Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images

May 06

28 min. to read

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Candid photography can capture the magic inherent in spontaneity, but they can be tough to get right. Here are 8 tips to help you get started.

A candid photo can tell a million stories. Capturing unscripted moments may seem easy, yet getting the image right can be complicated.

Candid photography is sometimes misinterpreted as a simple snapshot. While candid photography doesn’t involve any direction from the photographer, it still follows general rules of composition. In order to capture a candid photo that has a lot of impact, you’ll likely need to take many photographs of the same scene before you get it right. By following a few simple tricks for candid photography, you’ll be able to take impactful photos in no time.

Candid definition

What does candid mean? The definition of candid is capturing a scene exactly as it appears without offering any direction or manipulation. As opposed to posed images, candid photos show how things are in real life.

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image1Photo credit: London Scout

A candid photo can show a woman hanging clothes on a line or a family sitting down to their evening meal. It can capture raw emotion between two people or show a protest on a street corner. One of the most beautiful aspects of candid photography is that there’s raw emotion behind each image. Candid shots can also be applied to many different types of photography.

Setting up your camera for candid photography

Choose the right camera mode

When you’re setting up a shot, you have time to make sure the lighting is just right, the exposure is perfect, and the focus is sharp. When shooting candid photos, there isn’t time for any of this prep. If you’re just starting photography, shooting in automatic mode may be the easiest way to start. You can focus solely on the scene in front of you without worrying about your camera’s settings.

If you’re a more experienced photographer, you may already be used to shooting in manual mode. But since you’ll be shooting many images at once, it may be too difficult to constantly adjust all your settings. In this case, shooting in either Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority is the best decision. When shooting in Aperture Priority mode, you choose the aperture and ISO and the camera determines the correct shutter speed. This mode is best in well-lit conditions and lets you decide on the depth of field in your images. Shutter Priority mode is best when you’re capturing a moving object or are shooting in low-light conditions. It allows you to choose the shutter speed — slower for low-light or faster for capturing motion — and the ISO, while the camera chooses the correct aperture.

Use continuous autofocus

If you use the autofocus on your DSLR, you’ve likely been using Single Point AF-S (Nikon) or One Shot AF (Canon). This tells your camera to focus your lens wherever you’ve placed your autofocus point. In most cases, this is an easy and effective mode to use. Yet in candid photography, people may move without warning, throwing off your focus.

This is where continuous autofocus comes in, and most DSLRs offer this setting. Switching to Continuous AF-C (Nikon) or AI Servo AF (Canon) tells your camera to automatically refocus every time your subject moves. This allows you to shoot continuously without having to refocus for every shot.

Use a zoom lens

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In candid photography, you never know what will happen. One second you may be shooting something close to you while the next you’re photographing something several meters away. You can’t spend time constantly changing lenses or else you’ll miss the moment. Zoom lenses offer the most versatility. While prime lenses are often desired for their wider apertures, nowadays there are plenty of zoom lenses on the market that also offer wide apertures.

Another bonus of using a zoom lens for candid photography is that you’ll be able to zoom in close to the action without being intrusive. This is especially helpful in moments in which you’re trying to capture emotion between your subjects. They’re more likely to be comfortable and let their emotions flow freely if you aren’t hovering over them.

Shoot in burst mode

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Burst mode, also referred to as continuous shooting mode, is perfect for candid photography. You’ll need to take a lot of shots in a short amount of time in order to capture the ideal moment. In normal shooting mode, the camera can’t take photographs as quickly. When you switch to burst mode, you can take a number of shots in rapid succession. This allows you to capture minute changes in poses and expressions. The smallest shift in body position or emotion can make or break an image.

Editing your candid photos

You may be able to capture incredible candid pictures, but they won’t truly pop until you learn how to edit them properly. The first step is to get photo editing software, such as Luminar 3. If you’ve shot your photos in RAW format, it will be much easier to adjust your exposure and white balance. Use the Highlights, Shadows, White Balance, Exposure, and Contrast sliders in Luminar or another photo editor until you have a good starting point. Then straighten photo if necessary.

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At this point, you can choose to keep your candid pictures as they are or experiment with filters. Luminar 3 offers a wide range of Looks for every situation, from landscapes to street photography to portraits.

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image4

In this candid photo of a woman walking the streets of Morocco, the colors don’t pop. This is easily remedied.

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A quick crop (removing the left side of the photo) along with lightening of the shadows and boosting of the contrast instantly brings the photo to life. If you wish, you could leave it at this. If you want to make it pop even more, you can experiment with Luminar’s Looks.

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One of Luminar’s most basic all-around Looks is the AI Image Enhancer. It instantly perfects the exposure, contrast, and saturation to truly make your image pop. This is a good Look to start from, and its intensity can be adjusted from 0 to 100.

