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Believe it or not, there are legitimate reasons for wanting to take stealthy smartphone photos that have nothing to do with being a predator. “Secret pictures” may sound creepy at first glance — I don’t deny that — but there are legitimate times you might need to take a photo without drawing attention to yourself.

Maybe you want to take candid shots 9 Smart Tips for Taking Great Candid Photographs You'll Love 9 Smart Tips for Taking Great Candid Photographs You'll Love Candid photos are tough to get right. It's not just about capturing a moment, but the emotion of that moment -- and moments are fleeting. They come and go in the blink of an eye. Read More as a secret shopper at local stores without alerting management. Maybe you want to catch an illegal act so you have photographic evidence to show during trial. Or maybe your kids, whether toddlers and teenagers, are camera shy and you don’t want them to know that you’re capturing memories.

That being said, be aware that there may be legal ramifications for taking secret photos 5 Legal Issues No Photographer Can Afford to Ignore 5 Legal Issues No Photographer Can Afford to Ignore As fun as it is to take photos, there are important laws to obey. Ignorance is not an excuse, so stay up-to-date before it's too late. Read More depending on your country and state, especially if you’re going to make those photos publicly available (e.g. uploading onto a website or social media), so do so at your own risk. And obviously, don’t use this for any nefarious purposes.

Disable the Shutter Sound

The first thing you’ll want to do is disable the most obvious giveaway of taking photos: the camera shutter sound. Seeing as smartphone cameras have no moving parts, the sound itself is just software-based audio feedback, and turning it off is usually as simple as toggling a setting.

Most modern Android and iOS devices will respect your current volume setting Volume Control Tweaks for Android That You Need to Use Volume Control Tweaks for Android That You Need to Use Are the volume hardware keys are your device broken? Would you like to set different volume levels on a per-app basis? We can solve these problems and more with a few awesome customizations. Read More , so if you set your device to mute or vibrate, the shutter sound goes away. On older devices, you may need to delve into the camera app’s settings to disable the shutter sound.

In the past, you could plug in headphones and the shutter sound would play through the headphones instead of out loud on speakers, but lately this doesn’t work because the shutter is distinguished as a notification sound instead of a media sound.

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Note that in certain countries, disabling the shutter sound is illegal. If your device can’t disable it, it may have been built for one of these countries. For example, this law exists in Japan and Korea due to rampant “upskirt” photography in locker rooms and on public transportation.

Image Credit: Mace Ojala via Flickr.com

Disable the Flash

The next most obvious photo-taking giveaway is the camera flash. Not all smartphones even have a flash, so if yours doesn’t have one, feel free to skip ahead to the next section. But if you do have flash, there’s no way to take a stealthy photo while it’s on.

Plus, direct flash usually results in ugly photos How to Take Great Photos in the Dark (Even If You're a Newbie) How to Take Great Photos in the Dark (Even If You're a Newbie) What can you do when you're shooting photos in the dark? A combination of knowing your basics and a few tips from pros can make any picture pop, regardless of lighting conditions. Read More and is only worthwhile if you can diffuse the light somehow, so you should turn it off and keep it off anyway.

The flash setting is usually controlled by the camera app you’re using so it’s tough to give universal step-by-step instructions, but it’s pretty simple: poke around in the interface options for the flash icon (looks like a lightning bolt) and tap to disable. That’s how it works in most apps. If not, you might have to dig into the app settings to disable it.

Hide the Phone Unseen

The actual camera lens on a smartphone is quite small and is usually located towards one side of the phone’s body, typically the top area. This means you can tuck most of the phone away, leave the camera lens peeking, and still take a shot.

And when it comes to taking photos, “out of sight, out of mind” definitely holds true. If the target can’t see your phone, they simply won’t know that you’re photographing them. Think about what a spy in a movie would do, then do that.

Image Credit: BlueBoeing via Shutterstock.com

For example, if you’re wearing a shirt or jacket that has a breast pocket, stick your phone in there in such a way that leaves the camera lens poking out. You can then couple it with a wireless remote shutter release, such as this CamKix Bluetooth Remote Control (UK), which works with both Android and iOS devices.

Or if you want to set up your camera in a location ahead of time, you can take it a step further by carving out the inside of a book, sticking your phone inside, carving out a hole for the camera lens, then standing the book on a shelf or a table. Coupled with a wireless remote shutter release or a camera app that allows for sequenced captures, you’ll be good to go.

Then again, if this is what you want to do, you might as well take the plunge and turn your smartphone into a security camera How to Use an Old Smartphone or Tablet as a Security Camera How to Use an Old Smartphone or Tablet as a Security Camera Learn how to easily set up your Android device to act as a home security camera! Read More .

Hold the Phone Nonchalantly

If you’re on the move and a photo-worthy situation pops up unexpectedly, you probably won’t have time to set up a hidden encasement and you probably won’t have a wireless remote shutter release on you. In that case, you’ll just have to make do using your hands.

