(CNN) -

It's 5:55 p.m. on a warm summer evening on Hanami-Koji Street in Kyoto's historic Gion district.

A dozen or so camera-clutching tourists line both sides of the cobblestone road, waiting for that magical moment.

Then it happens.

A single apprentice geisha emerges from a nearby taxi.

The crowd descends, timidly at first, like a pack of wildlife photographers on safari not wanting to frighten their prey, all angling for a perfect picture.

Her bright red lips turn up into a small smile as tourists tap shutters and smart phones, but she doesn't stop, instead gracefully making her way into a nearby tea house.

The crowd is pleased. They've ticked off an item on their Kyoto "must see" list.

Such scenes are a nightly occurrence in Gion, with its traditional wooden machiya houses.

Though geisha can be found throughout Japan, the former Imperial capital Kyoto (794-1869) is considered the birthplace of geisha culture.

Contrary to unsavory myths, geisha -- or "geiko" as they're called in Kyoto dialect -- are actually professional entertainers hired to perform and interact with guests during dinners and other occasions.

But before you join the Gion masses in the hopes of snapping a geiko or maiko (apprentice geisha) on her way to work, there are a few things worth knowing.

1. Unwritten rules for photographing geisha

Self-described geisha fanatic Avi Lugasi is the founder and managing director of Windows to Japan, a high-end travel company based in Kyoto.

Fluent in Japanese and a Kyoto resident for nearly 20 years, he often assists clients who want to photograph geisha on the city streets or experience an evening with them.

"Generally speaking, paparazzi is the name of the game," says Lugasi, adding that tourists should keep in mind that the geisha they see are usually on their way to work and not being paid by the tourism board as some local mascot.

"Geisha are aware that they are a special and unique aspect of the Japanese culture and subject to interest so it is a part of their lives, but people need to respect them too."

This means you shouldn't block their way by standing in front of them when they're walking.

"Take photos from the side or back, but leave their path open," says Lugasi.

Kiku, which means "chrysanthemum" in Japanese, has been a geisha for 10 years.

She tells CNN that she understands tourists' interest in geisha, just as she'd be interested in traditional or cultural elements typical to any country she visits.

"However all the attention can be bothersome at times, as geisha are only human and not objects," she says. "So we would appreciate our privacy being respected by not having our photo taken when we are walking with a guest or aren't on the way to work."

She adds that it would be nice if people asked if they can take a photo and not just go crazy, shooting photos as they run after them, as has happened to her many times.

2. Timing is everything

Most geiko who live in Kyoto's hanamachi (geisha neighborhoods) head out at about 5:45 p.m. to their evening engagements, which makes this the best time to see them.

"For good photo results, one should look at the background behind the geisha," says Lugasi, himself an avid geisha photographer.