Today, we have compiled a list of candid photography tips to take your skills to the next level.
The types of photos that invoke the strongest emotions are those that are captured during truly spontaneous moments. When people see a long white lens pointing their way, their anxiety levels begin to rise and the focus is no longer on their task, but on the camera.
Unlike typical posed portraits, your subject will not be standing still while you take test shots and fiddle with your DSLR’s settings. To be a successful candid photographer, you must know your gear inside out and be able to react to unanticipated situations.
To get that winning shot, make sure to implement these tips the next time you’re out:
Table of Contents
1. Always Have Your Camera on You
Us photographers have a habit of obsessing over the newest and latest gadgets, always looking out for the best equipment that money can buy. The truth is, the best camera is the one that you have on you. It is almost impossible to take spontaneous photos if you don’t carry a camera.
Also, once you start taking your camera everywhere, you may become “that camera guy/girl” within your social circles. Many of my friends are camera-shy by nature and will either cover their faces or run away and hide.
After establishing a mutual understanding that there is no escape from my lens, they’ve become much more comfortable with me taking their photos when we’re out (as long as I promise to remove pimples and double chins in Photoshop).
I know many of you are thinking, “But my gear is heavy! I get tired carrying it everywhere!” If this sounds like you, I have a few solutions.
First, you can come and hit the gym with me. Bicep curls are great at strengthening the muscles required for extended periods of camera holding.
Second, pick up a high quality point and shoot camera or even an iPhone 7 Plus to use as backup.
2. Avoid Using Flash When Possible
As an enthusiastic Strobist, I break this rule all the time. I often blind people trying to bounce my flash off of ceilings and guests’ white t-shirts. So basically, don’t do that.
When you fire your flash, you draw an incredible amount of attention and you lose the ability to maintain stealth mode for the remainder of the session. With flash, you may have just one chance to nail your shot before the subject becomes aware that you are photographing them.
In low light, you (generally) are better off bumping up your ISO or opening up your aperture to compensate. However, when you’re in pitch-dark venues, even ISO 12800 on a 5DMarkIV may not have the power to save you.
If this is the case, then you have to make a decision. Can you live with grainy and blurry photos for the sake of disguise, or will you pop open that Speedlite/diffuser combo and take some banging shots?
If you choose to go the flash route, I recommend that you check out Neil van Niekerk’s black foamie thing. It is a DIY type diffuser that will prevent your flash from blinding people, while adding some direction to your bounced light.
3. Use a Telephoto Lens
While some subjects have difficulties getting comfortable in front of the camera, many photographers also suffer from fear of getting caught. For them, the potential awkwardness from this situation completely stops them in their tracks.
If you’re in a public location, then in most cases, it is perfectly legal to take photographs of strangers (as long as you’re not zooming your 500mm lens into someone’s apartment window). Also, try to avoid taking photos of random children.
While the best path to success is to “get over your fears,” the point of this post is to provide immediate solutions. Use a telephoto zoom lens (my favorite is the Canon EF 70-200mm F/4L IS USM).
Telephoto lens allow you to stay outside of the action zone while your photos will still seem close up. The reason this works so well is because your subject has no idea that you’re taking their picture. Also, the longer focal length helps isolate them from the background.
4. Use Autofocus and Aperture Priority Mode
While many old-school photographers will tell you to only shoot in manual mode, we bought our digital cameras and autofocus-capable lenses for a reason — to use them.
When faced with such unpredictability, the smartest thing for us to do is to rely on the technology we paid good money for. Nine times out of ten, they do a solid job at calculating the correct exposure and nailing the focus.
What I personally do at the beginning of candid photo sessions is set my DSLR on aperture-priority mode, and just shoot wide open (even on my Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L). If you notice that your photos are too bright or too dark, simply adjust the exposure compensation (EC) on your camera accordingly.
5. Photograph People When They’re in the Moment
Riding the subway in New York City each day, there is a certain theme where people look extremely pissed off. They’re probably not, and if you up strike a conversation with them, you’ll find out the same. However, photographing these people on their morning commutes would result in quite depressing photos.
As social creatures, people’s personalities often come to life when they are engaging in an activity, interacting with others, or both. If you are looking for shots that have energy, emotions, and tells a story, actively look for people who are doing something fun with other people. Out of all the candid photography tips on this page, I’d have to say that this is the most important one.
6. Shoot a Ton of Pictures in Burst Mode
On a typical shoot, many photographers tell me that they take at least a thousand shots just to find the top five keepers to retouch. While I go through a lot less than that, I can see the benefits of their strategy.
The more shots we take, the more keepers we can potentially get. The beauty of digital photography is that unlike film, we have unlimited amount of frames to shoot.
In candid photography, we are faced with a great deal of uncertainty. The light can change at any given moment, people can get up and leave, and good moods can quickly dissipate.
To ensure that you don’t miss any potential winners, set your camera to continuous mode and shoot in bursts. You’ll have a lot of pictures to go through, so make to pick up a memory card with large storage.
Pro tip: For extra ninja stealth, enable silent mode if your camera offers it.
7. Shoot From the Hip
If your subject is aware of your presence, they may tense up and make it much more difficult for you to get a natural looking shot. A neat trick in my arsenal is to shoot from the hip. To minimize the chance of misfocusing, I use a wide-angle lens and stop it down a bit more than usual.
For this technique to work, you must take a ton of photos using continuous/burst mode. The advantage is that you can get up close to your subject without them suspecting what you’re up to. Heck, if your shutter speed is high enough, you can even do this while walking.
There you have it! I hope that you’ve learned something new from this article. With time and practice, you’ll be able to master the art of taking candid portraits. If you have any tips that you’d like to share with us, please leave them in the comment section below.
Let’s recap for a moment. Always make sure to have your camera on you, kill the flash, and use a telephoto lens to your advantage. To get the most interesting photos, catch people in the middle of an activity or conversation. To increase your chance for success, use aperture priority mode, shoot from the hip, and take a ton of photos in burst mode.
I am positive that if you apply these 7 candid photography tips the next time you’re out, you’ll end up with some of the most portfolio-worthy photos you’ve ever had.