Here are some tips on doing photo-walks and how to be safe based on my own experiences.
1.) Look poor - No matter how expensive your photography gear is or no matter where you will be doing your photo-walk, do look poor. This get up or "look" will keep away muggers, robbers, "holdapers" at bay. No matter if you will be shooting in Makati's Central Business District, or in the dangerous alleys of Binondo and Quiapo, or in the diverse streets of Cubao, if you look like you don't have any money to spare, you will most likely blend well to your environment and keep criminals away because they will not waste an effort on you. It will also make you look like a journalist too!
2.) Be alert - With a photography gear in hand, it is instant cash to petty criminals. So do be alert and if you notice some unfriendly stares and suspicious looking people looking and going your way. Hide your gear immediately and walk away as fast and as far away as you can.
3.) Look like a criminal - Here's my usual everyday look... A shaved head, lousy shirt, lousy jeans, worn out shoes, thick goatee, a thick mustache, a frowned face, an evil stare. I noticed that every time I am alone in the 3 seater part of the bus, wherever I'm going, I am the last person people will ever sit beside with.... Keeps everyone away.
4.) Have a camera bag that looks like an ordinary bag - With so many people having DSLRs these days, camera bags are a common sight. It is very easy to distinguish a camera bag from an ordinary bag. However, there models of camera bag-backpacks that looks like a grade-schooler's bag. Like the one I have... Click here. The best thing about this bag is that it has an easy access panel for your camera as well as space for you clothes and other stuff, it is really a multipurpose bag. Plus, the panels inside the camera compartment are so thick, you can squeeze yourself in the MRT during rush hours and your camera is still well protected. When I was in Boracay, I got soaked in the rain while I was photo-walking, but the camera inside was still dry, thanks to the thick plastic fabric and the thick camera compartment.
5.) Have a non-attention grabbing fast lens - Non-attention grabbing and fast, means it is not a zoom lens nor a telephoto lens. Meaning, it is a prime lens. Most prime lenses are small and light. If you have an entry level DSLR, it will make your camera look like a point and shoot camera, which is a good thing. You will blend in easily with the crowd. If you want to take photographs like a stalker, who takes pictures from afar, get a very fast telephoto lens, it is bulky but you'll surely shoot so fast your subject will barely notice it. My primary lens is a Canon 50mm F1.8 II. The 50mm F1.8 II, delivers exceptional sharpness and it is very fast. It is also small and light, so light it feels like a toy lens. Best of all, it is cheap so cheap, the cheapest amongst Canon's lens lineup! My kit lens (18-55mm F3.5-4.6 IS) is my back up lens.
6.) Wear very comfortable footwear - Photo-walks requires you to walk long distances. So better wear your most comfortable shoes you own. I once did a solo photo-walk in Manila and I was walking non-stop from 2PM until around 7PM. My feet hurt like hell.
7.) Be in crowded places - It is way safer.
8.) Move quickly - Meaning...
a.) Grab your bag - turn on your camera - look at the view finder - focus - shoot - hide your camera - walk away.
b.) Have your camera in hand - focus - shoot - walk away.
9.) Repay your subjects - Smile, that's all it takes. Oh by the way, in an awkward situation or if you feel that the subject is a bit aloof or you have the feeling that somewhat your subject is not comfortable or is having legal issues having his/her/it (establishments) pictures being taken, just ask permission.
10.) Have fun and be safe - What's the point of doing a photo-walk if you are not going to have fun, but above all, be safe.