Could Google Glass Work as a Tool For Street Photography?


Google Glass has received a lot of criticism, particularly when it comes to privacy. Given the fact you can record video and take photos without people noticing, some could call it an opportunity for taking photos without permission. Now, in my spare time, I take photos with a particular interest in is Street Photography. Candid street photography is taking photos of any stranger without permission. Why is there this controversy over Glass when candid photography without permission is a growing genre of photography? That is my question.

Is it respectable equipment?

I find the most common type of street photography is candid. It takes some guts to do it but when you can do it right, some of the results can be pretty incredible. Some think in street photography a good, small camera is needed. The Fuji X100, the Olympus PEN cameras are popular and of course the Leica M system is famed for being the ultimate street photography tool – despite having a hefty price tag. These are all small, discreet, quiet cameras. Having this type of camera can be key if you want to get a candid shot. Going shooting with a DLSR with a giant telephoto lens isn’t advisable for street photography: attracting attention is the last thing you want and when you use a big camera, people generally think you’re spying on them in a weird, creepy way. Using a small compact generally makes your subjects think you’re taking tourist photos or just taking photos of everything you see. Glass, however, could be seen in a different light.


The obvious thing about Google Glass is that it looks distinctly different to a camera. It could be taking a photo and only the wearer would know. This strikes me as a powerful tool for this type of photography – especially if the task is candid photography. Though once people know what it could do, maybe they will think it could be weird to wear it. Maybe, again, the same creepy spy persona some see in the SLR street photographer would creep into the stereotypical Google Glass photographer. Saying this, I’m not saying people don’t see street photographers who use ‘standard equipment’ aren’t viewed as creepy or weird by the subjects; it’s just generally they are from experience. With the closure of Google’s #ifihadglass competition, maybe Glass will become more high profile and will become commonplace. If people grow to like it, they may become normal and if that happens, they could find their way into a street photographer’s bag.

When on a photographic walk with photographer Misho Baranovic, he spent half the time taking photos with his iPhone and half the time on my Sony A77. I noticed when he used the bulky Sony he had a lot more people looking at the camera and posing and there was one person who confronted him at which point I feared for my camera. When he used the iPhone, however, he didn’t get many people posing and not a single confrontation. The mentality of the subject is a lot different depending on what equipment you use.


Smartphone cameras

You may think, ‘Ah but what about quality? Mobile phones don’t have the quality of image that a dedicated camera has.’ Well, there is an increasing amount of photographers who use mobile phones for street photography. I traveled to Derby, UK to talk to Misho Baranovic who shoots the streets primarily with iPhones (see video at the bottom).The results can be pretty stunning when you know how to use the tools at your disposal correctly. Misho recommended ProCamera for street photography as you can easily set exposure and focus and see the shutter speed and ISO.

The small sensor is excellent due to the fact it gives a massive depth of field; something favoured in this type of art as you can see the whole scene in focus. On a small sensor you can shoot with a large aperture to get a faster shutter speed and still get a large depth of field still which is excellent for the job! I’ve not seen many images of street photography which have masses of bokeh in the background of the photo. When looking through flickr and 500px they’re mostly shots taken at f/8 – f/16 and if they’re shot at a wider aperture, it’s generally because the lens is a wide angle.

They’re a lot more discreet than using a dedicated camera where people can clearly see you take a photo – though you can disguise that. Using a camera phone is silent, providing you turn off the camera shutter sound. Taking a photo on a camera phone and disguising it as something else is very easy as you can pretend you’re texting, you can pretend to be reading something in sunlight, the list goes on.

Editing images on phones is thought of by many of as simply running the photo through Instagram or Hipstamatic. And some people do that. There’s many street photographers who put a photo into the app and post it because it looks good, even if the filters become repetitive. Often, iPhoneographers use apps like SnapSeed and Photoshop to edit their images and both are excellent tools and are free! But they are, at the end of the day, just tools.

Image by Misho Baranovic

Image by Misho Baranovic

Does it matter?

