Facebook Pixel Candid Photography: The Essential Guide (+34 Expert Tips)

Candid Photography: The Essential Guide (+34 Expert Tips)

Candid photography: the essential guide

This article was updated in November 2023 with contributions by seven expert photographers: Andrew S Gibson, Mat Coker, Kevin Landwer-Johan, Bobby Roy, Peter West Carey, Trisha Bartle, and Jaymes Dempsey.

Candid photography is a great way to capture spontaneous, honest images, the type of shots that tell real stories about their subjects. But taking candid photos can be difficult – even stressful – especially if you’ve never done it before.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tips and techniques that pro-level candid photographers use to get consistently great results, and in this article, I aim to share them all, including:

  • How to photograph without drawing attention to yourself
  • A simple technique to keep your subjects acting natural (even once they’ve noticed you)
  • The right candid photography settings and gear for sharp, well-exposed images
  • Plenty of resources for amazing candid portraits and candid wedding shots

I also cover the basics, including what candid photography is and whether it’s legal. So if you’re ready to add that authentic feel to photos you take of loved ones, portrait subjects, street scenes, wedding shots, and more, let’s dive right in!

What is candid photography?

Candid photography

Candid photography is any photo that captures an authentic, unposed moment. It’s about preserving genuine expressions, emotions, and interactions without any forced poses or awareness of the camera. Instead of arranging the scene or instructing subjects to pose, candid photography aims to document life as it unfolds organically.

In this style of photography, images are often taken while subjects are often engrossed in their activities or simply being themselves. The photographer’s role is to observe and seize those fleeting, authentic moments that reveal the true essence of the subject.

That said, some candid photos are taken with the subject’s awareness. During a wedding, for instance, guests often know that the camera is pointed in their direction, but they still act naturally, resulting in beautiful candid shots. The key here is the authenticity of the photo; whether or not the subject knows they’re being photographed, if the image is authentic, then it’s a candid shot.

When is candid photography useful?

Candid photography

Candid photography is incredibly useful in various situations and genres, allowing you to capture spontaneous and natural moments.

After all, you won’t always be in a position to engage with your subject. And sometimes doing so will disrupt a natural flow of events. So when you find yourself in situations where you think you or your camera will alter the scene, it’s good to remain candid.

Here are some specific genres where candid photography shines:

  • Portrait photography: Candid portraits offer a wonderful authenticity compared to posed shots. They effectively capture the true essence of your subject. During a portrait session, you can encourage your subjects to act naturally or engage in activities, discreetly photographing them as they do. You can also seize candid opportunities between poses or while transitioning from one location to another.
  • Wedding and event photography: Candid wedding and event photography is very popular – and for good reason! These occasions present a multitude of possibilities, from capturing the bride getting ready to the groom adjusting his tie, and guests enjoying themselves at the reception. Candid shots in these scenarios are often effortless and stress-free, as the subjects are typically accepting of the camera’s presence while being engrossed in the main event.
  • Street photography: Almost all street photography relies on candid shots taken without the subject’s consent. The goal of a street photographer is to remain unnoticed, capturing individuals in their natural states. Street candids can encompass wide street landscapes, interactions between a few subjects, or a solitary person lost in thought, walking through the rain, or simply observing their surroundings.
  • Travel photography: When exploring different destinations, candid shots can help depict the unique essence of a place. Travel candid photography often resembles street photography, highlighting the people, clothing, lighting, and architecture that make a location distinctive.

Plus, taking candid photos is a fun challenge. You don’t get to direct the scene, and you have to take whatever the moment offers.

And if you’re part of the activity or event, when doing candid photography, you really get to see what is going on. Many people complain that they miss out on a group or family experience because they’re always taking pictures. If you focus more on seeing candid moments than on clicking away, you may find that you’re more in tune with events than ever before. As the great candid photographer Dorothea Lange said, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

While candid photography without consent is generally legal in many places, such as the United States, the rules can vary depending on your location. It’s crucial to check the laws of the specific place where you plan to do candid photography to avoid any legal trouble.

That said, candid photography with consent is widely accepted and legal almost everywhere. This means that if you’re in an area where shooting without consent is prohibited, you can still capture some fantastic candid shots by simply asking for permission first. Once your subject agrees, you can take photos as they naturally go about their activities.

The best candid photography settings

What are the best camera settings for capturing good candid moments?

If you don’t understand your camera very well, then begin with Auto mode. Being on Auto means that you don’t need to think about camera settings at all. You can just focus on seeing the future and being ready for moments.

