What Does Candid Photography Mean?
The important first question to ask is what is candid photography? Candid photography is any type of photography that is real and in the moment.
There is no posing, no fake smiles—only true, genuine feelings. The subjects may know you are there photographing them. But they are not taken out of the moment by a camera’s presence.
It is so easy to spot a fake smile or fake look, and that is the quickest way to a mediocre photograph. But a candid photo allows genuine emotion to shine through.
You could be doing portraiture, event or wedding photography. Or travel or street photography, or family photography. Learning how to get candid shots will take you to a new level as a professional photographer.
Candid photographers know how to look at each scene. And they use the surroundings or other ideas to their advantages. This all comes with practice. Candid moments are shots of decisive moments.
Here are some tips to help you along the way.
Candid Photography Tips
10. Shoot in Burst Mode
People are unpredictable and you only get one chance when taking candid photography: take lots of shots. Your camera, whether Nikon or Canon digital cameras are able to take great photos.
You’ll be surprised at what you find. I often end up with something fun and spontaneous. And shooting in burst mode increases the chance of capturing that perfect shot.
Family moments can be the best time for candid photos.
9. Shoot From the Hip
If you’re worried about being seen taking photos of someone who may not want their photo taken, try shooting with your camera at hip height.
This gives a new and exciting perspective on a situation that you won’t be used to, also adding to the ‘candid photography’ feel of the shot. These images offer a different angle than from eye level.
If you’re ending up with a lot of bad photos, try using live view to compose a shot first. There is no best lens for this candid photography, but wider is easier.
8. Move Around Your Subjects
If you’re taking a candid photo of someone, you’re unable to ask to them to move for a better composition. It’s also pointless asking them to look natural – this creates the most awkward shots of all.
Get up and walk around your subjects until you have them positioned how you’d like, then take the photo. Have your candid camera ready.
An entire set of photos taken from the same seat tends to be boring and predictable. Movement helps to mix things up.
7. Lose the Flash
Using a flash is a dead giveaway – if you want to go unseen, widen your aperture and raise your ISO. You will be able to take well-exposed photos in low light conditions such as indoors.
I recommend an ISO of about 400 and you can widen the aperture as much as you want. This gives your photos a nice, shallow depth of field, meaning the focus will be on the subject rather than its surroundings.
This is one of the most important candid photography tips.
6. Ask Questions and Engage in Conversation with Your Subjects
The camera will often act as a barrier between a photographer and their subject. It has the ability to make your subject feel very self-conscious and exposed. Use your conversational skills to break this ice.
Portrait candid photography may seem like a strange term. How can you take a candid portrait shot of someone during a session when they know you are photographing them?
But there is a way to photograph your subjects so the moments are real—and feel candid.
If you have ever noticed great candid photographers working, one of their best qualities is how they interact with their subjects. They know how to keep them comfortable and bring their personalities out.
Think of questions ahead of time or search for some common ground to talk about. If you don’t know what to say, ask them a simple question.
Keep the focus off the fact that they are being photographed. When you get a person talking, they will begin to forget about the camera.
They will start feeling real emotions and showing them in their facial expressions when they talk.
This is a way to get natural-feeling candid photography shots within a setting that is not conducive to that type of image.
Wait for the moment in-between the moments. Often your subjects will wait until they don’t think you are photographing to allow their true personality to shine. I call this the moment in-between moments.
Pay attention when you are not pointing your camera at your subject. Keep your eye out, and be ready to shoot.
You can even trick them. Take a posed photo and then tell them that you are changing your settings. Or try putting your camera down as you make a joke.
The second they get that real look on their face, go for it and take the shot.
5. Get Close and Watch Your Subjects Without Looking at Them
During events or weddings, there are many photographers that will lurk from afar with a long zoom lens. This works for sure, but often you will still be noticed when you point that huge zoom lens at a person.
I prefer the opposite approach instead. There is no best lens for candid photography, just which one gives you the best images.
Get into the middle of the action. Be part of the fun. By doing this, people will become more comfortable around you. They will be more willing to let their guard down.
From here you can survey the room and wait to see who looks like they are having a great time. Don’t look at them before you are about to take their photo.
Humans have an evolutionary tendency to notice eye contact, so this will take them out of the moment. This is one of the best candid photography tips, straight from the book on how to take candid photos.
You need to do this by blending in and keeping quiet. Sometimes, the attention is away from you and you need to use this to your advantage.
This is especially important if you’re working on a corporate job as it’s best to go unnoticed. Move slowly and quietly, and blend in by wearing similar clothes to the people you will be taking photos of.