Act like you’re texting someone so the phone is angled somewhat towards the ground, but still up enough that you can catch the action in the edge of the photo. This works well if you’re in a cafe or a library or on a subway and, for example, someone starts acting out in front of you.

The “pretend texting” approach is also good if you want to capture action using your front-facing camera, but you’ll probably want to hide your screen for this. There are a few apps below that can let you take photos without your screen looking like that’s what you’re doing.

Image Credit: nenetus via Shutterstock.com

Set the volume button as a shutter release. This lets you hold the phone in a non-suspicious way while still being able to point it in any direction. Cradle it in your handle, let the camera lens peek out, twist your wrist towards the action, and press the button. And if you use earphones with inline volume controls, you can use that to trigger the release too.

Whether you can do this will depend on the camera app you use. Some support it by default, others require you to manually enable the option, and others simply can’t do it. Most can, though, and you should take advantage of it.

Use a Stealthy Camera App

If all of the above is too much of a hassle, then you might be better off with a stealthy camera app. These are designed to make the whole process as easy as possible: no need to fiddle with settings, no risk in accidentally taking a shot before silencing the shutter, etc.

For Android devices, Spy Camera OS 3 is about as good as it gets. It’s free to use and comes with two notable features: it runs in the background (so you can take photos even while browsing the web or changing podcasts) and it can auto-shoot when it detects faces. Photos can be auto-emailed too. If you prefer something simpler, Hidden Camera Snapshot works well enough.

For iOS devices, Easy Calc Camera Eye is a solid option. It shows up as “Easy Calc” in your apps so it raises no suspicions, it has multiple camera shooting modes (such as delayed, sequenced, or motion-detected), and it can auto-protect photos with a PIN. An alternative app is Online Hidden Camera, which costs $0.99 but has a number of nifty options.

That’s all you need to take stealthy photos. Don’t forget to keep the law in mind and respect other people’s privacy. This is one of those areas where just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

How do you take stealthy photos? Are there any tips that we missed? Share with us in the comments below! And if you have any horror stories to share, feel free.

Originally written by James Bruce on December 2nd, 2012.

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  1. Kill Killington
    February 19, 2017 at 6:19 am

    All you secret recorders?
    Better be sure.
    or else
    I will fuc king kill you.
    I will kill everyone you know and love.
    Humans are good for nothing meatshytbags and killing humans does the planet a favor.
    Six billion dead humans sound like a good start.

  2. lenrok258
    February 16, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    I would suggest using "Hidden Video Camera" (available in Google Play) - you can record video with a screen turned off (no one will notice + battery efficient).

  3. Misterj
    February 23, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    I'm not using this for perverted actions, I'm a citizen journalist that needs to discretely capture the barbaric actions of police officers and their supporters where I live..

  4. Frank Zedmore
    December 10, 2012 at 10:44 am

    I use Mobile Hidden Camera if I'm having a meeting and don't want to drain my battery

  5. André Kamara
    December 10, 2012 at 10:04 am

    I love the idea of the notepad.

  6. Shane Hultquist
    December 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I think the most interesting part is that they cannot legally disable the shutter sounds in Japan...creepy...

  7. Qin Tang
    December 4, 2012 at 1:39 am

    Hahah, this article is interesting. And girls pay attention.

  8. Fik of borg
    December 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Companies like Photojo, Kogeto and others should make an add-on with a small thin mirror that normally stays flat against the back of the phone, unobtrusively out of the way, but pivots in front of (and rotates around?) the lens, thus enabling the user to hold the phone in a natural position while the lens sees the unsuspecting photo subjects (Cats. I'm thinking of cats, of course)

  9. Mark Alsisto
    December 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm
  10. Alex Perkins
    December 2, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Creepy

  11. Gerald Huber
    December 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    ahhhh now i see why all the girls at the gym seem so busy on their phones when i am around ;)

  12. Jurmescu Cristi
    December 2, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    There is an virus uploaded to this post, i just received an warning....:(

    • Saikat Basu
      December 4, 2012 at 7:48 am

      Could you be a bit more specific? It could possibly be that your browser is infected with a trojan. Try clearing out your browser cache too periodically and do a scan. Our posts are all malware free and there are no "hidden" links.

    • Muo TechGuy
      December 4, 2012 at 8:22 am

      There is no virus attached to this post; are you sure it isn't malware on your end giving false positives? If you could send a screenshot to james@ this site, we might be able to help furhter to identify what's wrong with your system.

  13. NotoriousZeus
    December 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    You know the tricks mentioned in this article will be used to perform mostly perverted and even illegal actions don't you ..??

    • muotechguy
      December 3, 2012 at 9:45 am

      I'm ok with it being used for perverse things, or maybe illegal things, but not perversely illegal or illegally perverse.

  14. qwerty
    December 2, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    You perverted sneaky bastards >:[