How To Take Pictures Inside Stores Without Getting Caught

How can you take hundreds of pictures inside a store without getting caught? It can be really hard. If you ask for permission, it will be likely be denied. If you’re too conspicuous, someone will say, “No pictures!” and you could get thrown out.

Here’s a 11-step technique we used inside Macy’s on 34th st (see our Flickr collection for the results, learn from our mistakes)…


1) Make sure your camera is on, in the record mode, and the lens cap is off.

2) VERY IMPORTANT: Disable flash and A-F assist or red-eye reduction beams. Disable any shutter noises.

3) Crank up the ISO

4) Set the camera to burst mode. This shoots a series of pictures in succession.
a) Use a setting other than automatic
b) Menu
c) Scroll to Drive Mode
d) Select the one with the multiple boxes
e) Your camera may differ. Consult your manual.

5) Wear your camera around your neck. If you don’t have a strap, place the camera on your belly.
storeshots.jpg6) Place thumb over the trigger and hold. Our Canon allows for continuous burst shooting, you may need to keep pressing.

7) Place other hand over hand on the trigger. This will help hide that you’re holding down the trigger.

8) Walk through the store, firing away. Angle your belly at stuff you want to shoot.
vangle.jpg9) Spot interesting looking situations. Set yourself up a small distance away, looking at an item. Turn your belly towards the area of interest and fire away. Having your eyeball line of sight be different from your camera line of sight is less suspicious.

10) Avoid eye contact with employees. If you see one looking too much in your direction, walk to another part of the store.
footlockermployees.jpg11) Upload the best results to The Consumerist Flickr pool.

skurban.jpgWe like burst shot because you can get nice big pictures, one after another. You could use video mode but you’ll have to take screencaps and the quality is limited to your camera’s video mode. You can also take pictures in normal mode, but since you’re not holding up the camera to your eye and able to frame the picture and such, you could end up missing a shot. Experiment with the settings until you find a mode that’s most comfortable and productive for you.

For best results:
• Use a high capacity memory card.
• If possible, take a few test shots in the store and review before doing a burst spree. Adjust settings as necessary.
• Try to stand still when shooting, or you’ll get blurs.
• The small the camera, the less noticeable you’ll be.
• If a situation arises between you and a store employee, don’t argue, hold on to your camera tight and walk out.

— BEN POPKEN

Comments

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  1. B says:

    After reading this post, Amazon recommends I watch Sliver. Interesting.

  2. JuliaD says:

    and the most important part, your camera won’t make a loud “I’m taking a picture” sound like you cell phone might.

  3. WindowSeat says:

    Whatever happened to the spy cameras y’all were thinking about buying?

  4. vatechtigger says:

    although some cameras do make a noise that you have to manually disable. I also recommend the fuji cameras such as the F30 as they have the best ISO speed/quality in a compact camera which is essential for shooting without a flash and while walking.

  5. Rajio says:

    “1) Make sure your camera is on”


    …..great advice! i’ll be sure to write that one down.

  6. You can also use your camera’s timer mode to avoid suspicion. This allows you to turn, press, and turn back toward your subject without your hand anywhere near the camera.

    Since many cameras have cue lights (blinking to indicate the countdown to exposure), don’t forget to stick a piece of black gaffer’s tape over the cue light to avoid this telltale. Electrical tape will work in a pinch, but nothing blocks light like Gaffer’s tape – it’s the badass brother of duct tape, and won’t stick to your camera’s finish.

    Also, dial up the ISO (light sensitivity) of your camera for exposures that aren’t Popken-esque in their blurriness, and leave the white balance set to auto.

    If you’re carring a camera around your neck anyway, dress like a tourist. This might mean eschewing your “goin’ to the mall” attire for something more frumpy, but you are an intelligence officer in the fight against “The Man”, right? Sacrifices must be made.

  7. acambras says:

    @Rajio:

    And don’t forget to take the lenscap off!

  8. acambras says:

    @CaliforniaCajun:
    If you’re carring a camera around your neck anyway, dress like a tourist.