The problem, however, is that Auto mode is going to let you down quite often by capturing photos that are overexposed (too bright), underexposed (too dark), or blurry.

So you should begin to learn about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Once you understand these three things, you’ll understand many of the technical problems in your photos.

When you’re ready to move away from Auto mode, I highly recommend using Aperture Priority along with exposure compensation. Choose the aperture for its creative effect (f/1.8 for a shallow depth of field – f/16 for a greater depth of field). Let the camera figure out the rest. Then just focus on capturing the moment. Use exposure compensation when photos keep coming out too dark or too bright.

depth of field
This candid photo at the dinner table was shot in Aperture Priority mode. The aperture was set to f/2.8, allowing the background to fall out of focus. An aperture of f/16 would have brought much of the background into focus. (Image by Mat Coker)
Depth of field
At f/11, more of the foreground and background are in focus. (Image by Mat Coker)

When you’re ready for a real challenge, you can try moving onto Manual mode. But even when you’re comfortable in Manual mode, you may find yourself scrambling with settings too much while trying to capture candid moments.

When you get good at anticipating moments, you can take a couple of test shots and look at the exposure. You can adjust your settings and still be ready to capture the moment that you know is coming.

And once you’re fully comfortable with how your camera works, you’ll forget about it in the moment!

How to take stunning candid photos: 23 general tips and tricks

Struggling to take the kind of candid shots you can be proud of? Here are 16 tips to instantly improve your photos:

1. Take your camera everywhere

Candid photography tips and examples

The best way to take spontaneous photos? Always have a camera! That way, when the moment presents itself, you can quickly flick the On button, snag a few shots, and (if all goes well!) get a great result.

When I’m on a shoot, I’ll use my DSLR – but when I’m between shoots, I carry a point-and-shoot camera. If I see a good opportunity, I’ll whip it out and capture the scene. Of course, you don’t need to head out and buy an expensive second body – these days, smartphone cameras are very high quality and more than adequate for most candid photography.

Also, taking a camera everywhere helps people become more comfortable with you taking their photo. I find that my friends and family just expect me to have my camera out, so when I do fire it up, it’s not a signal to pose, it’s just a normal part of our interaction. And when I do take an image or two, the subjects are relaxed and the photos look natural.

2. Learn to see the future

Initially, it may feel as if you have no control over moments. Everything is chaotic and you have no idea when a moment is going to happen. But with practice, you’ll feel like you actually have a lot of control over spontaneous moments.

In order to capture good candid moments, you need to be able to see the future. Seeing the future means developing the ability to anticipate what is about to happen before it does.

Some things are easy to anticipate because they are so predictable. The sun rises and sets every day. If you want a nice photo of the sunrise you know exactly when it’s going to happen.

candid moments in the water
Waves are predictable; they just keep rolling in. (Image by Mat Coker)

But how about anticipating less predictable moments? You don’t know exactly when a storm is going to arise or exactly what form it will take. If you want to photograph storms you’ll need to watch how they behave across the seasons. Where I live it’s very rare to have a thunderstorm, but you can feel it in the air when one is coming.

Still other things, such as people, seem completely unpredictable. Take toddlers for example. Who knows what they’re going to do at any moment?

But even something as seemingly random and chaotic as the behavior of toddlers is predictable. It just takes a bit longer to notice the pattern.

Patterns are the key to seeing moments before they happen.

Patterns are woven into our culture, our relationships and our personality.

Pay attention to the things you love to photograph, watch for patterns, and take note. Your ability to anticipate moments will increase over time if you observe and practice regularly.

Learn to anticipate moments by looking for patterns. Once you can do this, you’ll be able to see the future (which has benefits beyond photography). When you sense a moment approaching, the worst thing you can do is interrupt.

3. Use a long focal length

To capture candid photography without being noticed, try shooting with a long lens – a 135mm prime, an 18-200mm zoom, or a 70-200mm zoom, for instance. As you’ve probably already guessed, the farther you are from your subject, the less likely they are to know that you’re taking pictures, and the more natural and relaxed they’ll act.

Depending on the environment, though, a long lens can be pretty noticeable, and it may actually make people feel uncomfortable (like they’re being spied on). So choose your lens wisely, and if you are concerned about people’s reactions, consider picking your most compact zoom.

That way, you can get your candid shots from outside people’s personal space, you can go unnoticed, and you can maintain a feeling of intimacy in your compositions.


