Stolen Photography Sessions – The Pros And Cons

Most of the time I prefer well planned photowalks, where I know I have a good chunk of time (60 minutes up to perhaps 180 minutes), plus what camera I’m going to use and where I’m going.

With all of these choices in place, I all but eliminate decision fatigue, and can fully immerse myself in the experience – enjoying both the camera, and the places I’m exploring.

But sometimes these longer photowalks feel too far apart and I crave shorter sessions in between.

Let’s call these sessions of “Stolen Photography”, squeezed in between the cracks of every day life.

Typically they’re short bursts where perhaps only a maximum of a dozen photographs might be taken – and sometimes only one or two.

For me these might come during a lunchtime walk at work, or after the children are in bed and I’m waiting for my wife to get ready for bed.

Sometimes I enjoy them, other times they’re frustrating.


Here are the pros and cons of these Stolen Photography sessions for me. 


– Extra time making photographs and using cameras I enjoy.

– More photographs made, some of which I might love.

– Keeps creativity muscles active between longer, planned photowalks.


– They’re always short, so I struggle to get immersed, always watching the clock. The whole immersive experience is one of the major reasons I love photography, so these Stolen Photography sessions fall well short here, and arguably dilute my overall feelings about photography.

– Limited subject matter. Because I’m in very familiar places close to home or work, I end up shooting the same things over and over. Sometimes this is a useful challenge in itself (like the One Room, Fifty Photographs challenges). But mostly it means I end up taking shots that just get deleted immediately after, and question whether it was worth it at all.

– It prevents me from enjoying other things that are better suited to shorter sessions, like just simply walking without looking for photographs, reading, checking in with some blog conversations, or listening to music.

My reliance on Stolen Photography has changed considerably in the last couple of years.

When I was using a large number of different lenses, especially with digital cameras like my Sony NEX, I went on these Stolen Photography sessions far more often.

Usually because I was either testing a new lens, or needed to get a few sample photographs with a lens I was about to sell on eBay.

Because those days are pretty much over, and I no longer feel more like a camera tester and collector than a photographer (see my thoughts on being a Photollector from 2015), my Stolen Photography has drastically reduced too.

I’d like to photograph more often, but the 60 minute plus photowalks I so value, not just these shorter snatched sessions, which don’t really work.

How about you? Do you go out on snatched Stolen Photography sessions, or wait until you know you’ll have a longer undisturbed period of time? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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30 thoughts on “Stolen Photography Sessions – The Pros And Cons”

  1. Sometimes I see a shot I want when I’m out and about, and so I’ll spend 20 minutes just going to get it. Obviously that’s not when I’m photographing animals, though. 🙂

      1. I’m speaking of particular landscapes. For example, I’ll see a certain road or a certain tree or *something* in a certain light when I’m doing something other than photography. Then I’ll go get it in the light I think will be best. And it’s 20 minutes built around one image. I live across the road from a big urban park so it happens a lot.

      2. Ah yes, I see, thanks for clarifying. Do you ever use a phone to take a kind of “note” of the scene? I know some people do this, and then they have the location data too, in case you forget where it was.

      3. I know some take photos with a “proper” camera, and another with their phone, just so they have the location data and can add it on Flickr or wherever. I guess it’s helpful if you travel to different places and forget where they are – or want to share with others where pictures were taken. I know there are times it would have helped me with pictures of ancient churches I want to revisit but forget where they are. But I just don’t like the process of taking alternate shots with phone and camera, it ruins the flow.

  2. I used to do this when I exclusively shot with my phone. Didn’t like it – you just end up with a lot of random and uninteresting photos, and the short walk or break becomes a less relaxed activity. I prefer to go to a specific location or event, with a kind of personal “assignment” in mind.

    1. Robert that’s an excellent way of putting it – a personal assignment. And yes sometimes we just need to walk for the sake of walking, getting some fresh air and exercise and clearing our head. Without the “pressure” (self created of course) of finding something to photograph.

  3. I did a lot of these when I worked at my last job, just walking into town (a couple blocks) and taking pictures of the same things I’d been taking pictures of. I tested a lot of cameras that way. To be sure, that’s a good use of a stolen photo walk. But other times I just walked for my mental health and then I looked for something new in the old.

    1. Jim it is indeed a great practice for testing cameras (and lenses), and as I said above this is what I used to do often.

      Regardless of whether I have a camera with me or not, I find having been photographing for some years now, I tend to notice more around me anyway, my senses are more attuned. Do you find the same?

  4. Try setting an alarm on you’re watch or phone, that way you are not watching the time but instead just enjoying the time. I also have to ask why the pressure to create a photo every time you go, why can’t you come with none or only one or two photos. It might become more enjoyable

    1. Thanks for your comments. That is a great tip about setting an alarm. I used to do this – set an alarm for half way through the time I had, then just walk. I knew when the alarm went off, I had to start heading back. It’s a practical solution in part for smaller photography expeditions, but obviously nothing like as satisfying as longer, more specific photowalks.

      The pressure mostly use to come from needing sample shots for a certain lens/camera I as going to sell, as I’d bought stuff I didn’t need again. So it was tied in with a whole cycle of things and feelings I’ve thankfully mostly left behind these days.

      Generally, if I get one photograph I’m really pleased with from any one photowalk, I see it as a good outcome – aside from the other benefits of going anyway. I don’t expect to have a high “keeper” rate from photowalks, and the expectation over the years has decreased (even though hopefully my photography has improved) and become more realistic.

