Anti-paparazzi handbag

This prototype handbag detects camera flashes and emits a powerful, obscuring strobe that is meant to confound paparazzi. Of course, if there were four paps shooting at once (as there usually seem to be!), it would just ruin one of the four shots.

Last year on July 4, we were walking down the beach in Santa Monica and we saw a pap stop his car in traffic, jump out, run up to the passenger window of a car and start shooting. It turned out Courtney Love and a friend were in the car, enjoying a drive.

We chased the pap back to his car and paced him in the snail-traffic with our cameras, snapping pictures of him as he crawled to the next traffic light.

Anti-Paparazzi Clutch Bag

Update: Inventor Adam Harvey sez, "The device can actually handle any number of incoming photos with no recycle time in between shots."


  1. @1, I was thinking of the same thing some time ago but abandoned the idea because those powerful leds should be mounted near the plate, which could be considered some kind of tampering and would result in fines even worse than those for speeding.
    If I had to implement a way to neutralize speeding cameras I would probably try to fool their speed detectors, not the camera itself.

  2. “We chased the pap back to his car and paced him in the snail-traffic with our cameras”

    Thank you – I like this :-)

  3. I’m surprised that the flash on this is able to respond fast enough to actually disrupt the picture, but hey – if it works it’s pretty damn cool. I wonder if something similar could be done to throw off a camera’s auto-focus so it would work in the day as well. I guess the paps probably know how to manually focus though, and the high-end cameras don’t use IR for their auto-focus. Still probably worth exploring.

    I don’t know that it’s really a mass-market product but I’m sure there are a few thousand potential customers in NY and LA that would be interested.

  4. There was a political-comedy show in the UK in the early 90’s called the Friday/Saturday Night Armistice (from the Thick of It’s Armando Iannucci) which had a brilliant segment the one week, whereby the show hired a troop of Princess Diana look-alikes to stalk the tabloid paps and take photos of them. Good work!

  5. Clever idea. Although anyone could get the same effect by sticking a slave flash on the side of her bag, so I don’t fancy his chances of finding investors.

  6. Well, if that shot on flickr is any indication of your paparazzi skills, all I can say is “don’t give up your day job.”

      1. Daniel Radcliffe came up with the perfect anti-paparazzo tool during his London run of Equus. He wore the same outfit to the theater every day. The paparazzi could take as many photos as they wanted, but they weren’t worth a penny after the first day.

  7. “I wonder if something like this would work for Gatsos/speed cameras.”

    I have a feeling this bag is based on high intensity IR LEDs. In theory a cluster around your number plate would have the same effect

  8. Paparazii – use the red eye reduction flash mode which issues two flashes thus triggering the bag on first.

    Bag people – cover it in quality optical retroreflectors. They look good anyway and its passive so doing both flashes in above situation and multiple paps. Oh and because this is a publication a patent filed for this after today would be invalid.

  9. I know some cameras pick up Infra-red, generally as a blue-white. I’ve seed a hoodie or hat that had powerful IR LEDs on in for obscuring video cameras. presumably some manner of IR always-on jewelry could possibly do similar.

  10. If one wasn’t too concerned about weight, one could presumably put capacitors and batteries in the bag large enough to make the recycle times short enough that it could stop four paparazzi at once.

    The claims of attempting to get a patent on this are dismaying, however, as I don’t see how it is anything more than a slave flash sewn into a handbag, and the idea of using a slave flash to ruin photographs is by no means original.

  11. Some paparazzo will probably end up suing claiming that the bag’s flash damaged his retinas.

  12. Fancy nightclubs and other places that want celebrities to gather could install high+power versions of this. Though they might not be interested, as having their name on the ‘razzi shots is probably good advertising.

  13. if I were famous, photogenic, and didn’t want my photo taken (and that’s a big if) I’d just wear reflector stripes and patches on all my clothes. Like police and paramedics.

  14. @wa and manicbassman:

    There are a number of ways that this might be patented – first, he could use a design patent. Not ideal, but it’s a legitimate patent. I think some companies that don’t have anything that is patentable from a utility perspective sometimes use a design patent just so they can say that their device is patented, but I digress..

    Second, there are likely specific improvements to the way that the sensor and flash bulbs are positioned to optimize the effect. Third, this is a new use for existing technology. Drug companies patent old drugs for new purposes all the time. Provided you can find enough novelty in a product’s design and utility, it can be patented. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a system that rewarded people for better mousetraps, because mousetraps had already been invented.

  15. @ lrsrc:

    That’s actually a really good idea. This guy should create an industrial version.

