When it comes to photography, there are different styles of shooting. Candid photography is one such style. There are some misconceptions as to what it stands for, what is needed in terms of equipment, and the legal aspects.
In this guide, I will explain candid photography in detail. I will also share some useful tips to take your candid shots to the next level based on my experience.
What is Candid Photography?
Candid photography in simplest terms is the photography style where you photograph people without them knowing you are photographing them. This includes both circumstances where you are at an event as a hired photographer and shooting in public.
When you normally do a photoshoot, you will ask the person to pose for you. But in the case of candid photography, there is no planned posing part. Here, the person will not be aware of the fact that there is a camera pointing at them for photography. Thus, the photographer will be able to see the natural poses of the person and capture them.
Candid vs Plandid photography
In the case of candid photography, you will capture the natural poses of the subject. There is no posing in the case of candid photography. But, in the case of plandid photography, it will be a pre-planned photoshoot that will look like a candid image at the end. Thus, it is easy to do a plandid photoshoot.
Equipment for Candid photography
Let’s discuss equipment for candid photography.
For candid photography, it will be a bad idea to shoot with a heavy and bulky camera. One main reason is that people will notice you quickly. Thus, you will not be able to capture their natural expressions. Another reason is you will feel tired of carrying a heavy camera. It will affect your composition.
You can go with a mirrorless or DSLR camera for good-quality images. Mirrorless will be a better option among the two since new camera technologies are getting incorporated into mirrorless cameras.
Try to get a camera with fast autofocus. It will ensure that you get an instant focus lock on the subject. It will be good if the camera is capable of shooting in silent mode. Otherwise, the shutter noise can distract the subject.
If you don’t have a large budget, you can even use a portable digital camera.
One important thing about candid photography is that the subject should not know that there is a person in front of them with a camera. But when you use a wide angle or portrait lens, you need to get close to the subject. You can avoid getting close to the subject if you use a long telephoto lens instead.
The long focal length of the telephoto lens helps to maintain a good distance from the subject. But make sure not to go for extreme focal lengths such as above 300mm. You can go for focal lengths in the range of 70 to 200mm. The telephoto focal length also helps to separate the subject from the rest of the background, due to the nature of how depth of field works with long lenses. Thus, the subject will stand out in the image.
It will be good if you can use a zoom lens instead of a prime lens. It will help you compose the image in an easier way. If you use a prime, you will have to move to different positions to get the desired composition. You may end up missing some shots when you move around.
There are people who are interested in carrying multiple lenses when they go for a photoshoot. If you belong to this category, I recommend carrying a couple of lenses with you. In such a case, you can take a prime lens and a zoom lens with you. A 35mm or 50mm prime will be a good choice. Nowadays, you can get prime lenses that come with fast apertures. So, consider investing in these lenses to ensure high-quality images. The zoom lens can be 70-200mm. It will be good if you can get the f/2.8 version of the 70-200mm lens since it will allow a lot of light in, resulting in fast shutter speeds needed for candid photography.
Tips for candid photography
Below are photography tips that will help you improve your candid shots, especially if you are a beginner.
1. Aperture Settings
An important parameter you need to consider is the aperture value. In the case of candid photography, the aperture needs to be selected according to what you intend to focus on and show in the picture. If you want the background and all elements in the scene to be in focus (important for candid photography where you cant focus slowly and precisely), go for smaller apertures that will correspond to higher f-numbers. As a rule of thumb, you can start shooting from f/8.0 to f/16.0. If you want a shallow depth of field (not recommended), go for large aperture values of f/2.8, f/4.0, etc.
2. Go with the Burst Mode
I strongly recommend shooting in burst mode for candid photography. Nowadays, all cameras come with burst mode. It will allow you to continuously shoot a series of images of the subject. Thus, it will ensure that you are able to freeze them at the right moment. You can discard the rest of the images. If you use burst mode, it will be good to enable the silent shooting feature in the camera if it supports it. Otherwise, your subject will get distracted by the continuous camera shutter noise.
3. Try Different Perspectives
It is a good idea to capture the same frame from different perspectives. The look and feel of the image will be different when you shoot it at eye level and at a height. Changing perspective also helps to create some unique images.
Next time when you shoot candid images, try photographing the same scene at different vantage points. After the shoot, open these pictures on your computer and see the difference perspective makes on the image.