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Luminar’s 5th Avenue Look softens the rough edges and brightens the overall photo without oversaturating the colors. The final result is clean and beautiful.

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image8

The Blockbuster Look really enhances the two main colors in the image: blue and orange. Attention is automatically drawn to the woman in orange walking through the bright blue streets, and the two complementary colors work together wonderfully.

If you’re ready to take your candid shots to the next level, try Luminar 3 today!

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Tips for getting the perfect candid pictures

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image9

Blend into the scene

What makes candid pictures so powerful is the fact that scenes are captured without any disruption from the photographer, who shouldn’t make themselves known. If you’ve ever been in front of a camera, you know that it can make you feel a bit uncomfortable. This feeling takes away from the raw emotion of a powerful candid photograph.

Even if your subjects know they’re being photographed, it helps if you aren’t constantly interrupting their activities. This allows them to relax and go about their day as normal. If you’re shooting an event, try wearing clothing that doesn’t draw attention. If possible, you should also avoid using flash. The less disruption you can cause, the better.

One of the best aspects of taking candid photos is the fact that you don’t have to constantly interrupt the action to bring everyone’s attention to you. There’s no need for posing subjects, getting children to cooperate, or trying to find someone’s missing uncle. Instead of being right on top of the action, try photographing from the side or a bit further away. This is where a zoom lens comes in handy. You can also attempt to shoot from the hip so people don’t know you’re taking a shot.

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image10Photo credit: Ariel Lustre

Candid pictures can be hauntingly beautiful, but try not to be voyeuristic. Not being acknowledged can lead to some incredible shots, but try to make sure your subjects consent to being photographed.

Take your time

Many of the best candid photos come at the most unexpected moments. In order to capture impactful candid pictures, you may need to sit in the same spot for a long time. You may also need to keep your camera focused on your subject’s face for a long time in order to capture a specific emotion.

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image11Photo credit: Brunel Johnson

It may seem as though candid photography involves a lot of waiting, especially when you could simply tell your subject to smile or place their hand in a particular position. Unfortunately, posed images usually look posed. It’s so easy to spot a fake look or smile, and it takes away from the power of the final image. Waiting for a hint of emotion or a genuine smile is worth the time.

Add context

A powerful wave of emotion or a simple gesture can make for an incredible shot on its own. Yet a bit of context can really pull the image together. Try to include a foreground or background that reveals where the subject is or what’s happening around them. The gaze of lovers can be powerful, but why are they looking into each other’s eyes like that? Perhaps they just had a child or they’re celebrating their wedding day. Adding a hint of context can improve the final image.

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image12Photo credit: Teryani Riggs

When in doubt, interact with your subject

This may seem to go against the rule of not interfering with your subjects, but sometimes it’s the best way to get them to loosen up and get used to having you around. Without pointing your camera directly at their faces, try to have a friendly conversation with your subjects. If you aren’t a conversationalist, create a list of go-to questions beforehand.

When you get a person talking about something they’re passionate about, their focus will no longer be on the camera. This can be especially effective when working with couples. Have them tell about their first date or the story of how they met. Get them to interact with each other in a natural way, then start photographing.

Different types of candid photography

Whether you usually shoot portraits, travel images, weddings, or other occasions, you can add candid photography to your repertoire. Candid photographers know how to step away from a scene and view it in all its beauty. They use simple changes in light, movements, and scene to create impactful images. All of this comes with practice. Even if you aren’t ready to give up posing your subjects, adding a few candid shots to your portfolio can greatly enhance your work.

Candid wedding photography

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image13Couples are no longer looking for traditional, posed wedding photographs. Wedding photographers need to adapt to a new style of photography, one that ties in candid photography with posed images in a way that tells a story. Taking candid photos of a wedding allows you to capture authentic emotions of the couple, the wedding party, and the guests.

Discuss beforehand

Chances are the couple hired you because they love your style of photography. From the beginning, you should keep an open line of communication to determine exactly what they’re looking for. Do they want you at every step of the wedding, or are you just capturing the main event? Are you going to be photographing both the bride and groom getting ready? Are they expecting posed shots at a specific time? Do they want you in a particular location to shoot candid shots?

Having all of this worked out before the wedding day is incredibly important. You should also keep on hand a schedule of the day’s events so you know where to be when. If you can, try to visit the venue beforehand to scout good locations. By being prepared, you can be as unobtrusive as possible while allowing the couple to enjoy their special day.

Always anticipate

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As a wedding photographer, you should always be a few steps ahead. When the bride and groom are about to walk down the aisle, you should already be in position. When the cake is about to be cut, you should already be off to the side, camera at the ready. The same is true for every step of the day that you’re expected to capture. Weddings can’t be recreated — at least not candidly. In order to capture the moment, you need to be ready before the moment happens.