    Does Gawker have the budget to buy Ben a bitchin’ fanny pack?

  9. Ben Popken says:

    @WindowSeat: Still gonna do that someday.

  10. Elaine Chow says:

    er… why?

  11. FLConsumer says:

    Does anyone have a cheap source for gaff tape (other than pinching a roll here & there)? The local suppliers here want $10/roll for the stuff.

  12. Vinny says:

    Tip 12:

    Don’t argue if you’re told to stop or asked to leave. This goes for any private property. You are not entitled to photograph inside any private building if the owner doesn’t want you to or asks you to stop. Just leave.

  13. Amry says:

    #10 has the added bonus of making the fact that you have something to hide incredibly obvious. And employees are not going to assume that you are taking pictures to post on the internet. They’re going to assume you have a stack of polos stuffed in your pants.

  14. tubgnome says:

    Yeah, #10 is important. Take it from me: although you might just want to talk to employees, you have to avoid the temptation. Don’t draw attention to yourself, and make sure there’s nothing you need to ask anyone about.

  15. Rajio says:

    also wtf is ‘skurban’ and why does it deserve its own sign?

  16. @FLConsumer:

    Calumet photographic.

    Great customer service, too.

  17. Hoss says:

    No upskirt shots? Dang

  18. WindowSeat says:

    @FLConsumer: Gaffer’s tape is worth whatever you pay for it, I snagged a few rolls when my house was being used for a commercial about ten years ago and the stuff is still usable.

  19. markymags says:

    @Rajio: SKURBAN = Select Kicks in Urban Regions Breaking All Normalities

    Come on now… EVERYONE knows that… sheesh!

  20. karmaghost says:

    If you need one, really good picture, you could always take it as you normally would and then get out of there. Usually, a non-manager employee will only tell you to stop, then run off to find a manager. If you can get out before one comes over, you can avoid the confrontation and leave with that nicely framed shot.

    At least, that’s how it usually happens where I work.

  21. usfgeoff says:

    The way that I take pictures in stores is I go in with my giant Canon Rebel XT. I look for items that I want a picture of and then I take a high quality photo of whatever I want. Most of the time as I enter the store, I tell them that I am going to take some pictures of items that I like, and if they have a problem with that I will no longer be able to buy whatever I was going to buy. This always works, plus I get to focus and take truly fantastic pictures instead of hoping that the pictures come out like the Consumerist.

  22. Hoss says:

    @usfgeoff: I would think they would hassle you on the way out if they happen to sell Canon Rebel XTs?

  23. B says:

    Has anybody stopped to consider the ethics of taking pictures in a store? How would any of you like it if people came in and took pictures of you while you work? Or while you’re shopping, for that matter. I’m aware that it’s perfectly legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

  24. juri squared says:

    @karmaghost: I agree – this works particularly well if you’re in a large, busy store. I took camera-phone pictures of some signs at Babies’R’Us so I could compare prices (I didn’t have a pen/paper), and I got away with it because it was Sunday and the store was so busy that nobody noticed.

  25. Stepehn Colbert says:

    who cares if ya get caught? take em anyway.

  26. NZDave says:

    Can anybody tell me why this deserves a blog entry?

  27. rmuser says:

    @B: If I’m in a semi-public place like a store, whether I’m employed or just shopping there, I don’t think I could just assume it’s a photography-free zone. What’s the worst that could happen, anyway?

  28. Trai_Dep says:

    If the help gets too antsy about your budding photojournalist career, go paparazzi on them: smash your cart into the cart of the cutest nymphet around.

    Then flee citing (erroneously) inalienable 1st Amendment rights.

    Or go British: force another cart headfirst into a pillar. Use the resulting mayham to mask your flight.

  29. M3wThr33 says:

    Or you can do what I did, and get a camera-watch. The Casio WQVs are good for that. No one would think you fiddling with your watch that you’re taking pictures of [Breasts, prices, etc.]