We take photos with what we want and what feels best most often. Whether that’s a Leica M, a Fujifilm X100, an Olympus OM-D E-M5 or even Google Glass. As long as you feel comfortable using the camera and you get the images you want, that’s all that matters. You can invest thousands in equipment but if you have a camera which you like and you like the images, there’s no point in spending more. If your camera is getting old or if you feel like you enjoy a different camera more, why not? My dream camera is a Leica M9-P but I don’t think I’ll be getting one as it’s so expensive. I’m making do with my Sony A77 and an old Voigtländer BESSA-R rangefinder camera and they get me good shots. I may like using a Leica more but I can eventually buy one if I can sell my images and if I can show off my skill with these cameras, then I can say I’ve earned it.

Image by Matthew Phillips

Image by Matthew Phillips

What do other Street Photographers think?

I spoke to photographer Rinzi Ruiz recently and when I asked him for a quote about Google Glass he said this:

Using a mobile phone for street photography is just great. It’s definitely not as noticeable as a DSLR so getting candid shots is a little easier and the ability to process the photos in an app right away is a huge plus. The Google Glass should take it to the next level where you don’t even have to lift your hand up at all to take shots because I think that’s one of the main things that makes people take notice is action of lifting up a camera or phone to take a picture.

Image by Rinzi Ruiz

Image by Rinzi Ruiz

When I was searching twitter, Paul Donohoe tweeted me this:


Image by Paul Donohoe

Image by Paul Donohoe


Glass has certainly recieved mixed reactions. Some love it, others loathe it. In its current iteration, a photographic tool, can it be efficient and useful as a dedicated camera or smartphone? Maybe, we’ve not seen results yet (but I’m guessing not). We have no proper controls and taking an image still requires us to talk or press a button. But if it could overcome these problems, would you use it for this? It really depends on who you are. I love the rangefinder experience so I use a BESSA-R despite being slow to focus and get correct exposure at times. It gets me OK results. Misho loves his iPhone. Rinzi uses a Fuji X100 and a Nikon D90. What almost all experienced street photographers say to me is find what you like to shoot with and use it. So if you have a camera which is useable and has good results, use it. Don’t lust after the next generation or a ‘better’ camera because that camera probably isn’t better. The best camera is the one you know. The one you use. The one you love to use.

Back on topic, Google Glass has potential for a street photography tool but without the control over the image you have with other cameras it may not give you the best results. And something that could be useful with Glass is hiding, is something you don’t have to work on. You don’t have to hide. Take photos and be a part of the scene. Go out and photograph, my friend.

Here is the full interview with Misho:

About the author: Matthew Phillips is a photographer based in Lancaster, UK. You can find him on Twitter as @ma_ps_. He’s also behind the new site tinyland, which can also be followed through Twitter and Facebook. This article originally appeared here and here.

  • Matthew

    Gotta say, it’s pretty cool seeing my work on this site!

  • Tarmo

    Mount cheap GoPro camera (on interval mode) somewhere on your body so it’s hidden (hat, backpack, etc…) or buy expensive Google Glass (which makes you look like douchebag) and go around saying “OK, Glass, take a photo” – a tough choice.

  • John Goldsmith

    “Why is there this controversy over Glass when candid photography without permission is a growing genre of photography? That is my question.”

    It’s true that street photography is growing, but not growing everywhere. Your question speaks to the popularity of street photography and not the laws that govern street photographers or the people who make them or the places where people are photographed in public. In fact, just this week, laws were tightened in Austria (see article below).

    People in many places, even where the laws are more restrictive, are taking candid photos of strangers without permission. In a democratic country, having the freedom to do so is important is is inextricably linked to photojournalism and freedom of the press. This is more true than ever because we are all photographers, now, and all citizen journalists. After all, who is the press today?

    As an avid street photographer, taking pictures in public is something I can’t stop doing and I’ve nearly gotten arrested for doing it in NYC (and, also, Iran). Street photography adds to the historical fabric of society; everyone likes looking at old pictures. Imagine if those photos were not available in the future. While I strongly believe street photography is vital to our freedoms and hope laws surrounding candid photography are not tightened, I fear products like Google Glass will actually make the general public more fearful, and more paranoid, about having their photo taken in public. Why?

    Because, with Google Glass, the act of photographing becomes more private even when, ironically, the camera becomes more visible.

    (In German:

  • ph

    intriguing article but very poorly written. Some of these sentences are barely intelligible.

  • Matthew

    To be fair I am only 16. This is the first time someone has criticised this post. Just wondering if you could point out a sentence which is ‘barely intelligible’ to me – it’ll help me improve my writing.

