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How to Shoot Candid Portraits

Updated on March 16, 2015
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years. Hope you enjoy my hubs!

CC BY 2.0 Edited to comply with TOS. You may see original by following link
CC BY 2.0 Edited to comply with TOS. You may see original by following link | Source

Admit it, sooner or later someone will ask you to take their portraits and you are either going to accept or decline it.

Most photographers have the skills to take good portraits, even if they do not like doing so.

But taking shots of people is one more way of honing your photographic skills and can eventually lead to future sales and who can't always use a little extra money?

There are quiet a few photographers who are specialist and shoot nothing but their specialty.

So when they are asked by a family member or a friend to do some portrays, if this is not their area of expertise, they often balk at the idea and simply say " I don't photograph people well". This in turn can lead to mixed feelings even animosity between those involved.

If you take photos of any subject, even if you specialize in one particular one, you can still take good people pictures and you will more than likely be surprised as to how well your portrays come out even if you do not really like doing this type of shoot.

There are some very simple steps or rules to follow that will more than likely guarantee good results and many of these tips also lend themselves quite well for most any other type of photography.

First of all be sure of what you can do; You cannot really photograph people or you simply don't like doing so? If the answer is the later then explain it to those who want their portraits done and if they agree, then go ahead and satisfy their curiosity or wants.

If you lack the skills to do good portraits then it is usually better not to do them. Although this is rarely the case for any experienced photographer.

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CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

Second is to be as simple as you can. Using backdrops which are complicated or busy, can prove to be a distraction not only for your but for whomever will be admiring your work. Also ask subjects to go simple as well; using simple colored clothing, avoid featuring lines in the scene, scenes with lots of trees, artificial man made structures, very colorful backdrops can all prove to be a hindrance.

Rather concentrate of less colorful backdrops ans simple surroundings at first and move one on as your portrait skills grow.

Important details should only be featured or rather present on the subjects themselves and not anywhere else. You are trying to guide the attention towards the subject and not towards what is around it.

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CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source
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CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

The best portraits are usually the ones which seem naturally lit so try to use available light and avoid using an artificial light source.

Note that this is for family style portraiture and not for professionally made studio work like when commissioned by a client.

Plan the shoot for the best light times like right after dawn, right before sunset and especially during overcast skies.

Set your camera to aperture priority as it is known with Canon cameras.

Do not worry about the shutter speed. Since your subjects will probably not be running at full speed, aperture priority works better than any other setting.

Keep in mind that the aperture (the f stop) is what determines how shallow the depth of field will be.

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CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

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If you are going to run your images through a digital editing software then shoot in raw.

This will give you more room to work should you feel that some images need some fixing or for images that can use a little help. Not a must but it helps.

This does not mean that you should run every single image through the digital editing software. It just means that this program should be used to fix minor details or give the image a little "humph"

For most portraits you really need only one lens since you can adjust the cropping by physically moving closer to the subject and if using one lens then get a prime lens with a 50mm being the most common choice since this lens is the closest to what your eyes see.

Do not ask for a pose. Asking people to smile, look at the camera or something resembling a "photographic stop" can actually increase the chances that their look will be feigned and look unnatural.

Simply ask them to forget about you and only shoot when the models seem unaware of your presence or even if they are aware of your intention of taking their pictures since they do not really know the exact moment that this will occur your pictures will thus be un-posed and candid and therefore more natural looking.

Do not force the issue. If your subject assumes a pose or feels comfortable with a location or body strike, then go ahead and take the picture.

Do not ask them to change anything to satisfy what you consider to be a good portrait.

Most subjects will probably end up loving the natural looking results and will in turn assume that the credit for such results is your doing. A win win scenario in which you win every time.


For kids and for adults the best perspective is to take a picture at eye level or perhaps slightly above the subject's eye level.

Avoid shooting when the person is standing straight like a statue with their hands by their side or looking straight at you.

It is better to shoot when they have some interesting body contours like their body slightly facing one way while they are looking at something in the opposite direction but avoid unnatural looking twists of the body.

Moderation or rather simple contours work better than exaggerated ones.

Want many more photographic tips , ideas and topics?

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CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

© 2014 Luis E Gonzalez


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