  30. Maulleigh says:

    Yikes! I just full on put my camera up to eye level and blast away with the flash. I’m not supposed to take pictures indoors? ooops. :)

  31. lonelymaytagguy says:

    “1) Make sure your camera is on


    …..great advice! i’ll be sure to write that one down.”

    Not as Duh as you might think. Most cameras auto power-off after a minute or so.

  32. @NZDave: I think it’s because this is a blog and that is what Ben did this week and I think he may have just been blogging the fact that he went out and took pictures. Dont mind my snarkiness here NZDave but have you ever read a blog before?? Dont they tend to include the recorded activities of the blog owners or editors?? Am I missing something here? This IS a blog isnt it?

    “Blogs often provide commentary or news on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries.”

    Hmmm… it seems to me that a blog can function as an online diary. Boy I’m on one today. Anyway, I hope that answers your question NZDave. ;)

    1) Make sure your camera is on, in the record mode, and the lens cap is off.

    This leads me to believe that Our Dear Editor may have made this mistake personally.

  33. NZDave says:

    @Holden Caulfield: I don’t mind your snarkiness. I think you missed my point though. Which was intended to be “any idiot could work this out, a blog entry is redundant”. It’s like a blog entry on how to breath. It seems to me to add no value to the site and only provides to dilute the existing content. I appreciate some might not agree with my views, that’s okay because they’re probably the people who needed the instructions above… ;)

  34. weave says:

    I saw a Home Depot commercial a while back which had some guy shopping for ceiling fans. He was taking pics of them and sending them to his wife who text’ed back what she liked.

    As if that stunt wouldn’t get most of us thrown out of the store.

  35. saikofish says:

    IANAL, but I found the website of a guy who is. He’s got an incredibly informative 1-page PDF on the rights of photographers in public spaces. Right here: http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm

  36. saikofish says:

    Here’s another article that I’ve bookmarked for my own personal use!

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/andrewkantor/2005-1

    This one comes from USA Today and it’s also not written by a lawyer, so take this advice at your own risk. Though, who could hate advice like this?

    “You can take photos any place that’s open to the public, whether or not it’s private property. A mall, for example, is open to the public. So are most office buildings (at least the lobbies). You don’t need permission; if you have permission to enter, you have permission to shoot.”

  37. asherchang says:

    turn off the shutter sound to your camera phone too. Just in case you ever come across a moment without ur cam.

  38. ontheball21 says:

    I didn’t know you weren’t allowed to take pictures inside of stores! =/ I have done it a couple of times and no one has said anything to me. However, I have only used my cell phone camera.

    Interesting!

  39. AdamJG says:

    Granted, a store in the mall is a public place, but it boggles my mind how taking multiple pictures of unknown people isn’t more frowned upon. You would think with the rules against tape recording and video taping without permission, that this might be more taboo. Maybe I was just raised different, but the thought of someone randomly snapping off a burst of pictures with me in them, well, it’s just something I’m not comfortable with. Personally when I see someone taking pictures of things in my general direction, i cover my face with a hat, or move out of range.

    I think if someone wants to go around taking photographs like this it’s fine, just give those of us who have no desire to be a part of it a way to know, and to stay out of your frame. Nine times out of ten, if someone took the time to ask me, and if for some reason I was an essential part of the shot, I would most likely agree. However taking someones picture you don’t even know without asking them seems as rude to me as say fondling the blind date you just met while you order your appetizer.

    So after the mini-rant, I have to ask, am I the nutjob here? Or do other people feel like I do?

    AdamG

  40. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    @Ben Popken:

    What are you wearing?

  41. squishypig says:

    @ weave

    I take pictures all the time with my cell phone of items that my boyfriend wants to have a say so in (but doesn’t want to schlep to a dozen stores to find “the one”). Costco, Target, multiple furniture stores, clothing stores, etc. As a matter of fact, I have also taken pictures of light fixtures at Home Depot without hassle. I’ve never had a problem with employees telling me to stop and it’s never even occurred to me that it would be an issue. Hmmm…

  42. bcostin says:

    I take photos inside stores fairly often, usually with my big old DSLR hanging around my neck. I’ve only been asked to stop taking photos once (politely) in a grocery store where I was taking photos of artfully arranged produce.

