How to Get Rich, Candid Photographs In Athens (and Live to Host the Slideshow)

Local Flavor, Travel Tips — By Paige Moore on October 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm


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.

Uh oh. Spotted.

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.

This one might get you undue attention.

Better, but maybe overdoing it.

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.

As shot from the front door

Tom (as featured on Photo Friday) after permitting a photo shoot.

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.

Photo accreditation: Marco Sitzia, BenSpark, and Paige Moore

Tags: Athens, Candid Photography, courtesy, Culture, discretion, Greece, Photography, Tom McGrath


  • Aρης says:

    Take the picture first, ask permission later — after smiling, cheerfully nodding, expressing thanks — and chances are they’ll still invite you for a better view. Its hard enough to communicate in a foreign language, don’t let a candid moment escape. Take the photo.

    When we ask permission people infect what really is happening with how they want it to be perceived.

    Be aggressive. They can figure out you aren’t hurtful on their own time.

    Train humanity to accept photographers. : )

    Reality is too important.

    Great! article.

  • jrj says:

    Splendid article — I’m being called upon to take pictures at my job, so this was very timely advice! Good to know about Athenian’s cultural distaste for being photographed, too. Thanks!

  • Amanda says:

    Offer to show them the picture. When they see how well it came out it might just make them smile!

  • DonnaVal says:

    A little trick that I use when I shoot with my big 70-300mm lens is to quickly point, focus and shoot before they even have a chance to react. Then after the pic is taken if they stare back indignantly at me, I take the camera away from my face and look right past them, as if I’m marveling at the cool building or object off in the distance that I “supposedly” photographed, and not at them– the real object of my photo.
    Since you don’t even look at them, they quickly get the idea it wasn’t them you photographed and go back to what their doing.

    I also find that carrying the bigger lens makes a lot of people think you’re there to photograph for a newspaper or publication. They often seem flattered when you point the big lens their way, perhaps thinking they might appear in a published photograph.

    Taking pix of children and pets out in public, I usually shoot as quickly as possible and then pull the camera away and smile while uttering something like “so cute!” The parent is usually flattered.
    I’ve also asked parents if they want me to send them a copy of the pix. They almost always give me their e-mail address, and I have gladly sent a copy off to them. Hope these tips help.


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