If you’ve taken a portrait of someone, or even had your own portrait made, you understand how difficult it can be to feel comfortable in front of a camera. Everything can be laid back and casual, with everyone nicely relaxed, smiling, and laughing, but as soon as the camera comes out, it’s a different story. The rigid posture, the forced smile, and the deer-in-the-headlights look all rear their ugly heads.
Getting candid portraits that show genuine emotion is indeed a difficult task - perhaps one of the most difficult of all tasks that photographers must take on. However, there are a few easy tricks that can make getting high-quality candid shots much, much easier.
Perhaps the simplest method of getting a nice, candid shot is to put your camera in continuous or burst mode and just fire away. There is sure to be a moment or two in which the subject lets down his or her guard and you capture a much more genuine moment than what you can get when they are heavily posed and forcing a smile.
Along the same lines, keep shooting in between shots. For example, at an outdoor shoot location, keep your camera at the ready to take photos as you move from one location to the next. You never know when you might capture a sweet moment like a newly engaged couple walking hand in hand or parents being silly with their kids as they roll around on the grass. It’s those kind of moments that make the best photos!
Give Them Deep Thoughts
The old standard of saying cheese is not the way to evoke deep thought. In fact, all that does is help the portrait subject clench their face into an unnatural smile.
To get a more natural reaction, give your subject something to think about - a fond memory, a funny moment with their significant other, their favorite quote from their favorite movie, and so on. By asking them to think on a deeper level, suddenly they are far less focused on the fact that there is a camera in their face. As a result, they will be more relaxed and give you a more natural pose and facial expression. All it takes is a simple distraction!
Give Them Something to Do With Their Hands
When most people have their portrait made, they simply don’t know what to do with their hands. Just like when faces freeze up awkwardly when a photographer says cheese, the subject’s body can freeze up awkwardly if they don’t know what to do with their hands.
If you’re looking for a candid portrait, having the subject clasp their hands in front of them or place them on the shoulders of a family member just won’t cut it - it still looks too posed. Instead, give the subject something to do. They can play with their hair, throw a ball off-camera, jump up and down, and so on - it just needs to be something active that, just like deep thinking, takes their mind off the fact that they are being photographed.
The trick here is to capture that split second after they do something when everything falls into place, and you have a perfectly natural subject that’s smiling and has a relaxed body. For example, you don’t want the shot of the high school senior in mid-throw as he chucks a football; you want the moment afterward when he’s looking off-camera, smiling and laughing, and his body shows a little movement to give the shot a more dynamic feel.
Heck, even just having the subject hold an object - a soccer ball, a flower, their dog, or some other prop - can instantly make them more relaxed. Some photographers shun props, but doing so means that you might miss out on the endearing candid portraits you seek to create.
The important thing to remember when trying to take candid portraits is that the more you can distract the subject from thinking about the camera, the more you can have them move around, and the more prepared you are at all times - even between shots - to take a photo, the better your portraits will be. Give each of these quick tips a try, and see just how much they can improve your photos!