Leica Street Photography Code: 55 Tips to Protect You & Your Camera
This article gives you a recommended Leica street photography code of practice. If you saw my recent YouTube video I gave my top 10 tips to not putting your Leica camera at unnecessary risk to theft. The feedback from the video was overwhelming so below I share my 10 tips and then 45 valuable suggestions from fellow Leica users/ experienced street photographers. (It’s worth noting that many of these ideas can be applied to any camera and offer a best practice approach to looking after your possessions).
They tried to steal my Leica (video tips)
Here are the video top 10 tips to not putting your Leica camera at excessive risk to theft –
My 10 top tips to keep your Leica camera longer
1) Don’t buy expensive cameras like Leicas. Thieves like to target anything expensive. (I lost £4K trying to buy a Leica M240 on eBay in 2014. Read here)
2) Don’t take expensive Leica cameras outside. Keep them save indoors. Great for collectors but less ideal for photographers.
3) Buy black cameras rather than silver cameras. My silver Leica M240 seemed to attract more attention vs black bodies.
4) Go for black lenses instead of silver where possible (yes many older lenses are silver only). An all black setup is more stealthy.
5) Tape up you Leica logo – the Leica red dot or the Leica writing on the camera body. Do this with care so not to damage the camera if you chose to. “Be careful with isolation tape to cover your camera or red dot logo. This tape, on the long run, leaves a nasty adhesive residue on both chrome and paint bodies. The stains will be very hard to remove completely. Use duct tape (as little as possible) or a special plastic shrink foil wrap”. (Others say taping up a Leica wont help you so it’s a personal choice).
6) Carry your camera in a cheap non-descript bag, not a Billingham bag or other fancy/ branded obvious camera bag. I have a an satchel and use with padded inserts. *I’ve just ordered a non-descript stealthy yet quality replacement for my Billingham bag. I’ll feature the bag in a future newsletter once it arrives.
7) Dress down to blend in on the street. Try not to look like a dumb tourist. Don’t do like me and wear bright red trainers that attract attention (even if they are worn for comfort not fashion!)
8) Carry less camera gear on the street. Don’t do like me with 4 cameras and 4+ lenses! (Testing for YouTube + FOMO!) Perhaps one camera and 1-2 lenses ideally.
9) Walk normally and act normal. Don’t speed walk like me even if it will take longer to get somewhere! Blend in with the crowd.
10) Don’t hang around the questionable areas, and especially after dark.
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My 3 Bonus Tips (per YouTube)
B1) Make sure you have camera insurance. In the UK I used Aaduki (If you mention me they know I’m a YouTuber).
B3) Small cameras and small lenses look less pro and often less expensive. My small black Leica Standard and a small lens would be my best Leica stealthy street setup (or Leica CL for digital).
YouTube video listing the above points
45 more valuable tips for Leica street photography (from YouTube viewers)
11) Secure the camera to your body with either a wrist strap with your hand through it or a neck strap. Wear you neck strap diagonally, cross-body, underneath a cover garment. Don’t carry a camera with a strap over one shoulder only. It can easily be pulled off you by a thief running or motoring by.
13) Take loads of memory cards and swap out your cards regularly, that way if you are an unfortunate victim you won’t lose all your images.
14) Pick pockets like crowds so visit popular places early whilst people are still in bed or having breakfast.
15) Electric push bike is a great tool for the grab and go thief, two up on a scooter / moped where one grabs the item and the other steers is very common. Keeping away from the edge of the pavement can help as that makes it harder for the grab and go thief.
16) Don’t go into a coffee house and sit there with your expensive camera kit on the table reviewing your images (Or taking camera gear photos like I do!)
17) If you notice someone following you, walk into the first public building you pass. Official buildings, shopping malls and stations are great because they’re public, have security/ CCTV, and usually have multiple exits. Thieves hate those places, and prefer to lose you.
18) Leave all your Leica cameras behind during the first days in a new place until you know the area and feel comfortable.
19) In cities individuals approach you trying to sell weed and other things or asking for directions. They are also scanning you for valuables and/ or trying to distract you while a second person behind you is trying to take your camera/ phone etc. Always check over your shoulder, have your bag in front of you and don’t let yourself get surrounded. (When I was travelling in India the street kids did this. Working in a group, they’d run up to you, some will be smiling saying hello, others asking for money and your bag/ pockets are being emptied while you’re trying to say no to the ones you can see).
20) A heavy, dense object like a Leica swung at the end of a strap can be a formidable weapon and can give you the space you need to escape. However, it’s not worth your life against a serious attacker.
21) Replace red Leica logo dot with a black one, or use Leica “P” camera models which are without logos.
22) If you are testing multiple lenses stick to busy public areas. If you want to see areas only the locals go to, just take one camera, one lens.
23) Always have the camera on a strap (wrist strap or neck strap) so that it isn’t easily snatched out of your hand. Currently I use the Wotancraft wrist strap with Peak Design anchors + other wrist straps.
24) Avoid other non-camera stuff that’ll make you a target. No fancy watches, no designer sunglasses/ hats/ clothing/ shoes.
25) Know your gear before you go out. Never be fumbling or constantly looking at your camera to check settings. (Your camera will be “on display” to others for longer than needed).
26) Most of the camera kit that gets stolen is in hotels so make sure you use your hotel safe. If your room doesn’t have a safe try to hide your camera gear out of sight when you are not in the room. This includes chargers and any signs of valuable equipment.
27) Don’t change lenses in the open, do it in your bag. If you have multiple cameras only take one out at a time and keep the others in the bag so it looks like you only have one. (You can grab camera A or B as needed by reaching into your bag, say if you are using 2 bodies, 2 lenses).