    I don’t go out of my way to call attention to myself, but I don’t skulk around like a shoplifter, either. Remember that even if you successfully evade employees you’re still going to be seen on the security video. They may have a policy about taking pictures but they definitely have one about suspicious behavior.

    If questioned by an employee, be polite and explain that you just like to take pictures of things for reference. If they do want you to stop then just put away the camera and go on with your business. There’s no sense getting upset about it.

  43. MuhammadSchwarz says:

    >>> 3) Crank up the ISO
    This will produce a blizzard of noise. 400 is OK.

  44. Wet_Baloney says:

    @acambras:
    those point & shoot digital cameras that you can wear around your neck rarely have lens caps..

  45. rich815 says:

    Yeah, those are some real masterpieces, thanks for the tips…

  46. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Macy’s, like most dept. stores, have surveillance cameras EVERYWHERE. Some stores, like Lord & Taylor, have wall-mounted cameras disguised as fire alarms. Their policy is “since Dep’t. stores are public places, photography is allowed ONLY if Macy’s/L&T is doing the shooting.” This takes away shopper’s right to privacy in public places, and places EVERY shopper under a Foucault-like Panopticon, where one’s every move is recorded.

  47. falcon241073 says:

    @ConsumptionJunkie:

    LOL, did you read the novel “The Traveler”?

    If not, then your to damn smart. lol

    “Panopticon” = prison design where the prisoners rarly, mostly never, see the guards and always assume they are being closely watched. The prisoners eventually get so used to the idea of being constantly watched that the guards could leave and the prisoners, not know that the guards left, would still behave as if being watched.

  48. spryte says:

    @B: Well, if you work in a mall, people are watching you work all day, so how is having your picture taken much different? And I mean, we’re not talking about going up to an employee and standing there with the camera right up in their face…

    I guess there’s always that “OMGZ what if they use this for fake internet porn” worry…but if you’re working in a mall, chances are it will be your only shot at your 15 minutes of fame.

    I think it’s weird that places like department stores would give a crap about people taking pictures. I mean, these aren’t high-end luxury designer boutiques with one of a kind pieces…they aren’t even one of a kind stores! What are they worried about? Anything that could be captured on film and seen by a given person could also be seen by said person if he or she was to walk into the damn store. Sooo…

  49. FirePro says:

    Having heard of horror stories of people taking a snapshot of their credit card as it is handed to the clerk or the clerk taking a photo via cell phone while card is in their custody makes me wonder why someone would be compelled to take a photo in a store. Stores are private property. Would you let someone in your home to take photos? The stores have an obligation to protect their guests from intrusion.

  50. SaraCantor says:

    I am a Retail Planner and often take pictures in stores as part of my job. I also write a blog called The Curious Shopper, where the photos are all from inside stores.

    Two things help me to remain unnoticed by employees. First, my camera is a Casio Exilim and it can go from off to ready in two seconds. And second, I keep my camera in my coat pocket except for the single moment when I am taking the picture.

    The camera’s in my pocket. I reach in and turn it on. The lens comes out. I stand where I need to be, and look like I’m shopping. I take out the camera and use my elbow against my hip to stabilize. I take the picture, and the camera’s already on its way back into my pocket. It’s like one fluid motion.

    Large stores are much easier to photograph than small stores, and same with low-end versus high-end. But even the most difficult environment (a small, high end store) can be captured if you do it quickly enough. Worst case scenario, the employee sees you, you apologize and leave. But in my experience, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.

  51. ShizaMinelli says:

    OR…you could know that the policy is regarding taking pictures and….DON’T TAKE PICTURES!!

    If one expects stores to hold up their end of the bargain when it comes to discounts/rebates/not bait-and-switching us, then it’s wildly hypocritical to think it perfectly alright to walk into a store and knowingly break their policies, and even go so far as to have an entire system of how to break store policy…just for the hell of it.