Use the right equipment

Having your DSLR on hand is a given, but sometimes having a smaller camera can be helpful as well. Some of the small mirrorless cameras now available allow you to get right into the action and still capture great shots. This is also helpful in situations where you don’t want to intimidate your subjects with a huge zoom lens. Try to keep an extra, smaller digital camera in your pocket for these moments.

Switch things up

While you should always be ready for the important moments on a wedding day, you should give yourself a bit of freedom when capturing the rest of the event. Try to get candid shots of people alone: perhaps the bride’s mother taking a second for herself before the ceremony. Get right into the action, such as in the middle of the dance floor during the afterparty. From this perspective, you can get candid photos of people dancing, laughing, and having fun.

By always being ready, capturing in-between moments, and using basic candid photography tips, you can create candid shots that couples will cherish for decades to come.

Candid street photography

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image15If you find yourself people watching every time you head outdoors, you’re the perfect candidate for street photography. This type of photography takes a lot of practice and patience. If you’re capturing a protest or some other event, you can know where the action is and simply follow it. In other cases, you may be waiting for an interesting moment for hours. If you don’t mind spending all day waiting for the perfect moment, you can create beautiful candid photos anywhere.

Travel light

Many photographers carry around a DSLR camera and a mid-sized zoom lens. While this can be useful in many situations, it’s actually a hindrance in street photography. What makes street photographs so powerful is the fact that their subjects are often caught in an unguarded moment. Their true emotions show on their faces, and their true nature comes out. If people see you on the street with a professional camera and huge zoom lens, they may start to act guarded or unnatural.

By choosing a smaller camera, such as a mirrorless or basic point-and-shoot, you can blend into the crowd easier. This allows you to get closer to people without them realizing that you’re photographing them.

Act like a tourist

How often do you see tourists wandering the streets with a camera in hand? In many places, tourists are so common that people don’t give them a second glance. One of the best ways to get candid street images is to act as though you’re a tourist. This is another reason why a smaller, less obtrusive camera is helpful. Act as though you’re taking a photograph of a building or other object near your actual subject, then at the last second snap a photo of the person.

In order for this trick to work, you must keep the camera to your eye until your subject passes you. On instinct, photographers tend to remove the camera from their eye as soon as they take a photo. This will tip off your subject that you just photographed them. If you keep your camera to your eye even after you’ve clicked the shutter, your subject can pass by without even noticing you. You should also avoid making direct eye contact with your subject, as this will also draw their attention to you.

Think outside the box

Your version of street photography may include walking down a busy city street, strolling through a rural town, or simply sitting at an outdoor cafe and waiting for something to happen. All of these scenarios offer the chance to create incredible candid photos, as long as you have the drive and the patience. If you’ve been spending a lot of time in one area and you can’t seem to create images you like, try moving to a different area. Try sitting on a terrace above the action or focusing more on inanimate objects instead of people. If you’re worried about people noticing you, try shooting from the hip instead of at eye level. Over time, you’ll develop the skills you need to create inspiring street photographs.

Candid portraits

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image16A candid portrait seems like an oxymoron. How can a portrait be candid, especially if the person you’re photographing knows they’re being photographed? Imagine a posed portrait, where the subject is told to smile as you lift the camera to your eye. Since nothing actually made the subject smile apart from your direction, the smile is often fake. This inauthenticity can be easily seen in the final image. Now, let’s say you’re having a conversation with your subject. You’re telling a funny story and your subject laughs. At this exact moment, you take a photograph. The final image will show true happiness instead of forced. This is what sets candid portraits apart from their posed counterparts. With a few portrait photography tips under your belt, you can master both candid and staged images.

Capture the in-between moments

When placed in front of a camera, people often feel as though they have to act or look a certain way. The most natural moments are the in-between moments in which you’re changing a lens or simply speaking to your subject. Try to take a look at the way your subject behaves when your camera isn’t pointed at them. What expressions do you see when they’re talking about something that excites them? What emotion does their face show when they’re deep in thought? This is what makes a candid portrait beautiful.

Candid Photography: Everything to Create Impactful Images Image17Photo credit: Teryani Riggs

Have someone interact with your subject

It can be difficult to carry on a conversation with your subject while you’re trying to photograph them. As soon as you distract them from the project at hand, they notice a camera in front of your face. Instead, have a good friend of theirs come along for the shoot. The friend can remain out of the frame yet naturally interact with your subject in ways that bring out their true colors. When your subject laughs or gives an emotive look, capture it. This way, your subject will be focused more on their friend than you, and the candid portrait will show real, raw emotion.

Start practicing!

While candid photography may not be easy at first, with practice you’ll begin to take images you’re proud of. You can use these tips to branch off into candid fashion photography, candid wildlife photography, and other areas. Get comfortable with your equipment, be sure to use the correct camera settings, and start shooting! By following these tips and tricks, you’ll be taking beautiful candid shots before you know it.

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