  5. Yep, it’s me. I figured I’d leave Jim’s blog alone for a while!

    Since I exclusively shoot film, I pretty much only care to grab my camera if I have a good amount of time to spend, a couple of hours or ideally even more. This is because for me photography is about slowing down and enjoying the things around me. If I’m rushed it simply defeats the purpose. Plus, using film, I don’t like to release the shutter unless I’m positive I want to spend a frame on whatever the subject may be. That means I deliberate and spend a good deal of time thinking before every shot, because every frame matters.

    1. Good to see your here P. Are we going for a record number of comments on this post? : )

      Seriously, I’m very much like you (aside from shooting film), and yes a large part of the enjoyment of photography for me is escaping and immersing myself in the experience for a few hours. When I take just shorter stolen sessions I can’t get into the flow, and sometimes was just rushing even more just for the sake of having something to show for the experience, rather than waiting only for the right compositions to manifest.

      1. Definitely. Shorter, stolen sessions, as you call them, just don’t do it for me. If I don’t have the time I need to do photography right (for me, at least), then I’d much rather just spend that short period of time going for a quick walk and simply looking around instead, possibly allowing me to see and make note of some potentially interesting subjects to come back to and photograph another day. The only frustrating thing on these sorts of walks is when the light is absolutely perfect, in an uncommon way, which makes me wish I did have my camera. Based on where you reside, I imagine you experience this to an even greater degree than I do. I gather things can be quite overcast and grey over there a lot of the time.

        Haha, unless you want to start talking about the current state of film scanning again, or where I see the industry heading if certain companies and business don’t start changing their approach to the amateur film community at large, then I think I can keep the number of my posts down to a reasonable count. I still feel bad for creating such a mess on Jim’s comment board. Hopefully you read all the way through my 10:09pm comment over there, because that was the full reply, in which I attempted to address all the topics you had brought up previously.

      2. Well, if the light and the scene really is too good to not capture, I might use my phone. I’ve done this a few times, but without going for the walk with any expectation of making photographs.

        I live in Sussex in the south east so the weather is better than you might have been led to believe! But yeh we do have a fair amount of grey lifeless days when the only answer is going for grainy moody b/w shots.

        I think we all got caught up on Jim’s blog in the end!

        One reason for wanting very little (or zero!) processing for me is so I can enjoy longer photowalks knowing that when I get back all I have to do is upload the images from an SD card to my MacBook and it’s done. With scanning or post processing I used to dread that extra work needed before my images were ready – and it was impacting my enjoyment whilst I was out on the photowalk.

        Photography for me is all about getting out in nature, using cameras I love. PP is not something I get any pleasure from, so avoid if I can!

      3. I’m glad to hear the weather isn’t a constant dull grey where you’re at. That’s definitely helpful.

        I agree. Post-processing images is not fun, and simply put, it’s not photography. It’s a chore. In some ways I wish I enjoyed using a digital camera the same way I do film, but I just don’t. That’s probably why I’m so adamant about the need for a proper and affordable scanning solution. Because without it shooting film is way more difficult than it should be — frustratingly so.

      4. I know it’s still not the same, but have you used any of the early DSLRs? The Pentax K10D (2006 I think) was quite a revelation for me compared with a much later Pentax K-x DSLR I had (and didn’t much like). They seemed much closer to film SLRs, because that’s what they evolved from.

        The Pentax *ist Digitals were very similar to the *ist film bodies, same story with the early Canon EOS DSLRs.

      5. No, I’ve never used an early Pentax DSLR, but I did mess around with some of the early Nikons. They just didn’t do anything for me. I think I just care so much about film as a medium that digital cameras just don’t interest me. The irony is that the only reason I can ever see myself wanting a quality digital body would be for the the sole purpose of digitizing film if nobody ever starts manufacturing a quality film scanner.

      6. Talk more about what, exactly? Film scanners, and “scanning” with digital cameras? I’m not sure if you’re being serious, or if I detect sarcasm…

      7. Ha ha yes, I meant our discussion on Jim’s blog, I was teasing. Humour doesn’t always come across in the written word.

      8. Ha! I figured as much. I was messing with you a bit as well when I brought it up. Humor, and context in general, can definitely get confused sometimes in writing, especially if it’s subtle.

  6. Hi Dan! Ken, here. I’ve been doing something similar to this for several years now. I have called it different things at different times, but it basically boils down to a ‘photowalk’ or ‘phototherapy’ session, in which I take whatever equipment I have a feel for in the moment and go walkabout in and around New York City. Sometimes, I’m just trying to get comfortable with new equipment (or, older, less-often used equipment!), and sometimes it’s strictly about the location. I’ll often come up with a list of places, things, or ideas that I want to explore, and then I’ll find a time to go off and do just that. I feel it has been incredibly helpful in terms of getting comfortable with my gear, different subjects, different lightings, and it gets me away from the Daily Grind for a while (the therapy aspect). My walks count as “Stolen Sessions” in that I have to fit them in between family life, my job, and sometimes uncooperative weather forecasts!
    Thanks for writing this piece – I enjoyed discovering that others do the same thing, for much the same reason. Validation is cool!!

    1. Hi Ken, glad you’re enjoying your photography!

      I think what you’re describing is more like the longer photowalks I do too. Typically they are planned and last 30-90 or 120 minutes.

      The stolen sessions are/were much shorter, only 5-15 mins perhaps, and so I was always clock watching rather than being able to immerse in the experience properly.

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