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Candid style photography made better....9 simple tips

Updated on June 13, 2015

Candid photography is an art form

"The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words."
Elliott Erwitt - famous photographer

According to Wikipedia the free encyclopedia the definition of a candid photograph is "A candid photograph is a photograph captured through motion mostly, without creating a posed appearance. This is achieved by avoiding prior preparation of the subject and by either surprising the subject or by not distracting the subject during the process of taking photos."

With today's technology there are more photos taken every 2 minutes than in the whole first 100 years of photography put together. That is a huge amount of photos being taken every day with 89 percent of the photos involving people being candid photos.

It is my belief that candid photography is an art form unlike any other art form in photography. It is all about capturing life's moments one click at a time to be recorded and remembered when all other moments have been forgotten.

In candid photography with the absence of posing your subject you will be able to capture the range of emotions that exist that make us all human. You will be able to capture those split seconds of ones life that will show Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Trust, Anger, Anticipation, Fear and Surprise.

What candid photography is NOT is voyeuristic and sneaky paparazzi style of photography. The taking of ones photograph without their permission.

In candid photography there really is no set of rules that you have to live by. If you follow some of these simple guidelines it will enhance your experience and make you a better photographer.

1. Always have your camera with you

"My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport."
Steve McCurry - famous photographer

First and foremost to be able to take spontaneous candid photographs you have to simply have access to your camera at all times. Carry it with you were ever you go be it family outings, weddings, playgrounds, fishing or even to the grocery store. The point of this is that everyone that you have contact with and knows you will not even think twice when you start taking photos. When your subjects don't think twice about what you are doing, that will be when you achieve what you are aiming for and that is everyone is relaxed and acting normally with no posing or mugging for the camera.

2. Use a telephoto lens

"We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us."
Ralph Hattersley - famous photographer

Stay outside of your subjects personal space and step back to a distance where they do not even feel that you are photographing them. The further you are away with the camera the more normal people will feel and more at ease. By using the telephoto lens and doing some editing and cropping later you will accomplish the intimacy of the moment.

3. Shoot from the hip

"When people ask me what equipment I use – I tell them my eyes."

Don't be afraid to shoot from the hip when the mood strikes or from any other postion. In doing this you still create that sense for your subjects being at ease because they really don't know you are taking photographs. I have even set the camera on a table top and point it toward a subject and randomly snap off shots. With digital photography this method does not cost any money, all it cost is some time on your computer during editing. You never have to show anyone your mistakes If the photos don't turn out well. Deleting photos on your computer is easy. You could take 20 bad photos, but you could also get that once in a lifetime gem.

4. You can never shoot enough photos

"What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce."
Karl Lagerfeld - famous photographer

Can't say this enough! With digital photography you can never take too many photos. Set your camera to continuous shooting mode and take a flurry of photos. Sure, you will get some that are blurry are your subject has their head cut off but, who cares? Once again that is what the delete button is for during the editing process. This process will give you some of your most prized and awarding work.

5. Location is everything

"If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff."
Jim Richardson - famous photographer

You will learn in time were the correct location for emotionally charged photographs as you gain experience. It is good to be a people watcher and understand how people in general act. With this experience you will be able to learn where and when to place yourself the photographer in the right place to record with your camera the natural flow of events as they unfold in front of you.

I live close to a national cemetery and try to make it there every Memorial weekend. I know from experience that it will be a supercharged emotional day.

If photographing a wedding or any type of event where there will be a lot of people you need to get there early and look for the best locations and get a feel for the lighting. Pre planning locations are a must for candid shots at any type of people gathering.

6. Kids are the best subjects for candid photography

"I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them."
Diane Arbus - famous photographer

Okay, lets be honest when kids become mobile every great photograph taken of them is a candid photo. The kids could care less what they look like when you are taking photographs.

If you try to pose them or dress them differently than you normally do, they will become somewhat agitated and more difficult to work with. My experience is just let them loose and let them do what kids do and the most perfect candid photos will follow.

I have found when photographing kids the best place to photograph them is in a playground outside while they are playing. They are in their natural environment and soon forget you are there with a camera.

7. Photograph people doing what they normally do

"Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second."
Marc Riboud - famous photographer

Anytime you photograph people doing what they normally do, they will of course be more at ease and this makes for some very good candid photographs. It also helps in most case's if your candid photo subject's actually like and care about one another. Be it good times or sad times those emotions will come out when people care about one another.

8. Throw out the rule book

"I never have taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse."
Diane Arbus - famous photographer

This is where you throw out the window everything you were ever taught about the rules of photography. Try different angles, like laying down, upside down, from the hip, over your back just about anything you can think of. Also, sometimes it is ok to have your subject off kilter within the frame. Sometimes out of focus and blurry is the perfect shot. You are the artist so let your creative juices flow. Never let the by the book photographer convince you otherwise.

Like I mentioned earlier digital shots are cheap and the delete button on your computer is easy to use.

9. It is not the camera

"If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera, but the photographer."
Eve Arnold - famous photographer

The art of candid photography does not lie within the equipment we use, but just like the quote up above lies within the photographer. It is you the photographer telling the story, so let your heart wander.

Remember these 9 simple tips but throw out the rule book when it comes to candid photography.


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