Surveillance Photography: 5 key items

16th September 2013 Surveillance 1 Comment

Conducting covert surveillance in and around the North East is an extremely challenging business to be in. The general populace are street wise to say the least and as a result you have to be on top of your game. To compliment your trade craft you also need relevant kit and equipment but just what do you carry to help you get the money shot? Surveillance Photography equipment? What is in your bag?

Surveillance Photography Equipment

Most surveillance photographers will have their favourite pieces of equipment, their favourite trick kit and most of it will be in their bags due to many years in the field and getting things wrong, right and somewhere in the middle! Ok, so just what is in my bag? It may not be what is in your bag and that is ok, just let me know what you use and we can discuss it and maybe you’ll convince me to change. Maybe.

My bag

I have used a Lowepro AW SlingShot 200 for some time now. This is my small bag, my everyday bag and I take the bag with me every day without fail because you never know when you will need your camera. You can never predict when the phone is going to ring with a photographic task. I also own a Pro Runner 300 AW backpack and depending what the task is (long-term green option) I may use a 3rd (non camera specific) backpack of around 100 litres in capacity. The SlingShot is small enough not to attract attention but big enough to get my other 4 items inside, most importantly the 70-200 (attached)! It also has a useful weatherproof cover that stows away neatly until required and then is easily stuffed back inside when no longer required. It is a comfortable bag to carry around all day and this is important to me and it will be to you also. Any smaller and this bag would not work for me, any bigger and it would draw the eye and look out of place and therefore would not be suitable for everyday use.

What’s in a strap?

Straps are straps right? You get one from the manufacturer and that’s fine right? Not really, no. Personally, I have always found camera straps somewhat of an inconvenience, they get in the way to such an extent that you tend not to use them which negates having one attached in the first place! Even on a tripod they can get tangled up and prevent you from getting the money shot and that is why we deploy on the ground with our camera. The trouble is, a relevant DSLR with good glass attached is a big investment so the last thing you want is to see your pride and joy tumbling to the floor so it was a great relief when I discovered the BlackRapid RS-7  to put an end to my problems. I tend to research a lot before I invest in new equipment as I have wasted far too much money over the years in kit that has just not performed but the decision to buy the RS-7 was made pretty quickly. I always enjoy Jared Polen and his FroKnowsPhoto YouTube videos and it was another of his productions that sealed the deal with regards the RS-7, check it out and see for yourself.

Get a grip, get a battery grip!

I am a late convert to these although colleagues have extolled their value for many years. I did not purchase this due to any battery issues as the battery life  on my DSLR but these grips do make using the camera in portrait mode, far, far easier, making you more productive with the added advantage of having extra power on tap if required. Not only do you have 2 batteries you also have the ability to power up with AA’s should the need arise which is a possibility given the situations that we may find ourselves in. The other aspect about the additional battery grip is that it really does make your DSLR look and feel like a pro-model it really does feel great in the hands once added. Not something that is going to seal the deal but a nice little extra all the same.

I must say though, the RRP of one of these put me off for a long time, I just thought it excessive at around £220 so once the decision was made to purchase I bided my time and got a bargain on ebay (£82 inc P&P). You can also get some great 3rd party grips but do ensure that you do your research prior to purchase.

Polarising Filter

A polarising filter is an absolute must have for people in the surveillance photography field, the muts nuts, the dogs cojones, whatever you want to call it, these things are awesome and the first time that you see the effect that they produce you will part with some of your hard earned cash and attach one to your most useful lens! In short, they remove reflections from surfaces such as glass which can be extremely revealing in our business, nothing illegal about this, just smart.

One point on this, a consideration when buying a lens is to note the filter size, if you have a group of lens’ that have a common filter size you will save money and space in your kit bag and also time and this can be at a premium in this business.

Go to surveillance lens: 70-200 f/2.8

It is not practical, tactical or convenient to roam around with every lens that you own covering every focal length. It just isn’t. My most used lens is a 70-200 f/2.8. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ll let you read a blog post here that we also wrote. In this blog we speak about the Canon version of the lens but its the focal length and the aperture that are important things to bear in mind here.

Have you been converted yet?

Carrying a converter is a better option (for me) than carrying another lens, it gives me flexibility and adaptability in the areas that are important to me! The question is, which converter? The 2 most common ones are 1.4 and 2.0 but a 1.7 also exists for the Nikon. The general consensus on converters is that a 1.4 should be carried rather than a x2. A x2 converter means that you loose 2 steps, so the maximum aperture on the 70-200 f/2.8 becomes f/5.6 with the converter and this for many is 1 stop too many. However, with the advances in technology inside a camera meaning that hi-ISO shooting is completely reasonable and as such I have opted for the 1.7 as I prefer to have the increased focal length and lose another stop (or so) and this decision has been vindicated in my own mind on many occasions.

Surely you need…

I know there will be people reading this going “yeah, but you haven’t included X, Y, and Z” and i’m sure there will be fair points amongst your thoughts/comments but like I said, these are my top 5.

Choosing your kit is so important, you must look deeper than the surface, really delve into a bit of kit prior to purchase. For example, the SlingShot has a lens cloth sewn into it so there is another item and the D7100 has 2 SD card slots meaning that you can get through an awful lot of shots before you have change! I’m just sayin.


So there you have it, my top 5 most important items, my must go loads, the kit that allows me to get the money shot. There are many more little gems that I will be happy to share with you in future blogs and of course if you have favourites of your own then please do share them with us.

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About the Author


Lateo Surveillance Ltd is an experienced Private Investigator & Surveillance company working on behalf of legal, commercial and private clients, delivering pragmatic and diligent solutions. Lateo offer a wide range of investigation Private Investigator services to compliment our specialist core Surveillance Service, obtaining covert video footage. Investigating claims validation, such as; Personal Injury Investigation, Income Protection Fraud, Serious malpractice within the workplace, for example; theft, director fraud, employee fraud, absenteeism and misappropriation of funds.

  • Tony Corrie

    17th September 2013 at 11:42 am - Reply

    Hi Nick – great blog, as usual! The only other things I ALWAYS have with me is a Nikkon Coolpix, this has a great in picture zoom facility that allows me to zoom in on a part of the picture and of course the ubiquitous PV 900 – never leave home without them!

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