Photographers — Don’t Be an Easy Mark

Photography is not a contact sport. Yet these days, a camera bag in public feels like an invitation to conflict. We’re seeing photographers robbed in parks and confronted on downtown sidewalks. Their backpacks are being ripped from vehicles during smash and grab robberies, sometimes while the owners are still in the car.

None of these victims “were asking for it.” They were going about their craft with cameras, lenses, and accessories they believed were helpful to produce the images they desired. But do they really need all that gear with them? I submit they do not. A swinging camera bag on main street today can be a risky proposition. I think it’s time to leave it behind.

Let your padded friend stay home and serve as a storage compartment for equipment you’re not using at the moment. Don’t display it in the back of your SUV, leave it unattended on a park bench, or have it tossed casually over your shoulder on a crowded street. Thanks to the advances of technology, there are powerful alternatives.

Everyone has smartphones, yourself included. And from a distance it’s hard to distinguish a top of the line iPhone 12 Pro from any number of more affordable models. To prying eyes, it’s just another mobile device.

But for an enthusiast photographer, the right smartphone can feature multiple prime lenses, sophisticated file formats, and a whole lot of smarts via computational photography.

An iPhone has many of the imaging tools you need in a package that’s as ubiquitous as denim jeans. And just as important, you don’t need a camera bag to house it — just a front pocket.

To increase your photographic prowess, augment the iPhone with a compact camera of your choice. There are many great ones available that can be stashed neatly in your jacket. Currently, I’m carrying an Olympus E-M10 Mark III or the Fujifilm X100V. And soon I’ll be testing the compact Fujifilm X-E4 with 27mm f/2.8 pancake prime lens. These devices are capable of delivering professional results before returning to cover inside your hoodie.

A compact digital camera is a handsome partner for the smartphone because it provides complementary features such as better depth of field control, a larger sensor, and a wider range of viewing options with both an EVF and adjustable LCD. These two devices are the ultimate power couple.

If I’m in a safe environment and have the time to work a scene, I prefer the digital camera. For those moments I want to blend in and not draw attention to my work, the iPhone is a better choice.

This dynamic duo works well for travel photography, urban exploration, casual portraiture, reportage, day hikes, and family gatherings. And by keeping a smartphone in your pocket and a camera in your jacket, you have removed the swinging target from your back.

The only additional ingredient required to perfect this union is a dash of common sense. You still have to be aware of your surroundings. But if you’re a good photographer, you’re paying attention anyway.

I don’t work the same way I did a decade ago. I had to adjust to what’s happening on the streets. But thanks to technology and extra pockets, I’m filing pictures, not police reports.

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