4. Don’t use Flash
One of the biggest mistakes many amateur photographers make while doing candid photography is using flash. Never use flash for candid photography. The moment you fire the flash on your subject, it alerts the subject. Thus, they will start doing artificial poses for your shots and the photos will no longer be candid. Ensure that the built in flash does not pop up when you do this type of photography.
5. Try Half-body shots
From my experience, half-body shots work better than full-body ones for candid shots. It is because when you photograph a person above the hip, you will be able to bring more of the head and the person’s emotions into the frame. It will make the picture more interesting.
It works best for street photographers who go for candid style shots. Also, shooting from the hip works best with a 35mm lens. Here, the positioning of the camera is very important. It will be great if you can point the camera at chest level to the person. But you can also do it with a telephoto lens.
6. Capture Storytelling images
Try to capture images that tell a story. It will be more captivating for the viewer. It will bring that extra level of energy to the photo. So, photograph people when they are doing something, like engaged in conversation with a friend. If you photograph people who do not do anything, the image will be uninteresting. It will be like a regular portrait.
Like in any type of photography, if you want to capture perfect candid shots, you must learn previsualization. For example, if you are doing candid wedding photography, you must be able to predict what will happen in the next 2 to 5 seconds. It will help you prepare the right camera settings for the shot. If you are a beginner, you may find the previsualization part tough. It is because you are not used to this process. When you practice more, you will be able to predict the events during the photoshoot.
8. Shoot at a Fast Shutter speed
Candid photography demands a fast shutter speed. You need to act quickly when the action happens. You can freeze the action only with the help of a fast shutter speed. Otherwise, you can see some blur in your images. This blur is due to the movement of the subject in the scene. The shutter speed value will vary for different subjects. It takes some practice for you to figure out the exact shutter speed for your subject.
When I do candid photography, I start with a shutter speed of 1/320. If there is movement in the scene, I tend to go with a shutter speed of 1/500 and above.
9. Shoot at low ISO
Even though candid photography demand a fast shutter speed, make sure not to go with extremely fast shutter speeds. If you choose higher values, you must also bump up the ISO value to let in enough light during a quick exposure. It will result in a grainy image. It will be tough to remove noise without losing details in a high noise image. So, try to shoot at lower ISO values. The noise level corresponding to different ISO values will vary for different types of cameras. For example, If you compare the noise level at ISO 1600 for an APS-C and a full-frame camera, the noise will be less in the full-frame camera.
10. Retouch candid shots
Do not upload candid shots directly from the camera when you share them with your clients or on social media sites. I strongly recommend you do the basic retouching on these pictures. If you don’t know how to edit, you can quickly learn basic retouching online for free. When you retouch your pictures, it will help you analyze the images and find the mistakes. Thus, when you shoot candid shots next time, you can avoid these mistakes. It will help you become a better photographer.
11. Layer your composition
If you want to capture a multidimensional candid image, you must try to bring more layers to your composition. But make sure that all these layers complement the subject in the scene. Only then will the image be meaningful and interesting.
Here, the trick is to use the foreground elements in the scene along with the subject and the background while composing and capturing the image. Play with the depth of field to capture some creative shots. You can go for a shallow depth of field effect where the background elements are blurred in the image. Thus, the viewer’s attention will go to the subject easily. It also helps to make the subject pop out in the frame.
12. Photograph people’s interactions
You can easily capture the natural poses of a person when they interact with other people. Thus, it is a good idea to frame the scene with more than one person in the scene. It can be two or more people.
13. Use Photo composition techniques
When you photograph a candid shot, don’t forget about the composition part. There are many photo composition techniques that you can apply to your candid images. But make sure that the composition rule you apply does justice to the image. As a beginner, you can use basic techniques like the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, leading lines, etc. Sometimes, you may be unable to apply the rule while capturing the image in the camera. Here, the trick is to leave some space on all 4 sides of the subject. You can take this photo to any editing tool like Adobe Lightroom and crop the image to apply the rule. Many a time, I have to crop my candid shots for proper composition.
Is Candid Photography Legal?
You can do candid photography in public places, provided there is no restriction on photography in these areas. If you plan to shoot in private places, you need to get prior permission. Otherwise, you may land into unnecessary trouble. It is always a good idea to check the local laws and regulations of the place to ensure you are not violating any laws.
In terms of your subjects, in a public place it is usually legal to photograph people. Of course, if you plan to sell your photos and earn money by using them for advertising or a similar use you might need a model release from the subject. Always consult your local laws.
Thanks for reading. Consider reading this article on how to crop a photo for better composition.