A Beginner’s Guide to Candid People Photography

Shooting people can be rewarding, frustrating, exhilarating and fun, all at once.  Over the last few years, typical portrait and posed photographs of the family have gone way to more of a photo-journalistic style of shooting, and candid photographs of people have emerged as what more and more consumers want.  Rather than awkward, posed photos with fake smiles, the value seems to be higher on those candid moments.  To shoot candid people photography, lets first take a look at what candid means.

The dictionary definition of candid, in relation to photography is,

photography of subjects acting naturally or spontaneously without being posed

Seems simple enough, but getting it done right can be very tricky.  Unlike photojournalism, where the goal is to document what happens, candid photography requires you, the photographer, to have some interaction with the subjects you're shooting.  Note that one of the key words in the definition is acting, and this can help setup the entire session for you.
kids (4)photo © 2010 Greg Livaudais | more info (via: Wylio)

This lovely photo of a child blowing bubbles is a great example of a candid photograph, but it could have easily been staged. Because it's hard to get children to do exactly what you want, often it's a good idea to give them tools that will enable them to do what they want, and benefit the photograph in the end.  What child doesn't like to blow bubbles on a sunny summer day?  They can now run around the yard as they wish and you can wait till the right moment to photograph them.  This is how blurring the line between candid and photojournalism is developed, because you've helped to influence the photograph.  Your influence is what will make a great candid photograph.

Sharing Laughsphoto © 2010 Andrew Stawarz | more info (via: Wylio)

In this wonderfully candid photograph, we see two friends at a park enjoying the company of each other, obviously laughing at something, each other, or possibly at something funny the photographer just said.  Unlike posed photography, and very much like photojournalism, waiting becomes the primary game for candids.  Had the photographer simply asked two friends to sit out in the middle of a park on some grass, chances are this would be a very boring photograph.  Because the photographer waited, or started a conversation that led to laughter they were able to create this wonderfully candid photograph.

Californiaphoto © 2010 Emmanuel Dasalla | more info (via: Wylio)

Here, we see a candid moment between two people who care about each other and are enjoying a sunset together.  By putting the people in a situation where they'd naturally be able to interact, the photographer has one again allowed a candid moment to spontaneously happen.

Candid photography of people is one part photojournalism, one part portraiture, one part creative planning and one part unintended interaction.  If any of these parts go missing, the ability to capture the candid moment disappears and you're left with what will appear to be a posed photograph, one that looks forced or one that appears to be too photo-journalistic.

Because you, the photographer have the ability to act as set director and enabler for the people you're shooting, you have an upper hand compared to a documentary photojournalist.  It is your responsibility to create or encourage the situations you want to capture, not relying solely on what could or might happen.

About the author

Mike Panic

is a professional photographer. See his site at Mike Panic Photography.

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