You've seen it before – you're at a [wedding, baptism, etc.], trying to pay attention to the ceremony, watch the event unfold before you… and here comes the photographer. Gear bag bouncing, jingling, bounding loudly onto the platform to get a shot… and in the process, blocking the view of half the attendees.
DRIVES ME NUTS!
For those of you who don't know, I'm a photographer. Besides providing the best images possible to my clients, I also work hard to provide the best services as well. When I'm shooting a wedding, the “stars of the show” are the bride & groom. I'm not supporting cast, not even a walk-on cameo. I strive to be as invisible as possible. It was years ago, as I was honing my stealthy skills, that I coined the term “Ninja Photography.” Plus, anything with ninjas is just plain cool! 🙂
So, how does one embark on the journey to true ninja photography? Here are some tips…
(1) Dress for the venue & tone of the event. Formal wedding? Wear conservative formalwear. Casual? Wear nice casualwear. It's the equivalent of wearing camouflage. When you blend in, you don't distract. There are exceptions to this, especially if it's not a private event. Rule of thumb – always good form to ask the client what they'd prefer… they are writing your check, after all.
(2) Know the venue. If at all possible, scope out the location prior to the shoot. For fast-moving events like weddings, this is imperative. When I shoot weddings, I insist that I attend the rehearsal. Besides being a sneak preview of the ceremony, it familiarizes me with the layout of the area, I can note ideal locations for capturing critical shots, any hallways, alternate entrances, etc. that will facilitate my movement once the game is on. I'll never forget working one wedding as the sole shooter. There was one point in the ceremony that, to nail the shots I wanted, required fast movement from the rear of the church to backstage in under a minute. I took my last shot from the rear, ducked out a nearby entrance, ran through a utility hallway to a backstage doorway & discreetly fired away. When reviewing the prints with the couple a few weeks later, the bride looked puzzled & asked, “how did you get this? I didn't even see you…”
(3) Check your pockets & silence your kit. Keys, loose change… there should be nothing in your pockets that jingle. Might as well wear bells. Make a self check part of your pre-event routine. Don't forget your shoes. If at all possible, ditch the dress shoes that “clack” on hard floors. They're loud and slippery. Instead, look for the tools other “stealthy” pros use. Besides other pairs of soft-soled shoes, I have a pair of polished black tactical boots. Hey, if they're good enough for sneaking up on bad guys, they're good enough for getting close for a critical shot.
Couple other things to consider regarding noise discipline. Velcro is the enemy. Quiet sanctuary, officiant is leading a prayer… RIP! Yeah. Buy bags that don't use velcro. Some quality bags actually have velcro “silencers.” Me, I took my favorite bag, a seam ripper, and just removed the velcro tabs from covers & pockets I need to access while in action.
Side note on bags. Don't be afraid to stash your bag in a secluded spot during the action when you need to move fast & quiet. Just because you own it doesn't mean it has to be on your hip every second. They're big, make noise, and slow you down. You shouldn't sound like a paratrooper carrying a 70 lb. rucksack trudging down the isle. Very non-ninja!
Oh, and for the love… TURN OFF ALL BEEPS! Mute everything possible. You've seen (and heard) this – Bride and groom, exchanging vows while the autofocus churns away. BEEP, click, BEEP, click. When I buy a camera, one of the first things I look for in the settings is how to silence it.
So, there ya have it. Practice your skills, be the ninja, and take your services to the next level.