My experience as a professional event photographer has taught me a few lessons about getting decent candid shots of people. Here’s a few tips I learned.
When people think of candid photos, often the idea is that you have to steal your shots; that you have to somehow catch your subject off-guard in order for the photo to be truly candid. In essence you’re taking a photo without permission, whether your subjects like it or not.
This is not how a well-meaning and disciplined photographer behaves. Stealing is the act of thieves. And we’re not thieves, are we?
Instead, let your intentions be known. Don’t hide your camera. Don’t shoot from a hidden position. When you allow your subjects the opportunity to acknowledge your presence and become comfortable around you, they’ll unconsciously let you into their world more openly which is the whole point of candid photos. You want your subjects to show you who they are and what they are about. Those truly open and honest moments are what you’re really after. When you steal a shot, people will often feel violated and trying to steal another one will prove much more difficult the second time around.
When it comes to candid shots, waiting for the right moment is better than just shooting with reckless abandon hoping to get a decent candid photo.
The aim is to let your subjects be comfortable enough around your camera that they forget (or stop minding) it’s even there. This won’t happen in an instant. Instead, wait for your surroundings to settle into a rhythm before you even start pressing away at your shutter release. Let people talk and act casually. Let them go about their business. In other words, just wait for things to happen naturally.
It may take some time before things get into a rhythm but it will get there. That’s when you bring your viewfinder to your eye.
Slow down and watch your subjects. Candid photos of people are meant to convey a certain emotion or feeling or a story. You won’t be able to capture those truly candid moments when you don’t know or understand what those moments are really about.
Observe and examine your subjects the same way an anthropologist would. What is it specifically that you want to capture about them? What opportunities do you see for capturing a candid moment? What movements are you looking for? What lighting conditions do you want to capture? What behaviors are unique and worthy of a photo?
These are all questions you answer through observation and understanding your subjects. Being observant also clues you into how you’re supposed to expose and compose your shot.
While I did mention that you shouldn’t hide your intentions while taking photographs of people, I will also say that it helps when you make an effort to blend in with your surroundings. In other words, you have to stop acting like a photographer.
This means not having 3 cameras strapped to your shoulders. This means not wearing a National Geographic vest full of your gear. This means walking around and watching and observing your subjects instead of directing and corralling them into your frame.
Let your camera hang to your side and only bring it up to your eye when you see something worthy of a photo. You’re not exactly hiding your intentions, you’re just not broadcasting to the world that you’re there to take candid photos of everyone.
Candid photography aims to capture moments of people’s honesty and lack of pretense. There are no poses, no forced smiles, and no elaborate lighting set ups. The point is to capture unscripted and unexpected moments with your camera. And the only way to really do that is to just shoot.
Follow your instincts and let them guide you. Don’t over-think it. If you see something, just shoot. If you don’t, that’s OK too.
Share some of your experiences with candid photography in the comments section below.