Another good tip is to use live view on your camera where possible; this lifts the shutter up before the photo is taken, reducing the sound of the exposure.
Instead, act as if you aren’t paying them attention to throw them off your scent. Wait for the right moment to happen before finally pointing the camera at them.
When they’re laughing or in some type of emotional moment they will not notice or be affected by the camera pointed at them.
For conferences or quiet events where you are waiting for people to open up, consider putting your camera down for a while and watching.
Keep the camera ready, of course, but know that people will start to relax more if it’s out of sight. For candid photography, this means you may need to wait a long time.
Sit and wait for someone to make a joke or comment that allows the room to erupt in laughter or show their natural emotions. Then start shooting like crazy.
Sometimes it takes time for these moments to occur, so sit tight and wait for them.
4. Use a Prime Lens
As I mentioned in the last point, zoom lenses will work fine, but I prefer to also use light primes.
Light prime lenses will make your camera so much more compact, much less noticeable, and easier to use. It will allow you to walk around an event, blend into the background, and raise your camera to snap a photo without anyone noticing.
A 50mm, 35mm, or 28mm prime with wider apertures (in the f/1.4 to f/2 range) will serve you well in these shooting scenarios.
This doesn’t mean you have to ditch the zoom lens. Use both or interchange between the two. This is why you will notice many wedding photographers using two cameras—one with a zoom and one with a prime.
If you’ve got one, telephoto lenses are a great way to go unnoticed. You can stand far away and still capture a subject as though you were up close.
A telephoto lens also forces the perspective onto your subject. This makes it less about the scene and more about the person, This is why telephoto lenses are often used for portraits.
In terms of best lens for candid photography – go with what you are comfortable with. This way, you will be able to take more candid photography shots.
3. Tell People to Get Comfortable and to Pose Themselves
When taking someone’s portrait, the easiest way to pose them is to take them out of the moment. Instead, ask them to pose themselves. Ask them how they would stand if you weren’t there or ask them to suggest some poses.
It is amazing the comfortable and elegant poses that people will do when you ask them this. They just needed the prompt!
These are not candid photography shots per se, but they will have that candid or real feeling. When you mix those poses with natural emotions that come from a conversation with your subject, the possibilities are endless.
And if your subject starts to become uncomfortable again after a while, move them off that pose. Have them stand somewhere else or ask them to try something different, and the cycle will start all over again.
2. Tell People to Pretend You Are Not There
Often with event or wedding photography, people will be uncomfortable with a camera around. They will have a hard time getting into the moment and will wonder if they should be looking here or there. They will try to half pose or do things that look awkward.
In these specific cases, tell the group that you are going to take some candid photographs of everyone hanging out. Ask people to do their best to pretend you’re not there.
For portrait sessions, have the subjects act out a particular scenario or conversation. Tell them that if you want them to do something specific or to look at the camera, you will ask them. Otherwise they can forget about your presence.
Sometimes all it takes is that prompt and the room will immediately get more comfortable. It gives them permission to forget about you.
1. Taking Street Candid Photography? Be Where the Action Is and Blend In
Shooting in a candid manner is very important for candid street photography and travel photography.
Sometimes you want to capture photographs of people in their surroundings. Without them knowing or without ruining the moment. There are a few major tips that will make your life much easier trying to get this type of shot.
The first is to put yourself in the middle of the action. Go where interesting things are happening and hang out there. Pick a spot and let your subjects come to you.
By doing this, people will be entering your personal space instead of you entering their space. They will notice you less. This will also allow you to get closer to people.
You will be right in the middle of things and they will be coming towards you.
Next is to do a little acting. To keep that candid meaning in photography, I like to act like I’m a tourist. I’m photographing the buildings or scenery around a person.
Sometimes I even furrow my brow and act like I don’t know how to use my camera!
Aim up at a building above them or at the scenery to the side of them, and at the last second aim the camera at them to take the shot.
When you want to photograph people coming towards you, be careful of what I call the camera snap. The camera snap is when you take the camera away from your eye right after you take the candid shots.
It’s instinctual and everyone does it, and this is what lets the person know that you took their photo.
Instead, take the person’s photo as they come towards you. Hold the camera there as they walk through the scene as if you’re waiting for them to get out of the way.
This will keep the moment as candid as possible.
About the Author
James is a professional and fine art photographer based in New York City whose passion is documenting the stories and landscapes of the city. If you are planning a trip to New York, he has a free travel guide, titled The New York Photographer's Travel Guide.Written by ,
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