4. Use a small camera with a small lens

Another approach is to use a small camera with a small lens and get in much closer to the action. The idea here is that the small camera gives you the perception that you are less intimidating than somebody using a large DSLR setup. You are much more likely to be able to take photos without being noticed or to be ignored if you are.

For instance, you might use a smaller mirrorless camera, a point-and-shoot camera, or even your smartphone. And as for lenses, a standard 50mm f/1.8 lens can do a great job and is very inconspicuous, though if you like a wide-angle look, you might grab a 35mm prime instead!

Personally, I really enjoy using a wider lens; the beauty is that you can get in close and photograph people without them even being aware that you are doing so. How? Simply place them at the edge of the frame, or on one of the thirds. The camera will point away from them and they may not even be aware that they are being photographed.

A candid portrait
I was taking a photo of the church when I noticed the man was about to walk in front of me. The wide-angle focal length (14mm) meant that he became part of the photo without realizing it. (Image by Andrew S Gibson)

And even if they notice you, as long as you don’t look at them or make eye contact, they will think you are photographing a completely different subject! Of course, this works best when there is something interesting there that a tourist would naturally take a photo of.

5. Kill the flash

two friends standing and laughing Candid photography tips and examples

Perhaps the most obvious way you can signal to another person that you’re photographing them? Using a flash (especially the flash on the top of your camera!). After all, there’s nothing like a blinding flash of light to get people’s attention and kill a moment.

So if possible, keep your flash off for candid shots. When you’re shooting in low light, instead of using flash, try boosting your ISO, opening up your aperture, or dropping your shutter speed.

You’ll get a brighter exposure, and you’ll avoid making your subject uncomfortable.

6. Go when the light is beautiful

Beautiful light is key to creating evocative portraits that capture the spirit and atmosphere of a place. You’ll increase your chances of creating beautiful images exponentially by going out when the light is beautiful.

Of course, when doing candid photography, you can’t always choose the lighting, the cloud cover, or the time of day – but whenever possible, get out at the end of the day during the golden hour. There is also lots of potential during dusk, especially with the mix of artificial and natural light that you find in urban environments.

A candid portrait
The orange light cast by tungsten light bulbs adds atmosphere to this photo I captured in Xi’an, China. (Image by Andrew S Gibson)

7. Wait for your subject to look away or drop their pose

Candid photography tips and examples

Capturing the perfect candid shot often requires a bit of patience and keen observation. When photographing subjects who are highly aware of your presence, such as during portrait sessions or events, it can be challenging to capture their genuine, natural expressions.

Here’s what you can do: Instead of hurriedly turning away when your subject notices you, simply give them a warm smile or act as though you’re adjusting your camera settings. You may keep their attention for a moment, but after a few beats, something magical will happen:

As they become absorbed in the flow of the activity around them, they’ll forget about your presence and start acting naturally once again. That’s when you seize the opportunity, swiftly raise your camera to your eye, and capture that spontaneous, unposed shot.

8. Let them know you’re coming

This approach obviously won’t work for certain types of candid shots, but if you’re photographing a family gathering or intimate event, it can make a big difference.

You see, at a family gathering, someone is always taking photos. Most people like to ham it up for the camera or will avoid it like the plague. Letting your family know beforehand that you’ll be taking some photos and that they should act natural will greatly increase your odds of capturing the essence of the moment.

Not everyone will heed this request, but it’s good for people to know they should generally ignore your photo-taking; that way, people won’t act unnatural, and you won’t distract them from the event.

9. Take a lot of images

Candid photography tips and examples

Back in the film days, it was important to conserve your photos. But if you use a digital camera (and I’m guessing you do!), there’s no real need to hold back; instead, be aggressive with your shooting. Don’t be afraid to take many images of the same subject.

In fact, I’ve found that, when shooting a burst of images of a person, I can sometimes get some surprising and spontaneous shots that I’d never have captured otherwise.

So switch your camera to its continuous shooting mode (i.e., burst mode), and fire off several shots at once. You’ll significantly increase your chances of capturing an unexpectedly perfect candid image.

10. Position yourself strategically

While candid photography is all about capturing the spontaneity of a moment and getting a perfect shot during that split second of time, if you think ahead and anticipate what is about to unfold, you can increase your chances of success.

So at a wedding, get to the church early (or even go to the rehearsal) and think about what will happen during the ceremony. Where should you stand to capture each moment? Which way will people be facing? What will they be doing? What will the light be like?

