Modesty is such a lovely word. It has no negative denotation or connotation, and the world would be a nicer place if everybody practiced it more. For people who practice street photography, it can even mean the difference between making others feel comfortable around them and making others feel like running in the opposite direction from them.

It’s not uncommon for street photographers to blend in with the crowd; they don’t bring along an entourage or act as if they’re celebrities walking down the street. Many street photographers work alone, dress in casual clothes, and carry smaller cameras—all to ensure that their photographs show people just living their lives. And nothing stops people in their tracks more than an extremely large camera pointed at them by a person in full photography gear.

An incident I witnessed recently explains my point well: When I visited a botanical garden a few weeks ago, I saw a photographer shooting a couple of otaku messing around by the garden gates (in case you’re wondering, the italicized word refers to avid fans of Japanese comic books, Japanese animation, or Japanese culture in general). The otaku were wearing costumes and play-fighting with plastic weapons, so they really stood out from everybody else at the garden. You’d think that any person wearing such clothes or engaging in such activity would be okay with attention, but no. The moment the costume-clad duo realized someone was photographing them, they suddenly stopped what they’re doing and just stared at the photographer. For a moment the photographer continued taking pictures, but when the staring wouldn’t stop, the photographer knew he had to go. And go he did, photographing some nearby street musicians afterward.

So what did the photographer do wrong? Well, he was kind of hiding behind some shrubs, and he used a very big camera with long lenses. Most likely he looked suspicious, even to people wearing costumes and play-fighting with plastic weapons in the middle of the day.

Recalling the incident now, I can’t help thinking that things would have gone more smoothly if the photographer had been more natural. Using a zoom lens as you keep yourself hidden is unnatural and closer to secret photography than it is to street photography. Not many people appreciate getting their photographs taken in secret; therefore, blending in with the crowd, not hiding from them, is crucial. Street photography entails being physically close to the people you photograph. It’s more honest that way because even if they don’t notice that they’re being photographed, they are aware someone could easily see them.