  16. About 20 years ago I saw the demonstration of a film screen that I think was made by 3M. It reflected light only on axis. The camera shooting the screen saw it through a half silvered mirror via which a projector was supplying an image. Looking at the screen you could barely see the image. The benefit was that the studio lights on the foreground talent couldn’t wash out the image. I don’t know what it’s used for today but the patent has long since expired. A flash hitting that would surely blind the source camera.

  17. A while back I was walking down the sidewalk in the East Village minding my own business when I almost got knocked down by some asshole who turned out to be a paparazzi trying to get a shot of some famous Canadian poetess I never heard of. She was waiting at the counter in a little coffee shop. These people are despicable.

  18. Couldn’t you use infrared LEDs or something to screw with the camera’s autofocus, white balance or exposure?

  19. I ran into a pack of paparazzi trying to get a pic of Tony Parker and Eva Longoria shopping on La Cienega. One of them backed up 30 feet without looking behind him, snapping shots the whole way. Rather than move aside for this guy, I waited for him and elbowed him under his ribs. He was surprised but didn’t say anything. HA!

  20. Ah paparazzi! If only we had an equally determined and pugnacious culture of journalists watching our politicians and corporate leaders the same way we scrutinize our entertainers.

  21. Why all the paparazzi hate? If someone’s willing to make the Faustian bargain of allowing their mechanically-digitally replicated image to colonize the unconsciousness of an entire civilization, then their claims to privacy while in public are at best problematic. Paparazzi are just hackers, repurposing the masters’ technology (fame, media, images) and reusing it in ways that weren’t intended by the “owners” of said tech (the studios, the stars). If Fame is going to be actively created and marketed, then obviously subcultures interested in a piece of the Fame-product are going to arise. It’s copyfighting!

    Paparazzi dip so many photographic handkerchiefs in the imagistic blood of fame-slain martyrs, then sell these saints’ relics to a grateful, idol-worshipping populace.

    Hate not the humble paparazzo, that angelic messenger linking us with the Gods….

    1. Hate not the humble paparazzo, that angelic messenger linking us with the Gods….

      I’ll remember that the next time that I ram your car or yell “fuckface’ at your children to get a reaction shot.

  22. My favorite news shot was a bunch of shooters walking backwards maintaining follow focus as the cops were bringing in a suspect for booking. One hadn’t noticed there was a bench in the hall and tripped when he backed into it. Another shooter caught the accident on tape.

  23. I don’t see how this could work. By the time the unit has detected the flash and thrown something back it is too late, unless the thing goes off at the speed of light, if you see what I mean, which I don’t think is possible is it? And all that talk of slave flashes – aren’t they primed to go off when they see another flash but they will be a bit later, by which time the pap’s shutter is closed.

  24. @PatrickDobbs,
    It doesn’t quite have to go at the speed of light. A flash, depending on the power, typically is on the order of 1/1000 or 1/10,000th of a second (Studio strobes are a bit slower, but brighter). Typical exposures are around 1/60th of a second, so many sequential flashes could fit into a single picture.

  25. Yep, slave flashes work exactly the same way… shutter speeds are typically at least an order or magnitude shorter than flash durations, so there’s plenty of time for the electronics to do their work before the mechanics (shutter curtain) gets closed.

    But given that paparazzi have high powered quick recycling flashes, and given that this thing needs to signficantly overpower the pap’s flash to cause face-hiding glare, you’d need 30+ pounds of batteries and capacitors for decent cover.

    A burka would be more user friendly.

  26. #33-Slaves go off during the initial exposure to add light from a different angle. What would be the point of a flash that goes off after the shutter closes?

    I’ve always wondered why no one did this before, it seems like a no brainer to me. With some tweaking, testing, and multiple flash units, this could be a real headache for the paparazzi.

  27. ON this 4th of July this reminds me of the song “Molasses to Rum”. We are all involved if we buy magazines that will pay a photographer up to $15,000 for a photo.

    …and the photography skills required are far beyond that attempt to photograph the papparazzi in his car.

    Now if I could only actually recognize a star (geek that I am)….

  28. Couldn’t you do the same thing with a bag made with Scotchlite material?
    Super reflective and no batteries.

    When you see a pack of paparazzi walking backwards, use the old trick of crouching down on all fours and let them trip over you.

  29. #30 (Tdawwg) – wow… your ham-handed attempts at ‘poetic’ verbosity completely succeed in underwhelming…

    #33 it would work exactly as any photo-slave, and radiate fully during the open shutter (provided there weren’t red-eye preflashes, which would set it off BEFORE the shutter – don’t know what the cycle time on the LED would be).

    #35 – not an issue at all – it takes a LOT less light thrown directly into the lens (of the papsmearazzi) to overexpose the CCD than the amount of reflective light hitting the subject sent by the same… At very least they are going to create a REALLY badly exposed frame; much less marketable.

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