If you ask these questions in advance, you won’t waste time running around and repositioning yourself when the action happens. And you’ll be in the perfect spot to capture candid moments when they do occur.

11. Carefully work each scene

Candid photography, whether it’s photojournalism, lifestyle, street, wildlife, or travel photography, is about exploring. So don’t just take one photo and walk away. Begin taking photos before the moment actually happens and continue taking photos after it has passed. Be vigilant and ready for all the other moments that are about to unfold.

Ideally, you should walk away from an encounter having learned something. Perhaps you’ve seen a deeper pattern, better predicted a moment, or were rewarded with a great photograph for being there sooner and staying longer.

And remember: candid moments are about presence. You need to be there and be part of the moment. Yes, you’re standing back just far enough to capture a photo, but you’re just as much a part of the moments you capture as the people and places in your photos.

You’re not expecting to walk into a scene, snap one amazing candid shot and move on. You’ve got to be around long enough to understand what’s going on and begin to see the future.

Toddler candid moment
Have you noticed how toddlers imitate everyone? After his mother had finished her stretches, this little guy came along and did a stretch of his own.

It’s never the moment you think. You anticipate what’s going to happen and even when you capture a great moment, there are more to come. Some will surprise you completely as you begin to see new patterns you haven’t noticed before. Patterns run pretty deep, and you need to be able to see some simple ones before the deeper ones reveal themselves.

12. Shoot through store and restaurant windows

Candid photography tips and examples

If you’re eager to capture candid street photos but concerned about drawing attention, here’s a cool little technique: Shoot through windows of stores and restaurants. It’s a fantastic way to photograph without disturbing the natural flow of the scene.

Take a stroll through a bustling area in a nearby city, keeping an eye out for interesting subjects. As you walk, glance through the windows of establishments you pass by. Often, people inside are absorbed in their activities and don’t notice what’s happening outside, which gives you the perfect opportunity to discreetly capture candid moments.

Make sure your camera settings are adjusted to handle the lower lighting conditions indoors. When you spot a captivating subject worth photographing, swiftly raise your camera, seize the candid shot, and continue on your way!

13. Photograph people doing things

man with dog candid photography tips

Personally, I find that images of people doing things are much more interesting than images of people sitting around doing nothing. And they tend to feature more natural compositions, too.

For one, your subject will be focused on something that adds energy to a photo. It also adds context and an element of storytelling (plus, it’ll take the focus off of you!).

Timing is everything in candid photography, so wait until your subject is fully focused on their activity. This will inject a feeling of authenticity into your shots, where your subject is unaware and the viewer can look on unseen.

Note that your subject doesn’t need to be doing something especially involved or complex – they might be dancing, talking, playing a game, etc.

14. Get your subject to interact with the environment

If you’re doing a portrait photoshoot and you want to capture some candid images, it can be a challenge to make your subject feel relaxed and act natural, especially if you’ve spent the first half of the session taking posed shots. Fortunately, you can often speed the process along by encouraging your subject to look away from the camera and engage with their surroundings.

Imagine you’re in a picturesque park. Instead of simply instructing your subject to stand and smile, invite them to have some fun with the environment around them. Encourage them to scramble up a gentle slope, lean down to catch the scent of a blooming flower, or take a joyful run down a winding forest path.

If you’re shooting in an urban setting, suggest climbing a flight of steps, gazing up at stunning architectural wonders, or even waving to people passing by. The key is to inspire your subject to interact with their surroundings naturally.

By redirecting their focus from the camera to the environment, you’ll create a relaxed atmosphere where your subject can genuinely express themselves. As they engage with the surroundings, their gestures, expressions, and body language will become more authentic, resulting in captivating candid shots that truly reflect their personality.

Remember, the more your subject immerses themselves in the environment, the less self-conscious they’ll feel about being photographed!

15. Photograph people with people

candid photography tips man and woman dancing

When you photograph more than one person at a time, something very interesting happens:

You introduce a relationship into the photo. Even if the two (or more) people aren’t really interacting, you’ll still get increased depth and a sense of story.

Of course, the ideal candid compositions will have some interaction between your subjects, as that will add emotion to the shot – but even without interaction, you can still capture some stunning images.

16. Shoot from the hip

Candid photography tips and examples

Here’s a quick tip for shooting unnoticed, courtesy of street photographers:

Choose a relatively wide lens, such as a 35mm. Set your camera’s shutter to its quietest setting. Position the camera down low, either at chest height or at your hip.

