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8 Tips for Landing a Great Candid Shot

Candid photography refers to capturing a scene just as it appears, without any manipulation or direction from the photographer. Unlike posed shots, candid photos can capture the magic inherent in spontaneity, creating images that truly reflect real life. They can be tough to get right, though, as these shots are not about merely capturing a moment, per se, but the emotion behind the moment. And these moments can be fleeting. You’ll probably find that you’ll need to take a lot of photos to get ones that have any impact, but when you land a great shot, it’ll be well worth your while. Here are some tips to help get you started.

Camera Tips

1. Choose the Right Mode

In candid photography, you only have a moment to catch the shot. There’s no time for set up, no lighting equipment, and no prep. If you’re a beginning photographer, you’ll probably be more comfortable shooting in auto and relying on your camera to make exposure choices. At the same time, if you’re used to shooting in manual, you’ll probably find that it takes too much time in this context—sometimes you have to just point and shoot. 

A happy medium is either Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority. In aperture priority, you choose the aperture and the ISO and let the camera choose the shutter speed. This works great in well-lit conditions and gives you control over the depth of field in your shots. If you’re in low-light conditions or need to capture the quick action, you’ll need to switch to shutter priority. This will let you set the shutter speed and ISO while letting the camera choose the aperture.

2. Use Continuous Autofocus

Unless you’ve dived deep into your camera settings, you probably don’t know that many DSLRs have more than one autofocus setting. The one you’re probably used to shooting with is called Single Point AF-S (Nikon) or One Shot AF (Canon). This mode tells the camera to focus the lens wherever you’ve placed your autofocus point. 

In candid photography, however, people often move suddenly, which will often make the image come out blurry. Switching to Continuous AF-C (Nikon) or AI Servo AF (Canon) will tell your camera to continually re-focus as your subject moves. That way, you’ll never miss a shot.

Photo credit: London Scout

3. Zoom Lenses Are Where It’s At

In candid photography, you need the greatest amount of versatility in a single lens, especially since the scene is always changing. Within moments, you can go from a shot of the bride and groom, to a shot of the cake being cut, to catching the family as they watch, and then back to the bride or groom (or both). There’s no way you’ll be able to change lenses that quickly, so this is one of those times when a zoom lens wins out over a prime lens. A bonus is that a good zoom lens will help you remain unobtrusive—something that’s always important in candid situations. 

4. Experiment with Burst Mode

If you’ve never tried burst mode before, shooting candid photography is a great time to start. Burst mode (also known as continuous shooting mode) lets off a number of shots in rapid succession, increasing your chances of getting that one perfect shot. Often you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by what comes out of it, especially when capturing facial expression and body gestures.

Strategy

1. Blend In. Be Unobtrusive

One of the more important aspects of candid photography is the ability to blend in and remain unobtrusive. It helps the subjects relax and go about their business without worrying about what you’re up to. If you’re shooting an event, choose clothing that doesn’t draw attention to yourself. Also, avoid using a flash—it can ruin a special moment more thoroughly than rain on a parade. If you’re photographing an event that’s relatively quiet, try using the live view on your camera. This will reduce the sound of the shutter.

Most importantly, don’t be that photographer that gets in the way of the action, pulling everyone’s attention onto you rather than the event at hand. (A prime example of this is the photographers that are so eager at weddings, they literally hinder the bride and groom in the aisle.)

Most of all, be very careful about privacy and consent. Being sneaky and voyeuristic can yield some great shots, but can also create a sense of violation for the subject. Do your best to be careful and considerate. 

Photo credit: Ariel Lustre

2. Be Patient

Many of the best candid shots come at unexpected moments. You might need to sit in one location for a long time before the right moment comes across. Or keep your camera trained on your subject’s face for full minutes at a time to catch the perfect expression.

Photo credit: Brunel Johnson

3. Use the Foreground to Add Context

Having an interesting foreground will provide depth and context in just about any photo, and candid photography is no exception. Choose a foreground that helps reveal where the subject is or what’s going on around them. In the photo below, the man in the wheelchair on his own isn’t half as interesting as realizing that he’s actually listening to the music of the trumpet player.

Photo credit: Teryani Riggs

4. Look for Moments of Curious Juxtaposition

Some of the best street photography (a form of candid photography) looks for moments of curious juxtapositions. In the photo below, the woman’s cigarette matches the manikin’s hand, while her other hand is positioned opposite. It’s little elements like these that can add another layer of interest to a shot.

Photo credit: Teryani Riggs

All in all, candid photography is a challenging, yet rewarding genre of photography. It takes a lot of practice and you’ll probably find yourself taking a lot of photos just to capture that one gem. But when that gem shines, you’ll find it’s worth all the others put together.

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