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How To Secretly Snap Secret Photos Without Anyone Noticing

Ever needed to snap a picture in a quiet building without anyone noticing? Or maybe you need to document misbehaviour without getting caught? Taking snapshots on the sly isn’t easy, but a few tricks can help you capture a moment without another soul noticing.

Photo by James Creegan.

A true spy’s main goal with snapping photos is to document a situation without ever being noticed. For the average person, this comes in handy in all sorts of circumstances, including visits to the museum, snapping photos of a chalkboard in class, concerts, the guy in the robot costume on the train, or even just when you want to capture a true “in the moment” photo and not a staged shot. With that in mind, here are a few things we can learn from how spies take pictures.

Silence Your Shutter Sounds and Disable Flash

First things first. If you want to start taking pictures on the sly, you need to disable any sounds and flash your camera might make. For smartphones, this is usually done by flipping the volume mute button, and disabling the flash in the camera app itself.

For other cameras, you’ll need to dig into your settings menu to disable the shutter sound effect and the automatic flash. If you can’t find that menu, you might try snagging your camera’s manual from Manuals Online so you can find and disable the settings.

The goal here is simple: don’t draw attention to the fact you’re taking a picture. Keep it silent and don’t let the flash go off under any circumstance.

Hide Your Camera Inside Something Else

As any good purveyor of spy movies knows, hiding a camera inside something else is a classic trick. You can stick a camera in a bow tie, contact lenses and watches. The point is, if nobody knows you even have a camera, they won’t think you’re taking pictures.

Throughout history, cameras have been stuck inside all sorts of things, from pockets, to books and even hidden behind newspapers. Here are a few ideas to make your own:

  • USB-Powered Spy Shirt: Instructables user Tetranitrate shows off how to use a laptop, laptop bag and a USB camera to convert your button-up shirt into the perfect spy camera. The whole system threads through the shirt itself, and then attaches to the computer inside the bag. It’s bulky, but it’s cheap and easy to do.
  • Spy Glasses: Google’s Project Glass is still a little ways off for public consumption, but if you want to build your own, it’s possible. In fact, Instructables user Kipkay’s build mounts a cheap camera right into any pair of sunglasses so you can record everything that happens everywhere you go.
  • Hide a camera in a book: The hidden camera in a book is an old trick, but this particular build takes it a step further — it’s an iPad hidden in a book with a small slot for the camera. It’s a little ridiculous, but considering you can always play it off as a “funky case” if you’re caught, it might come in handy.

On the flipside, if you’re worried about something spying on you in your house, all you need to find a pinhole camera is a torch. Theoretically, you can stuff a camera in any everyday object and call it a day, so use your imagination.

Conceal the Fact You’re Taking Pictures on Your Smartphone

Of course, most people use their smartphones for pictures the majority of the time, and it’s pretty easy to disguise what you’re doing on a phone.

First and foremost, when you’re snapping hidden photos with your camera, make sure you’re holding it like you’re using it to do anything but take a picture. Position the camera like you’re texting, playing a game, or whatever else might natural in the situation you’re in. Personally, I prefer the texting position, even though it’s often difficult to get a good shot.

Second, if you want to conceal what you’re doing from anyone behind you, it’s important to hide your screen. On a jailbroken iPhone this is easy with SlyCam since it allows you to take pictures from the Notification Center without anyone behind you seeing the camera screen.

For non-jailbroken iPhone users, we like Real Spy Camera. Not only does the app icon call the app “Easy Calc”, you can also shoot videos, and use either your front-facing or rear-facing camera. However, the best feature is the fact you can set up a fake background as well, which means you can actually make your screen look like you’re text messaging.

On Android, we like Mobile Hidden Camera. Its app icon is a notebook, so nobody will suspect a thing. It’s also filled with features such as video recording, burst-mode, customisable screens and the incredibly handy feature to block incoming notifications so you don’t accidentally draw attention to yourself. Photo by Cory Doctorow.

Know Your Rights of When You Can Take Pictures

Public photography is tricky business, and it’s good to know your rights. Learn up on the rules before you go snapping photos on the sly.

And this should go without saying, but be responsible. Unless you’re documenting an important event, don’t snap pictures of people who have a reasonable right to privacy, don’t be the obnoxious person at the museum snapping pictures of everything, and respect any safety rules you might come across.

This post is part of Spy Week, a series at Lifehacker where we look at ways to improvise solutions to every day problems Bond-style. Want more? Check out our spy week tag page.