Candid photography shows life as it really is. Unlike posed portraits, which are carefully planned and crafted to look perfect, candid shots are spontaneous and genuine. For candid photos, authenticity is more important than perfection.
This authentic look isn’t always easy to capture, though. People are quick to notice a photographer and change their behavior. To get a truly candid shot, you have to be quick and catch people before they notice you.
In some ways, candid photography is like wildlife photography. You have to blend in, yet also position yourself for great photos. If you have trouble remaining unnoticed, read through these 8 ways to get candids without being noticed.
Also, like with wildlife, you’ll want to use the burst mode on your camera or shoot continuously to ensure you get those “golden” candid moments. Many fantastic candid shots capture a brief emotion or facial expression that lasts only a second. By shooting in bursts, you’ll be more likely catch these fleeting moments.
When you’re shooting candids, you never know what exactly you’ll see and capture. There’s a great deal of surprise and spontaneity. This openness can sometimes lead to a lack of inspiration, as you’re overwhelmed with possibilities. If you’re not sure where to look or where to start, here are a few ideas.
Focus on the face.
A person’s face is the first place to look for emotion. Even without any context or background scenery, a face can express a lot. It’s also constantly changing from emotion to emotion, giving you an endless source of interesting shots. When you’re struggling to find inspiration, try looking at faces and go from there.
For examples of candid street photography with close-ups, check out this collection of portraits by GianStefano Fontana.
Create a striking composition.
A candid photo doesn’t have to be completely unplanned. In fact, you might get better shots if you plan part of the photo, then wait for the other part. For instance, you can plan the composition, then wait for someone to enter the frame. This forethought can make the difference between a good candid photo and an excellent one.
But even if you’re taking a quick shot, it’s worth spending a split second thinking about composition. Need some guidance? Read through these 10 tips to improve your compositions.
Capture social interactions…
A prime spot to look for candid photos is in a group or pair of people. Social interaction is full of emotion and meaning, from a surprised laugh to a shy smile. Even a simple conversation between a cashier and a customer can be loaded with interesting expressions to photograph.
And moments of solitude.
A person standing or sitting alone is a classic subject for candid photos. Sometimes, the solitary person is at a distance, only photographable with a telephoto lens. But you can also find people who are alone in a crowd. Though they’re physically surrounded by people, their facial expression and body language show that they’re mentally somewhere else.
When you’re at a party or event, remember to look for these moments of solitude along with the social interactions. Even if you’re shooting festive wedding photos, you can capture a unique side of the party by focusing on a single person, standing apart from the crowd. They might be savoring the view or smiling at the music. After all, a person can feel just as happy alone as in a crowd.
Connect the subject with the setting.
Candid photos generally revolve around people, but the background scenery and surrounding objects are still important. They add to the photo’s atmosphere and give the subject a context.
Sometimes, you can find inspiration for a candid photo by looking at these elements first. Then, if you find an interesting object or background, you can wait for the right people to show up next to it.
For instance, a famous statue will invariably draw tourists through the day. You just need to wait for the right tour group to get a great candid shot of tourists photographing the statue. Similarly, a bus stop with an interesting advertisement could be a good setting for a candid photo. If the right person sits down, you’ve got a nice shot already set up.
Go where the action is.
More people means more possibilities. For this reason, places that are bustling with activity tend to be better for candid photos. Markets, train stations, and parties are all excellent places for candid photography. Even small towns and villages have places where people congregate at certain times of day.
Besides giving you more options, a busy place will make it easier for you to blend in. With so much going on, you’ll be able to walk around with your camera without drawing notice. The crowd acts as a kind of “camouflage,” allowing you to capture genuine moments rather than suspicious or embarrassed looks.
Look for people who are lost in thought or absorbed in an activity.
If you can’t blend in, you can still find people who simply aren’t paying attention. Whether they’re looking at their phone or thinking deeply about something, they wouldn’t notice you even if you were standing a few steps away. This absent-mindedness gives you plenty of time to compose your photo and get a nice shot.
Give the photo a good title.
In some types of photography, like landscapes or long exposures, the title can be an afterthought. In candid photography, though, the title can be crucial for understanding and interpreting the photo. Not all candid shots need a thoughtful title, but if it’s unclear what’s happening or what you’re photographing, select your title carefully. It’s an opportunity to give your photo more meaning and, perhaps, make your viewers smile.
If you’re still stuck after experimenting with the above suggestions, try browsing candid photos to get a feel for what you like. If you see a photo that’s particularly striking, you can try taking a similar photo or using the same technique.
To get you started, here’s a good selection of candid photos from our community on Flickr. If you manage to get a nice shot, add it to the group so we can be inspired by your work!