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The Utah Gumshoe: 5 Tips for Shooting Covert Video

The Utah Gumshoe: Adventure of the Naked Baker

Listen: 5 Tips for Shooting Covert Video

The days of sitting in your surveillance vehicle and wondering what your subject is doing in Walmart are long over my friend. There exists on the market today a plethora of covert video cameras which will allow you to follow your subject just about anywhere. Hat cams, pen cams, key chain car alarm cams, button cams, cell phone cams, etc. The list is endless. The good thing is that today’s covert cameras are digital, less bulky and no longer rely on huge unwieldy battery packs. I actually use two specific types of covert cameras and have been able to provide insurance defense clients with video of the subject involved in activities outside the scope of their alleged injury in places a regular video camera can’t go.

These 5 Tips for shooting covert video are by no means the only tips and methods – but they’re a start…

If you follow someone into a restaurant tell the waitress exactly where you want to sit. You’ll need to maneuver yourself to an area where you can get a clear view of the subject for your covert camera.

1. Pedophile or Private Eye?

It’s a good idea to have your p.i. ID on you in case someone alerts to your presence and calls Five-O. Obviously, you’ll want to deny that you’re following or filming anyone and not mention that you’re a private eye. However, if it gets to the point where you are being detained by Loss Prevention or the police; and they discover your covert camera, you’ll need to at least identify yourself (all the while indicating you were filming someone else and NOT the subject.) This is especially important if you’re in Chuck E. Cheese, Toys R Us or an establishment that caters to children. You certainly don’t want to be accused of being a pedophile, pervert or taking inappropriate videos of children or women.

2. Pay Now or Pay Later

If you follow someone into a restaurant tell the waitress exactly where you want to sit. You’ll need to maneuver yourself to an area where you can get a clear view of the subject for your covert camera. Once your food is served go ahead and pay the bill right away. I always pay early so that I can then sit back and enjoy my meal and videotape the subject. There’s nothing worse than being in line to pay or waiting for your waiter to return with your credit card while watching your subject slip out the door and drive away.

3. The Shopping Cart as Monopod

Depending on the type of covert camera you’re using, great care must be exercised to prevent the final video from being a dizzying array of shaky video that has your client reaching for the Dramamine. If you follow someone into a grocery store or a retail outlet that has shopping carts, grab a shopping cart and throw a few items in quickly so you appear to be shopping. You may then place the covert camera in your hand and rest your hand on the cart handle as you follow the subject. Similar to the support provided by a monopod or tripod, the shopping cart will provide stability to your hand and the covert camera allowing you to shoot clear, still video (assuming you’re not using a mutant shopping cart.) I recently followed a subject into a grocery store. So I threw a few items in a grocery cart and wheeled around to shoot video of him down the aisle. Don’t put anything perishable in the cart because more than likely you’ll need to just abandoned it in the middle of the aisle and follow the subject back out to his vehicle.

I picked up my video camera and zoomed in on what appeared to be Doug. But something was wrong. I initially thought he was wearing a pale white unitard. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Doug was naked.

4. The Quick Change Artist

When you continually follow someone to multiple locations the odds increase that they will eventually realize they’re being followed. You must remain vigilant throughout the entire surveillance. Changing or altering your appearance will help. I recently followed a woman to a shopping mall where she went from store to store to store. I followed her into some of the stores. A few of them I simply filmed her from outside the store. And there were some, such as a store that only sold women’s handbags, where I wasn’t able to gather any video. Whether or not you follow your subject into each store and how close you get to them has to be measured against how much video you already have and the likelihood of obtaining more video – as well as your time and budget for the case. These are questions only you can answer.

During the course of the surveillance that day I wore hats and changed my shirts. I also assumed non-threatening body language. I looked down, allowed my shoulders to sag, kept my hands and arms down and generally blended in to the environment. You can do the same. Your clothes should be nondescript; plain patterns and no fancy labels. You’re hats should be neither brand new or old and torn. They should not contain noticeable logos. For example, wearing an L.A. Lakers hat in Los Angeles is fine. But wearing it in San Antonio (Spurs country) will get you noticed.

5. Who Watches the Watchers?

In the 1998 Gene Hackman film Enemy of the State, Hackman (one of my favorite actors), plays Edward Lyle, a retired NSA agent. Lyle ends up assisting Robert Clayton Dean, a framed labor attorney portrayed by Will Smith. During one scene Dean’s wife Carla is watching a television news story about the NSA and a government surveillance bill and states “…who’s gonna monitor the monitors of the monitors?”

A good questions. While you’re monitoring your subject – make sure no one is monitoring your monitoring. You must be very aware of your surroundings as you follow your subject shooting covert video. As I mentioned in tip #4 you have to be vigilant and alert to the subject’s activities while at the same time blending in to the environment. Use your peripheral vision to get a fix on everyone around you. Remember: you belong there. Assuming a posture of total boredom seems to work well for me. Always be prepared with a cover story, i.e. “I’m waiting on my husband in the tool section” or “My wife’s getting a pedicure.”

Until next time,

this is Scott Fulmer, the Utah Gumshoe reminding you the game…is afoot!

About The Utah Gumshoe Podcast

Scott B. Fulmer The Utah Gumshoe

The Utah Gumshoe Podcast follows the real-life exploits, riveting case stories, investigative tips and insightful advice of Scott Fulmer, The Utah Gumshoe. Scott is a 20 year veteran Utah private investigator, surveillance expert and President/CEO of intellUTAH, a private investigation firm based in Salt Lake City.

He has written numerous articles on investigative and surveillance techniques that have appeared in and other industry journals. He is a decorated combat veteran of the Persian Gulf War where he served with the famous 2nd Armored Division (Hell on Wheels). Whether you're a novice or an experienced investigator this is the podcast for you.

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