  • John

    its not so hiden anybody could see that is a camera!!

  • John

    the design is just terible is like you crashed with a helicopter and now you have no lenses on your glass

  • lidocaineus

    Something that bothered me, early on when you mention telephotos: the reason people don’t use telephotos for street photography (in the traditional sense) isn’t because of the way it attracts attention (though that might be a slight reason); it’s because long focal lengths really remove you from the scene. This is more than just an ethereal thing – this is a fundamental property in which angles of views between shorter focal lengths and longer focal lengths create very different scenes, the latter of which are usually not as interesting as the former.

  • ph

    I apologize for criticizing your writing. I think that some of your sentence structures could use improvement, but that’s not to dismiss the thought-provoking points you’ve raised regarding street photography equipment. The following are some of the more problematic sentences:
    “I may like using a Leica more but I can eventually buy one if I can sell my images and if I can show off my skill with these cameras, then I can say I’ve earned it.”
    It’s a run-on sentence with improper punctuation. The sentence would work more effectively and be less confusing if you perhaps separated the sentences and used coordinating conjunctions or punctuation. One suggestion is: “I may like using a Leica more. However, I would not buy one until I’ve earned it by showing off my skill with the cameras I currently own and selling my images.”
    Another example:
    “The Fuji X100, the Olympus PEN cameras are popular and of course the Leica M system is famed for being the ultimate street photography tool – despite having a hefty price tag.”
    You need a comma in between independent clauses. Revised: “The Fuji X100 and the Olympus PEN cameras are popular, and of course, the Leica M system is famed for being the ultimate street photography tool -despite having a hefty price tag.”

    I did not realize how young you are. It’s quite impressive that you know so much about street photography at your age. I don’t mean to nitpick writing issues, but I had the false assumption that this article was written by a professional, hence its publication on Petapixel. Good luck with your future writing!

    a procrastinating college student

  • Matthew

    Thanks for the comment. Punctuation is the thing I find hardest in writing. Luckily I’ve got a co-editor on my new site so at least I won’t have punctation mistakes in all the publications.
    Good luck with beating the procrastination ;)

  • BigD

    While your theory sounds plausible, the real reason why telephotos weren’t used in traditional street photography is that even with zone focusing it’s difficult to focus long lenses on a rangefinder. Slap a 90mm Tele-Elmarit on an M3 and see how many keepers you get. You need a fast shutter speed and a small aperture. It wasn’t feasible when you only had a limited amount of exposures. Even the “fast’ film of the day was slow relatively speaking.

    The truth is that the wide-angle technique was borne more out of the necessity of getting sharp images rather than your “ethereal interest” theory.

  • eraserhead12

    if/when google glass hits the mass public, there’ll be a lot more pics/videos of unconsenting women on Reddit.. just saying.

  • lidocaineus

    If you read what I post, I specifically said the “ethereal interest” was not the driving factor for preferring wide angles. While zone focusing provided the framework for what established wide angles as the go-to for street photography, it’s their angle of view properties that helped cement that position. After all, we’ve had extremely fast telephotos for a long time now, and people still use short focal lengths despite the way telephotos could’ve alleviated the difficulty in having to get in so close.

  • G

    Agree, wide-angles give much more a feel of “being present” than tele.

  • G

    For many street shooting is not just about the final picture, it is the total experience. IMO a camera (or phone) is a vital part of this experience and if getting a shot just required looking, something would be missing.

    So far I haven’t seen these glasses in use, but when I do see someone wearing them I will think: creep. Street shooters should have the decency of giving people a chance to know they’re there with a camera, even if you want the candid look. Isn’t this just part of the game and the rush you experience too?

  • Jeremy Lawrence

    I do a lot of street photography and often I use a 5DII with battery grip and a chunky 16-35mm lens. But what I do is not hide and be furtive, I just pretend I’m a gormless tourist and look like I’m shooting past my subject. I gather I look mostly harmless, which I assume must help. :)
    I also have a Ricoh GX200 [sadly dying now] pocket camera which has a really useful 24mm wide angle lens – about the only one that did at time I bought it.

    I find my iPhone way too slow/clumsy for street photography and not wide enough for my tastes either. Not too mention the quality is pretty ropey once you lok at the pics on a decent sized screen.

