Fancy yourself as a bit of an international super spy, do you? Or are you all fired up to do some underground reporting on misleading supermarket pricing? Did you know you already have a powerful spy device in your pocket – a smartphone? While I can’t teach you how to dress as well as Austin Powers, or give you the suave British accent of Bond, I can show you the techniques and apps you can use to take photos without being seen.
Legal disclaimer: I take absolutely no responsibility for any trouble you get yourself in, and you most certainly do not have a licence to kill. Hidden surveillance is a grey area, at least in the UK. While a surveillance camera for home protection is legal even if it includes a public road outside – as is general photography or shooting videos in a public place – if you start to target an individual, harass someone, or display any stalker-like behavior, you have crossed a legal boundary and can expect to go to jail for a long time.
Personally, I’m no international man of mystery – but I used to take undercover videos to help report on secret shopper assignments, so I have put a lot of this advice into practice.
Just as important as the apps you use is your posture or how you’re actually holding the phone. Obviously, holding it up like a camera is going to give the game away.
One easy way – for guys at least – is place your smart phone into a shirt pocket. Use tissues for padding if the camera doesn’t quite stick out far enough, and avoid leaning over lest your phone fall out. This is fairly normal place to store your phone, so you’re unlikely to be called out unless your phone starts making shutter sounds. Alternatively, use a front facing trouser pocket, but bear in mind the angle and subject of your photography will be much harder to capture effectively.
Creepy fact: in Japan, the shutter sound on phones and cameras – even an iPhone – cannot legally be disabled due to the rampant “upskirt” offences. If you’ve ever visited a train station in Japan, you may even have noticed a sign like this, warning girls to be vigilant.
You can also try to fool those around you into thinking you’re just using the phone functionality without specifically taking a picture. For this, check out some of the discrete photo apps listed below which make it look like you’re browsing the web. Of course, if the subject sees you with a phone pointed at them, it’s still going look decidedly dodgy! If you regularly wave your phone around like a madman, install one of the apps that blanks out the screen and continues shooting – but do remember to hold the camera still for those important shots.
Volume Button on Earphones
With an iPhone, some apps allow you to use the volume switch as a shutter release – this also works with wired headphones – so you hold the phone more conveniently, and trigger it as if you were simply listening to music.
Now that you have the practical skills to be a super spy, let’s highlight a couple of useful apps – for both Android and iOS – to help you in your super important missions.
After setting timer interval and activating, your iPhone’s screen will go blank, while it secretly snaps away pics in the background. Remember to set the ringer to vibrate to stop the shutter sound. Curiously, this app also includes a flash option; I don’t think I need to tell you that using a flash utterly obliterates any chance you had at stealth infiltration.
If you’d rather be holding your phone, looking like you’re web browsing, check out CS Stealth Camera, which gives you a funcitonal browser on top of standard stealth camera features, though is a slightly more pricey $1.99
Stealth Cam Cydia Hack ($0.99)
Same name, different function. If you’re jailbroken, installing this hack will allow you to use the shutter button from the standard iPhone Camera whilst the phone is locked – for videos too. Here’s a video of it in action.
SlyCam Cydia Hack (Free)
Available for free in the ModMyi repo, SlyCam gives you an instant camera function from within notification center, in the form of a widget. A pretty handy function to have regardless, I’d say.
A deceptively complex complete stealth camera app, the Mobile Hidden Camera installs as “Simple Notepad”. Though the paid version offers tons of features, for basic hidden camera the lite version is superb; just switch into shooting mode, and the screen blanks out, overriding the shutter sound even if your phone doesn’t support it. Simply touch the screen to capture an image. That said, the premium edition is pricey – at $40 for the full set of features.
Completely free, and includes a unique mode that adds a small overlay onto whatever you’re currently running. You can minimize the preview window to be more discrete, or black out the screen entirely, and it even has functional face detection which automatically snaps a pic when it detects a face.
You now have all the tools and the training you need to be a secret undercover reporter or world famous super spy. Well, almost. You need cahones too, of course.
Know of any more great secret spy camera apps you’d like to give a mention too? Let us know below – but be sure to write your comment in invisible ink!