And then, when your subject moves into position, fire off a burst of shots without raising the camera to your eye.

This technique can be very hit or miss, and you may want to think about zone focusing (where you prefocus your lens and use a narrow aperture for a deep depth of field). But when it works, it really works – your subject remains completely unaware of your presence, they don’t tense up or act unnatural, and you get your candid images.

17. Pretend to be photographing behind your subject

Candid photography tips and examples

If you’re out on the street and spot a fantastic subject you want to capture candidly, play the role of a tourist. Act as if you’re photographing the broader scene: the bustling street, the picturesque park, or the city skyline. Aim your camera in different directions as though you’re contemplating various expansive compositions.

By adopting this approach, your intended candid subject will often ignore you completely. And even if they do notice, they’ll likely assume you’re photographing something else and continue going about their business. It’s a clever way to blend in and capture those authentic moments without drawing unnecessary attention.

18. Change your perspective

man sitting on top of some bricks Candid photography tips and examples

Photos taken from standing height can look fine, and sure, there are plenty of great shots taken with the camera held in that eye-level area. But if you want to mix things up and capture some truly striking photos, why not change your perspective?

For instance, get down low and shoot upward, or find a nice vantage point and shoot downward. You can climb stairs, walk over bridges, crouch on the ground – whatever you need to do to get the photo (while staying unnoticed).

Also, if you do like the low-angle shot but feel uncomfortable crouching while doing candid photography (it is somewhat attention-grabbing, after all!), try shooting from the hip (as discussed above). While your shots may turn out crooked, it’s an interesting effect that some photographers like and can lend a sense of randomness and realness to a scene.

19. Watch your backgrounds

Candid photography tips and examples

When capturing candid photos, it’s easy to become hyper-focused on the people in the scene. However, it’s important to remember that while candid shots are all about the subject, the background plays a crucial role, too. A distracting or cluttered background can draw the viewer’s attention away from the subject and diminish the impact of the photo.

So before pressing the shutter, take a moment to assess the background. Ensure the backdrop features non-distracting elements, such as a stand of trees or a clean brick wall. And if your subject happens to be positioned in front of a problematic backdrop, don’t fret. Simply adjust your angle and position to find a better perspective!

Alternatively, you can also use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field, which will naturally blur out any distracting elements in the background. However, keep in mind that this technique works best when you are relatively close to your subject.

20. Frame images with foreground elements

Candid photography tips and examples

If you want to create more three-dimensional, layered compositions, I highly recommend composing with your subject as the focal point – but then including an element in the foreground, such as a tree, a person’s shoulder, the frame of a doorway, a window, etc.

Feel free to get creative. The point is to add a foreground element that can contribute context and depth to the shot, but you can have fun widening your aperture for out-of-focus foreground bokeh.

The ultimate goal is to create that sense of standing outside looking in. It’s a great complement to a candid moment, and when done well, can add a sense of mystery to the composition.

21. Take posed shots into candid territory

It may sound strange, but one of my favorite times to shoot candid images is when other photographers are taking formal ones.

Why? Well, during posed images, everyone is focused on the directing photographer, not you. So if, for instance, a wedding photographer is shooting a series of posed images, you can capture some wonderful candid moments simply by standing off to the side and taking a few images of your own.

I’d also recommend zooming in with a telephoto lens to capture more intimate scenes, and you might also try zooming right out to get shots of the subject plus the photographer.

By the way, if you’re the only photographer at an event or photoshoot, and you’re the one taking the posed shots, I’d recommend continuing to shoot after everyone thinks you’ve finished. It’s often these shots – captured moments after the posed images end – that look the best, because people relax, smile naturally, laugh, and look at each other.

22. Look for candid moments in nature

Even nature (flowers, landscapes, water) has candid moments. After all, we don’t normally pose our nature photos. We come upon nature doing something interesting and we make a photograph.

Nature’s moments are constantly changing. Think about a simple landscape. That landscape will look quite different depending on the time of day, from season to season, and in different weather.

Candid moments in nature
I was just killing time waiting for night to set in when I noticed how rapidly the sky was changing. (Image by Mat Coker)

And when photographing people, you can combine candid human moments with candid nature moments to create a more powerful shot.

Candid moments at golden hour
This photo combines kids playing out in the snow while their little brother looks on with golden hour. It’s a combination of people and nature moments! (Image by Mat Coker)

For instance, combine these people moments:

  • Action
  • Emotion
  • Mystery

With these nature moments:

  • Season
  • Weather
  • Time of day

And see what you can create!