    Some street stuff here…

  • ikea

    People have been using hidden cameras for street photography for many decades, so any kind of uproar about how something like Google Glass is a new threat to “privacy” in public places is really nonsense I think. Anyway, good work Matthew.

  • ennuipoet

    The one I thing I look forward to with Glass is people will immediately assume people wearing them are doing something sleazy (because someone will be sleazy and it will go widely public) and stop looking at my DSLR,

  • George Orwell

    Here’s my 2 cents … I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but if you look at me with a Google glass, I might be tempted to knock it off your face and step on it. I don’t mind street photography in its traditional form (the cat and mouse game), but I object to a bunch of creepy photographers walking around with these things and then posting the pix on the net. You guys are playing out Orwell’s 1984 in spades – only this time it’s not Big Brother watching you, it’s street creeps like you.

  • DamianM

    Don’t bring Orwell into this.
    You have a zillion cameras pointing at you everyday, everywhere you go. how is this any different?
    Once you leave the PRIVACY of your home you forfeit your right to privacy.
    And if you knock it off anyone’s face, you have violated there rights and are now charged with assault.
    You have no right to privacy in a public space.

  • DamianM

    when photography was invented it was just as fast that more pornographic material arouse. Theres no avoiding it. Its human nature.

  • DamianM

    Not the obvious camera

  • DamianM

    just dont go around harassing people

  • rivercityrocker

    I did misread your post. Sorry about that.

    Wide lenses are used today simply because that is what people have come to expect “street photography” to look like. It’s ingrained in people’s minds. Yes, the wide angle does add a cool flare as well.

    street photography = wide angle
    portrait photography = short tele
    sports photography = long tele

    It’s not until people start breaking out of the box that new and interesting trends develop. As I mentioned most people think of sports photography as being done with a tele, but the best sports photography I’ve seen in the last few years has been from skaters and BMXrs who started the trend of going wide and getting close and this has caused a change in sports imagery.

    In any case everyone fancies themselves “street photographers” these days. It’s a catch-all for badly composed, blurry, black and whites converted pictures.

    Actually, I’m not even sure why I’m commenting on this article because it’s quite inane and even the examples posted are snapshots at best. The most interesting photo barely qualifies as a “street photo” other than the fact there’s a street in it.

    Somehow I always click on twitter links to PetaPixel “articles” and the content is almost always terrible. I mean an article about Google Glasses as the new “street photography” gear? It’s pretty stupid. Not to mention the article was so scatter-brained it barely made sense. Comp 101, dude. Take it.

  • Siegfried Kiermayer

    How many Street ‘Photographers’ are asking there ‘vicitims’ afterwords if they allow the picture?

    I don’t do SP and i don’t like it very much. A lot of people get never asked and have no saying.

  • gabriel.s

    I also thought about potential use of Glass in street photography. However, with the current design, you will be limited with landscape orientation…

  • AntonyShepherd

    Sadly, the story immediately above this one about the guy who got beaten up and arrested for filming a cop is more likely to be what happens to people wearing these.
    Just glancing at some self-important security guard or cop is liable to cause a problem for the wearer.

  • Matthew

    Haha, I didn’t think of that. That’s a good, and quite funny, point. Try to imagine people trying to do portrait images with Glass and it is quite funny.

  • Duke Shin

    Why not use a camera that-

    -doesn’t have a tiny sensor that’ll turn the shadow detail into a bowl of fruit loops?
    -doesn’t require you to say “mmkay, glass. Take a pitchurr.”
    -has a way to accurately frame the shot?
    -doesn’t rely on black-and-white-insta-art?

    Remember, the most important part of street photography is becoming invisible, to work in a way that your subject becomes comfortable with you, or ignore your presence completely. An A-99 will do just fine if you can achieve that.

  • Stacy

    stunning post! thanks )

  • Federico

    Do you want to know if Gglass work as a tool for street photography?

    Answer the following questions:

    1- Do you shoot regularly with your parking assist rearview camera?

    2- Do you own a security camera and you are planning to buy an adapter to use Nikon or Canon Lenses?

    3- Do you think you are doing “in-room photography” because you shoot with your baby monitor camera?

    If you just answered YES to all the question then Gglass is the right tool for you!

    Because you shoot on the street that doesn’t mean you are doing street photography.