in trial runs and see if the video maintains good imaging and that it cannot be seen. The likelihood is that you will not be able to capture a whole lot with a wrapped up camera because getting close enough to a person will likely lead them to be able to see it, no matter how well you think you hid it. This is great for quick runs into buildings where a camera is not allowed. One of the best ways to do this is to arrange a camera in a bag or backpack where the lens is pointing out of it at a semi-strait angle. Once you’re inside set the bag down and go on your way. You may want to employ a wireless microphone on your person for this. This will not get a versatile set of images of the location, but it will give one solid image. If you are aware that your personal entry and behavior is going to incite an incident this may be the best way to get the footage. If this is the case it is important to have another person with you to grab the camera if you cannot. If you are feeling risky you can always enter the location, strategically place the camera in a hidden location, and then come back to retrieve it at a later date. Unless your skills are exceptional in this field this is not advisable because it will likely result in the seizure of the camera and the tapes.

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    Using a Wireless Surveillance Camera

    Another way you can do this is to use a wireless hidden camera. These surveillance devices are often used in legal investigations, but are also featured in many “under cover" news and documentary programs. You can find these from a variety of Internet retailers, ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand. If this is the route you are going to take it is best to get the most simple and versatile type of camera you can. So many are designed for home security and are crafted to look like stuffed animals or attach to an electronic device. These make them more expensive and only useful in certain situations. Instead you should try to get the smallest possible one that can be easily positioned on your clothing. Some have audio devices, but it may be better to use a wireless microphone that is synced to a camera or recording device that is off of the location. Later the audio track and the video from the wireless camera can be synced up in the editing room. Try to get a variety of these because it is actually feasible to leave these cameras in a location because they will continue recording. You do not actually have to go back and get the camera unless you want to reuse it, but if they find it it may lead them to try and seek out whoever was surveilling their location.

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    Make Sure You Have a Purpose

    The hidden camera allows you to continually record without anyone’s knowledge. This gives you freedom, but raises some ethical concerns. Make sure that you are using this for something that absolutely must be exposed and brought to public eyes.