23. Enjoy the process

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. An empty memory card can be as terrifying for a photographer as a blank piece of paper (or empty computer screen) is for a writer.

One way to get started is to take a photo of anything remotely interesting. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but I find that taking the first photo gets my creativity going and puts me in the right frame of mind to start seeing other images. Remember that you are there to enjoy the day, the sights, and the process of exploration and meeting new people, as well as photography.

Candid portrait photography advice

Specifically looking to capture stunning candid portraits? Below, I explain everything you need to know, including:

  • My favorite ways to find candid portrait subjects
  • How to capture candid portraiture without intimidating your subject
  • How to develop your skills in a fun, easy way

Let’s dive right in!

1. Look for expressions that capture character

A candid portrait
Image by Andrew S Gibson

If you want to capture beautiful candid images, don’t simply set your camera to burst mode and fire away. Instead, watch your potential subject. And wait for a meaningful expression – one that really sums up their personality.

For instance, if you’re hoping to capture a nice candid shot of a fashion model, you might engage in some regular photography. Ask them to pose normally, to make their standard expressions, while you shoot.

But then, when you take short breaks from shooting, pay attention. Wait for those moments when your model is relaxed. And ask yourself: How do they behave when the camera isn’t pointing at them? How do they respond when you speak with them? What expressions do you notice? What unconscious gestures do they make?

When you see an expression that truly encapsulates their personality, capture it!

2. Make the most of random encounters

I remember my first evening taking photos in Bolivia. It was late afternoon, quickly fading to dusk, and the streets were lit by a soft red glow.

I raised my camera to take a photo of a mud-brick building. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small boy running down the street. He passed in front of the camera, stopped, turned toward me, and started waving his hands in the air. He obviously wanted to be in a photo, and a few seconds later, he was joined by an older boy, presumably his brother, who also posed. Then they continued on down the street and beckoned me along.

Curious, I followed, and they led me to a car parked around the corner, where their father was waiting for them. They explained what had happened, and then the father asked me to take a photo of all of them together. He was a little drunk, and he even invited me to their house for dinner. I politely declined, but I did take this image:

A candid portrait
Image by Andrew S Gibson

Is the portrait candid? I think so. The subjects knew I had a camera, but they were acting naturally, and I didn’t pose them. Regardless, the lesson is still a good one:

When you’re traveling and people are friendly, take advantage of the photo opportunities! Be open to random encounters. Recognize the possibilities that can arise.

At the very least, you will have some new stories to tell.

3. Use a small camera and lens

Technically, you can do candid portraiture with any gear, from a huge, hulking medium-format camera to a tiny smartphone device.

But my advice, based on a lot of experience, is to keep your setup as small as possible.

You see, the larger your camera and lens, the more you’ll stand out as a photographer. If you’re trying to document a wedding, your subjects will notice you before you get a chance to shoot. If you’re trying to do candid portraiture on the street, people will see you coming from a mile off and turn away.

Plus, large equipment is intimidating. A friend of mine is an experienced model, and she told me – after a shoot in which I used a small mirrorless camera and a small lens – that the smaller setup helped her feel more relaxed. She didn’t feel as much pressure to be a good model.

Even if you’re doing a mixture of posed and candid photography, a smaller camera will keep the subject more relaxed overall, which will mean more opportunities for wonderful candid frames!

That’s why I recommend using a setup like this one:

Candid photography camera
Image by Andrew S Gibson

And if you find that slimming down your setup makes a big difference, go smaller! Purchase a small point-and-shoot camera, or even switch to your smartphone. (These days, smartphone cameras are capable of pretty impressive images, so don’t let technical concerns hold you back!)

4. Ask for permission – and explain why

If you’re just starting out with candid portrait photography, you may feel uncomfortable shooting people that you don’t know – such as street performers, diners, and even passersby.

My recommendation? Ask for permission, and when you do, clearly state a good reason.

First of all, giving people a reason makes them more likely to accept. You don’t seem like a random stalker if you explain why you want to photograph them, even if the reason is trivial.

Plus, if you have a reason in mind, asking for permission becomes far easier. You’ll feel justified in your approach, and so you’ll feel less awkward and shy.

