It means “forbidden.” And if I had a European nickel for every time a security guard has walked over, waggling his (or her) finger at me and said that word while I’m snapping a few harmless photographs, I could buy a kilo of Greek honey for all of the accordion players in the streets.
Athenians, for the most part, are wary of people taking pictures. They don’t mind so much when you’re aiming at rocks and ruins, but swing it toward what you see as a charming street scene, beautiful window display, or a person with a striking face or costume, and you’re likely to be frowned upon if not chased out of the area.
Here are some tricks on taking candid shots while being sensitive, courteous, and just a bit sneaky. For the purpose of simplification, I’ve assumed that the whole, photo-taking world has at least one digital camera. If you’re still using standard film just ignore the bits about examining your pictures on location or composing your shot with a viewfinder.
Trick One: Be Discreet
Behemoth cameras are perfect for getting postcard-quality pictures of the Temple of Zeus, but hauling them through a crowded neighborhood, knocking everyone down as you pass and assuming position for snapping the sophisticated crowd at Le Cafe D’Athenes…you’re gonna get busted. Have on hand a smaller camera with a viewing monitor and position yourself to the side. Look as if you’re trying to determine the cause of a technical problem rather than framing your shot . Do a little facial contortion to really ham it up. Mutter and shake your head. They’ll just think you’re crazy, which is much preferred to being invasive. Okay, maybe acting isn’t your style, but focus on the essence of the advice and you get the idea.
Trick Two: Be Polite
Ask someone if they have a problem with your taking a picture. Maybe they say no, but many times, they don’t mind and you’ve avoided a tense situation. The times that I’ve asked before taking pictures, I’ve often been invited further into the scene for a better look. The homeowner of a brightly painted house once let me walk into his garden and up his steps because he believed the view from his front door was the most beautiful.
Trick 3: Walk Away
After the shot, of course. Aim, shoot, and walk to another zone before anyone realizes that a picture has been taken. Don’t even look to see if it came out alright. Give it up to destiny.
What are your experiences with awkward, behind-the-camera moments? How did you get through it? Throw out any of your own tips for not being noticed, or ways to charm business owners and locals into posing. I’m taking notes.