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Candid portrait photography is one of the most common types of photography for photographers of all skill levels, along with vacation photography and small product photography for selling on websites like Etsy and eBay.
We have some useful candid photography tips to show how to take candid photos of friends, relatives, and others. Along the way, we’ll also give some basic portrait photography tips, since they overlap quite a bit with candid photography tips.
Most of these candid photography tips are given with beginner photographers in mind, but I find it is often beneficial for myself to go over things I already know very well as an exercise, since this often stimulates my photographic appetite.
Be Comfortable With Your Gear
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I talk about this a lot, but it’s a vital part of learning photography, understanding what our equipment is doing, what it’s capable of, and how we can control it.
The reason why you will want to be completely familiar with your gear is that the nature of candid photography means there is no setting things up, no adjusting lighting, and no do-overs. Actually, you can pose and compose somewhat when doing candid photography, but you still need to be ready as the photographic moment occurs.
When the kids and their pets are doing something cute, you won’t want to be fiddling around with modes or settings, you want to capture the real thing, a truly candid moment. So, presetting the camera controls or at least choosing the right auto or semi-auto mode becomes an important skill to know.
Put People At Ease
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I know I said that posing isn’t necessarily needed, but that really depends on just how candid you want the images to be. Some candid shots can be posed on the fly, such as telling a small group of people to get closer for your group portrait.
The way you put people at ease in these semi-candid situations is to be very clear and friendly with very minimal posing requests or instructions. Since you won’t be fiddling around with camera controls, you won’t allow time for the subjects to get nervous or self conscious about having their picture taken.
Putting the subject or subjects at ease also has a lot to do with how you compose yourself. Not how you do photographic composition, but your manner and your natural poise. If you’re not acting like a stalker or one of those annoying, pushy, in the way photogs, your subjects will act more naturally around you.
Dignify the Subjects
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Unless your candid photography is more like street photography (which I see as an artistic form of photojournalism), your friends will appreciate your being flattering to them. Friends tend to not like those “Gotcha!” moments of candid photography.
Now, suppose you actually are wanting to do more of a street photography form of candid photography. While you and your subjects don’t know each other, you can still treat strangers with dignity as you capture their image.
When engaging in street photography, there is a fine line between intrusion and capturing reality as it happens. Having a feel for your subject matter can oftentimes make the difference between successfully capturing candid photography and sticking our nose where it may not be welcome.
Watch Your Lighting
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Candid portrait photography tips from me will always include a word about lighting. Again, this often involves being completely familiar with your equipment.
If you are shooting outside in bright sunlight, it’s a good idea to keep the direct sunlight out of your subject’s eyes. So again, you want to be familiar with how to adjust your camera modes so that you can capture a good view of your subject without them squinting and without your exposure turning them into a silhouette, unless a silhouette is what you want to capture.
The Decisive Moment
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Here is where I turn to the Old Masters again. I find we can learn a lot from photographers working 40 to 80 years ago in the field of street photography.
One of the pioneers of street photography and candid photography was Henri Cartier-Bresson. What made his work so special, what defined him as a true pioneer of candid and street photography was his technique of capturing the decisive moment.
One of my favorite Henri Cartier-Bresson quotes is "I suddenly understood that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant.” In other words, with a camera, you can capture a slice of time, a piece of reality, and fix it permanently in a medium of art, namely photography.
The decisive moment isn’t always the peak of action, such as in action photography. It also isn’t necessarily the climax of any situation. It’s interesting that the decisive moment, much like love, can’t be adequately explained with mere words. You really have to immerse yourself in the scene, the situation, the feel of the moment.
If you really like the street photography style more so than capturing candids of friends and family, a study, at least a brief one, of photojournalism is going to open your thoughts to being able to see what might be the decisive moment for your image capture.
What Is Candid?
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As you looked at the title of this article, what came to your mind first? Was it candid photography tips covering how to take candid photos of friends and family? Or were you thinking of those amazing street scenes that occur right in front of you without warning?
Candid photography covers all of that and more. What it has in common is that you need to be familiar with your equipment, watch your lighting, treat your subjects with dignity, and capture a decisive moment, whatever it may be for that candid image.