For example, a few weeks ago I visited a blacksmith’s forge. The smiths there do demonstrations of older techniques for the visiting public, and I simply asked if I could take some photos while the smith was doing his demonstration. The smiths had zero issues with my request, and the result is a natural candid portrait of someone at work:

A candid portrait
Image by Andrew S Gibson

Another example: At Carnival in Cádiz, there were lots of people dressed in costume but only a few with face paint. When I saw somebody with interesting face paint, I explained that I really liked their makeup, and I asked if I could take a photo or two. In each case, the person agreed, I waited for a natural expression, then grabbed an image. Here’s one of my favorites:

A candid portrait
Image by Andrew S Gibson

5. Start a candid portraiture project

If you’re looking to really expand your candid portrait horizons, then instead of capturing random shots, I encourage you to start a project.

That way, you can tackle candid portraiture on a regular basis, and you can really dig in and elevate your skills.

The project doesn’t have to be especially complex, but it should have a clear theme or angle. For instance, you could photograph people at the park, you could photograph supermarket workers, or you could photograph cyclists.

Once you’ve identified your project topic, research your subject, figure out how to best take candid shots, and make a significant effort to shoot regularly. (Note that your project doesn’t need to only feature candid images. But if you’re looking to improve your candid portraiture, I do recommend you shoot candids whenever possible.)

Early last year, I thought it would be interesting to take some photos of people practicing parkour; this became my project idea, and I got in touch with some local traceurs through a Facebook group. Some of them were interested in a shoot, so we went out into the streets of Wellington, and they showed me parkour. I took photos and portraits as we went along. It was easy to create candid portraits because they were enjoying what they were doing and having fun!

A candid portrait
Image by Andrew S Gibson

6. Take photos of friends doing interesting things

If you’re struggling to find subjects for your candid portraits, try looking close to home.

You see, friends – and even family – are great candid photography subjects. For one, they know you, and so they’re more likely to be relaxed in your presence. Plus, you can have a fun portrait session that combines candid photography and socializing!

As I emphasized above, you’ll need to be observant, and you’ll need to snap photos when your subject isn’t paying attention to the camera – when they’ve let their guard down. It can be tough to talk with someone and take candid images, but if you’re focused, you can do it!

A piece of advice: When you tell your subject about your interest in candid portraits, set a clear theme. If your subject likes cycling, ask them to bring their bike, and prepare to take some candid portraits of a cyclist in action. And if your subject likes to play music, ask them to bring a guitar, and photograph them as they strum a few chords.

For example, a friend of mine made her own gypsy caravan. I thought it was a fantastic tiny space project, so once it was finished, I asked her if I could take some photos. She sat outside and played guitar, we talked about the project, and I made a few candid portraits:

A candid portrait
Image by Andrew S Gibson

Candid wedding photography: tips and advice

Weddings have changed drastically in the past few years. These days, couples want more from a wedding photographer than rigidly posed shots; they frequently prefer candid wedding photography because it captures the emotions of the couple and the guests enjoying themselves without needing to line everybody up in front of the camera.

Below, we share tips and advice for shooting weddings in an effective yet unobtrusive way. That way, the next time you get booked for a wedding, you’re ready to create an array of stunning candid images!

1. Always be ready

Candid wedding photography

This is the biggest candid wedding photography tip that I can give you:

No matter what’s going on, always be ready to shoot.

In particular, make sure that you’re always keeping an eye out for interesting moments. You never know what will happen, and if you stop paying attention to the scene around you, there’s a chance that you’ll miss something phenomenal. It’s a good idea to frequently scan the room to check for moments in the making, and even when you have your camera to your eye, make sure you’re hyperaware of the action around you.

Candid wedding photography

Of course, you can’t capture candid moments without equipment, so it’s essential that you always keep that camera ready. Make sure it’s in your hands and prepared to shoot at a moment’s notice. Set your camera according to the lighting conditions, and if necessary, use Aperture Priority mode so exposure decisions are made for you on the fly. You don’t want to be fiddling around with camera settings when the action starts!

Pro tip: Whenever you notice your battery or your memory card getting low, look for a lull in the action, then quickly swap it out. Don’t wait for your camera to die or the memory card to fill up completely; as I said above, you never know what’s going to happen, so it’s important that you’re always ready to photograph.

2. Know your equipment

I touched on this in the previous tip, but it’s so important that it deserves a section of its own. I’ve seen countless photographers miss shots while they are trying to change the camera settings – don’t be that person!

