Although everyone knows what candid photos are – and most of us have been subjected to them in one way or another – few people fully understand the exact nature of this diverse genre and even fewer are really good at taking candid photos.
The essence of candid shots is their unposed nature. It has nothing to do with the subject knowing – or even consenting – to having their picture taken.
Candid photography is at the heart of cliché, photojournalism and street photography. This can be the most fruitful approach to photographing children, parties, and family or community events.
Candid photography is about capturing spontaneous moments. In this case, using a shallow f/4 aperture with a shutter speed of 1/2000 second made the subject stand out against the splashing water from the fountain behind her.
Above all, candid shots should capture a sense of spontaneity, recording a “decisive moment” in time. To achieve this, the photographer must master the art of making people so comfortable in the presence of a camera that they forget it is there. It is essential to “blend” into the environment, whether domestic, official or in a public space.
Eye contact is a great way to engage with the viewer and should be attempted when taking close-up portraits.
Keeping it simple, small and light is the best advice when choosing equipment. A single camera with a standard lens (24-105mm in 35mm format) should provide enough reach to capture unique small group subjects in any situation.
Use available light as flash alerts subjects to the camera and may make them embarrassed or hostile. Forget tripods; in addition to getting in the way, they draw attention to the camera.
The flash would have distracted the subject and also produced an uneven distribution of light due to the inverse square law. Shots like this are only possible with ambient lighting.
Work within the capabilities of your equipment. Almost all the latest cameras allow you to set limits to the range covered by the Auto ISO feature to set the lowest and highest ISO settings for a particular shot. This is a reliable way to minimize image noise.
In Auto ISO mode, the camera’s processor always sets the slowest shutter speed it “thinks” you can handle when hand-holding the camera. However, this can increase ISO sensitivity to unacceptable levels by setting a shutter speed faster than necessary, especially if the camera and/or lens has built-in stabilization.
We suggest limiting the ISO range to 6400 or less, depending on the nature of your camera. If your camera is over three years old and uses a cropped sensor, you may need to lower the sensitivity to ISO 3200 or even lower. Take RAW + JPEG pairs to give you the best chance of getting editable images.
Shooting with long lenses and wide aperture settings can produce some interesting results. This portrait was recorded with an extended zoom range compact camera using a 500mm equivalent focal length at f/4 with ISO 6400 sensitivity. This combination has blurred foreground and background detail to create interesting selective focus.
Stabilization built into the camera body and/or lens provides more possibilities for shooting in low and variable light conditions. The latest cameras can integrate camera and lens IS systems to provide at least five stops of camera shake correction – and 7.5 stops isn’t inconceivable.
Practice your shooting technique and learn the slowest shutter speeds you can tolerate in different conditions. Most cameras allow you to customize sensitivity and shutter speed values based on what you can handle with the lens you’re using, taking into account available stabilization.
The best results are achieved by photographers who are part of the scene; close to the action but not drawing attention to themselves. Don’t try to hide; it only draws attention and makes people suspicious of your intentions. If you keep thinking people don’t notice you, you’re more likely to behave in a way that keeps you “under the radar.”
Study the scene carefully before you start filming. Look for useful vantage points, move around and get your camera ready to record the moment when a “decisive moment” occurs.
Success comes from practice and the confidence you develop as a result.
Public events are a great place to practice street photography. You don’t need long lenses to photograph subjects in crowds.
It’s easier to take pictures in crowded places where there’s a lot of action. Not only is your choice of topics wider, but you’re also less likely to stand out in the crowd. Trust your instincts. If taking pictures feels right to you, it probably is; do not shoot if it seems wrong or dangerous.
In potentially tricky situations, it can be helpful to have a friend with you who can provide first aid assistance. You can also try taking shots from the hip, either guessing how to frame the shot and using a wide angle lens with plans to crop the frame later to get the desired result, or using the LCD screen to frame the scene. High-resolution cameras (over 20 megapixels) are needed in situations that require heavy cropping.
Find a place with a useful background or setting for your photos, then wait for the special moments to happen. This tried-and-true strategy can often be the best way to achieve attractive lighting and camera angles.
Photos like this are possible if you choose the right location, have the right lens, and are willing to wait. Taken with an 85mm equivalent lens and an ISO setting of 250 plus a fast shutter speed of 1/100 second.
Don’t be afraid to ask people if you can photograph them. However, if your subject is an artist of any type and you want to photograph them with their work, don’t be surprised if they refuse. It is perfectly legitimate for them to want to protect their original designs from reproduction by others – and you should respect that.
Don’t be afraid to ask people if you can photograph them. This pair of buskers in Tokyo actually asked for this photo to be taken!
Street artists and street musicians are logical targets for your camera. Since they want to attract attention, they are used to being photographed and often “perform” in front of your camera. Be generous with what you throw in their hats.
Street performers can make wonderful subjects for your camera.
Take lots of photos. Although you might think that famous photographers only took one photo to capture “the defining moment”, in fact most of them took several photos and decided which one to print next. Put your camera away as soon as you detect signs of hostility. Use your common sense and move on. If your approach is refused or if you encounter antagonism, do not shoot! No photograph is worth an unpleasant argument.
Rules and regulations
Australia does not have privacy legislation that protects a person’s image as such, although the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 provides some protection against the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. State laws may also provide some privacy protection. However, on the whole, these laws apply to personal information; not photographs.
In most places, you are free to take pictures of people, buildings, or public places without asking permission. This includes photographs containing people you don’t know – as long as they were taken in a public place and the photographs are for your personal use. Situations where someone “reasonably expects privacy” are prohibited if the subject has not given permission.
All photographs that will be used for publicity purposes or placed with a photo agency MUST be accompanied by a signed model release authorizing you to sell the image. Image libraries also require model releases for all shots that contain recognizable people, even when they involve side or rear views. A sample Photographer Model Release form can be downloaded from the Arts Law Center of Australia website.
Most states prohibit any action that could be construed as leering or prying at another person. Criminal harassment is also prohibited and photographs that could be construed as child pornography may result in criminal charges.
When taking photos on private land or in sports fields, theatres, museums or similar public spaces, permission may be required. Non-commercial photography is normally permitted, but permission is required if the shots are to be sold.
Federal government legislation makes it illegal to photograph defense installations and military bases. Your camera may be confiscated and you risk arrest if you attempt to do so. Other government property, such as ports, rail yards, electrical installations and similar establishments, is also prohibited.
With respect to privacy, situations covered by the definition of “personal use” include photographs that will be exhibited in exhibitions, published in magazines and online “blogs” and entered into contests. – as long as no payment is made for the use of the photographs. Note that some competition and exhibition organizers place restrictions on the types of images they accept and many require model releases for photos containing recognizable individuals.
The Australian Copyright Council publishes two fact sheets (G0011 and G035) covering photographers’ copyright as well as a general guide, G11 Photographers and copyright. Both are available for free download from the Council’s website.
See more street photography tips
See profile of award-winning press gallery photographer Alex Ellinghausen
Extract Portrait Pocket Guide, by Photo Review technical writer Margaret Brown.
Portrait Partner pocket guide: