7 Tips for Captivating Candid Photography

Good candid photography is an art form on it’s own. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to capture the perfect moment in time, a moment that sums up an event or a place or a person. Yes, sometimes luck is on your side, but often the talented photojournalist can consistently pull off amazing candid shots.

Here are some tips to help you nail those perfect shots and freeze a beautiful moment in time.

Cadid photo taken at f/2.8 and 1/100 second, ISO 1600 + flash

1. Anticipate

The old “secret” to good photojournalism as they say is “f/8 and be there.” I’ve taken this to mean that first, have a enough depth of field that most of your image is in focus, and second, that you need to be in the right place at the right time. You can’t get the image if you weren’t there!

Good photojournalists have a keen sense for the best places to be for the right image — and often it is just common sense. If you want a great image from a presidential inauguration, you should probably be in Washington, D.C. every fourth January. You won’t get the image by staying at home. In the same way, you can anticipate where and when special moments are going to happen. For wedding photography, if you know the bride and groom are seeing each other for the first time right before the ceremony make sure to be there, in the spot they meet, right before they get there.

Candid photo taken at f/2.8 and 1/100 second, ISO 400 + flash

2. Shoot from a distance

Nothing freaks people out and makes them act weird than knowing a camera is pointed right at them. Leave your wide-angle lens at home and keep your telephoto mounted to your camera. If you can shoot from a distance, it is more likely that people will forget you are there and will have genuine emotions and reactions that you can capture.

3. Walk away for a few minutes

If your subject knows you are there, even with a long lens, walk away for a few minutes and sneak back over. Just a few minutes can be enough time for them to forget about you and to allow you to shoot candidly.

4. Know the backstory

Get to know your subjects. War photographers know who the key players are, what the divisive issues are and what motivates the armies. You may not be in a war zone, but it is important to know what motivates the people you photograph. This will clue you in on when the subjects may react — and how they will react, whether it be laughing, crying, shouting or smiling. Try to figure out the relationships between everyone and who has the biggest personalities. These people are most likely to have the memorable candid photos.

Candid photo taken at f/2.8 and 1/60 second, ISO 800 + flash

5. Know your camera settings

You should know your camera inside and out if you want to get good at candid photos. You should be able to look at a scene and estimate your settings. You should be able to change your exposure quickly and know which knob or button changes your shutter speed, which changes your aperture, and which changes your ISO. These should be second nature operations.

6. Autofocus is your friend

Special moments happen quickly and it is not likely that you can manually focus in time. Rely on your autofocus system to gather a sharp image. Set your autofocus mode and points for the situation you are in, whether the subject is moving and what part of the frame you expect them to be in.

7. Set yourself up for success

Many times, candid photos are not completely candid. Often the photographer will set the subject up for the shot. You don’t have to direct your subject, but if you know that a good candid opportunity is coming, you can ask them to move toward some window light. You can even set up your own lighting, knowing that the subject will be facing a certain way. Being prepared does not take away from the candidness. It just gives you a leg up when it comes to quality.

Do you have any favorite photojournalists or candid photographers? What makes them great?

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