28) Apple Air Tag that is hidden in a Billingham bag. In the US when someone steals your iPhone it’s common for police to ask if you have Apple’s Find My turned on.
29) If your hotel is in a dodgy neighbourhood don’t have your cameras out on display when checking in, entering or leaving the hotel.
30) Back in the sixties and seventies black cameras were somewhat hard to come by, especially Leicas. Many less-than-wealthy photojournalists (which would be MANY photojournalists) made “black” cameras with electrical tape and tiny scissors. With patience, you can do a pretty credible job.
31) Avoid chimping on your rear LCD in public. If you need to review, then use a cheap undesirable smartphone to review wirelessly with your camera in your bag.
32) If you are going to leave your camera in the car, put it in the trunk BEFORE you get to where you are parking. Showing them putting cameras in the trunk where you are parking just tells them to break into the trunk after you leave.
33) Use a cheap generic plastic carrier bag, not a purpose-built camera bag. It’s convenient, rain-protective and nobody gives a monkeys about how many cans of beans you may be carrying from the supermarket.
34) When sitting at a table, I put the chair leg inside the strap making it difficult to grab and run of it to disappear. (I learnt this pack packing in Asia).
35) If you want to capture a scene with sketchy people, introduce yourself first and make some small talk before you ask to snap away.
36) Get friendly with the locals and see if you can go to dodgy places with someone off trust who knows the area/ is known to others.
37) Never listen to music in the streets. You need to be aware of your surroundings.
38) When I get “latched on to” meaning someone is scoping me, I immediately go into the first building I can find. Doesn’t matter what it is. Malls and train stations are great because they’re public, have security, and usually have multiple exits.
39) Whenever possible I shoot with my back to something. Even if it’s a pole. (I often try to do this when I’m wearing a backpack).
40) Wear old clothes that are stained and beat up. Don’t shave or wash your hair when before you go out to shoot. The scruffier the better.
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41) Find a discrete location to change film, batteries, memory cards etc. (I normally find a quiet corner on the street and have my hands in my bag).
42) Whenever you check into a hotel in every new place, made a habit of asking which parts of the city should be avoided.
43) Walk confidently and with purpose. Don’t make yourself and easy target. Look people in the eyes, especially if they are looking your way and acknowledge them.
44) For those with a Leica SL or Leica SL2 camera (which have the white “LEICA” writing), you can get the Leica SL2-S look that has the black “LEICA” lettering instead. Leica customer support can personalize you SL/ SL2 for you with the official silky gloss paint that the SL2-S has too. It cost around €150, but it’s done immaculate and when you keep the invoice, it won’t impact the resale value at a Leica Store.
45) Never appear to be lost, even if you are. Just walk like you know your way around.
46) Try not to be the “doddering old codger with the fancy camera”. Be in decent physical shape ideally and lifting weights is an added bonus (note to self!)
47) Carry your camera with the lens facing into your body. (I do this too, it hides the branding).
48) Slow down, buy a coffee and sit down on a wall somewhere and watch the street before bringing out your camera you will be surprised when you start watching rather than looking for a shot through a view finder.
49) Find security cameras as they will work in your favour. They are in the shop doors, on top of lamp posts even on the top of the buildings. If some one threatens you or tries to take your camera you point to the security camera they will rapidly move.
50) Wear a ratty light fabric dark scarf and drape it over the camera, easy to put to side and it helps to cover anything discreetly. Be alert. I also carry, the loudest whistle.
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51) Don’t take a camera bag. Use a rolled up camping dry bag/ passport bag that’s waterproof with a draw string fitted and simply place you camera in it, It’s then water tight if it rains. If you don’t need it it rolls up small into a pocket.
52) Carry a flash in one hand and monopod in the other when walking to your car late at night. If anyone approaches with ill intentions, FLASH, Boppity-Boppity!
53) Learning to read peoples faces and body language is also vital for safety. Be alert.
54) Carry a small camera only. Pull it out of your pocket/ bag, take a shot, and then put it back in your pocket/ bag. Don’t have a big/ expensive camera hanging on view around your neck.
55) Street thieves are opportunistic. They might not know what a Leica camera is (tape or no tape, silver or black) but if you look an easily target they will single you out. Don’t be that person.
Don’t live in fear. If you are worried about your Leica take a cheaper camera or don’t go to a particular area. The best photos are not always found in the safe areas but you can decide if a potential photo is worth the risk or not. A Leica isn’t worth getting seriously injured over so just give it up if you get in a bad situation.
Best second camera options
If you don’t want to take your favourite Leica (or Hasselblad etc) camera on the next trip you need a second camera that you are happy to use instead. Ideally it needs to be both small and affordable. Below are a few options for both digital and film users.
From the YouTube video comments some Leica users go for Fuji as their second camera body choice. The Ricoh GR3 is perhaps one of the smallest pocket sized options. One of my Patreons uses a small Sony zv e10 camera and gets great results. My smallest cheapest options are Panasonic Lumix M43 cameras such as my Lumix GX880, Lumix GX80 and Lumix G100. (When I tested the photos against Leica images there was little difference when using Leica branded lenses on both cameras). See the 15mm vs 18mm video.
If you are a film shooter there are lots of great options and the results can often be as good as photos shot with a Leica camera. I use a little Nikon FG-20 SLR with Voigtlander Nikon F mount lenses so the results are the same as using Voigtlander APO lenses on the Leica M film cameras. If you love rangefinder cameras you can enjoy any of the affordable Soviet cameras. I love my Kiev 4a especially.
A big thanks to my awesome YouTube viewers / community for sharing their best practice tips that they’ve learnt over the years. Thank you!