Instead, you must know your equipment like the back of your hand. Semi-automatic modes such as Aperture Priority are helpful and can relieve some of the pressure, but they’re not perfect and can cause problems from time to time, so it’s important you understand exactly how your camera works in case you need to make settings adjustments or take over completely.

Candid wedding photography

Plus, even if you use Aperture Priority mode, you’ll need to select an aperture, an ISO, a metering mode, an autofocus mode, an autofocus area mode, and a white balance. In other words, you’ll need to really know what you are doing!

Here are just a few items to bear in mind:

  • The shutter speed must be carefully managed to keep your shots sharp. Make sure that you’re always shooting at 1/100s or higher, and if your subject is moving, you’ll generally need to work at 1/250s, 1/500s, or even at 1/1000s.
  • It’s usually a good idea to set a wider aperture to let in more light, though bear in mind that wider apertures will decrease the depth of field, so you’ll need to choose your point of focus carefully.
  • When shooting indoors, you’ll generally need a higher ISO to allow for the faster shutter speeds I mentioned above. Don’t be afraid to push your camera’s ISO to 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, and beyond – though also recognize that higher ISOs tend to produce lots of noise, so you don’t want to boost the ISO more than necessary.
  • If you’re shooting in RAW (which I highly recommend!), it often helps to set your camera’s white balance to Auto, then make tweaks in post-processing. You won’t sacrifice any flexibility by using such an approach – the RAW files can be effectively adjusted in a program like Lightroom – and it’ll save you from needing to adjust the WB setting as the lighting scenarios change.

By the way, you should also be able to change settings without consulting the manual or fiddling around in the menus. It can help to practice making settings adjustments while relaxing on the couch, watching a movie, talking on the phone, etc.

Candid wedding photography

3. Use a telephoto zoom lens

Candid wedding photography is all about taking pictures of the bride, groom, guests, etc., without being noticed. You won’t capture beautiful candid moments if you’re hovering a few inches from the bride with a camera pointed in her face!

That’s why I highly recommend working with a telephoto zoom lens. I regularly shoot weddings with 70-200mm or even 100-400mm lenses if capturing candid moments is the priority. These longer lenses may seem unwieldy at first, but you’ll soon be impressed by how they can help you capture the action and emotions without actively distracting the people involved.

Additionally, a long zoom will help maintain a level of intimacy, which is essential in wedding photography. Try dialing in a wide aperture to really emphasize that shallow depth of field effect; it’s a great technique if you’re hoping to make the bride and groom look as if they’re in their own little world!

Candid wedding photography

Of course, it’s also handy to keep a shorter lens around for wider candid scenes and other key shots. Many wedding photographers carry two cameras, each with a different lens, and I recommend you do the same. That way, you can capture plenty of powerful images – no matter your distance from the subject.

4. Don’t use flash

Plenty of wedding photographers like to use flash, especially for posed photos – but when it comes to candid wedding photoshoots, carrying a flash is a very bad idea.

Candid wedding photography

Why? One surefire way to get noticed by your subjects is to fire that flash, whether it’s a dedicated flash gun or the pop-up flash on your camera. As soon as you’ve been noticed, your subjects will become self-conscious, and you’ll lose the beautiful candid effect.

And I’ll be honest: Light from a flash tends to be rather unflattering and boring. Yes, a flash can brighten things up, but if there’s a lack of light, I’d recommend boosting the exposure rather than adding flash. You might try widening the aperture, increasing the ISO, or slowing the shutter speed (if you have room). You can also shoot in areas of the room with more illumination, though don’t make this a habit; you don’t want to miss shots in the middle of the dance floor because you’re always hanging out by a window!

5. Make sure you plan ahead

Candid wedding photography

As a candid wedding photographer, it is your job to predict what is going to happen before it does (or, at least, take a calculated guess!). If you can, I’d suggest visiting the location before the wedding and really getting a feel for the space and the lighting. While you’re there, see if you can identify potential backgrounds for photos; even if you don’t end up using them, it helps to have a few ideas in your back pocket, just in case.

If you’re unable to visit the location beforehand, then at least arrive at the venue well before the function is to start. Walk around, think about possible photo ideas, and identify any potential obstacles (such as unusually dark rooms or strong backlighting).

Then, when it’s time for the wedding to start, don’t get so caught up in the flow of the proceedings that you forget all about your careful planning and scouting. Be sure to remember your photo ideas and keep a cool head. A little bit of planning goes a long way in getting some great shots!

A guide to candid photography: final words

Hopefully, you now feel much more confident as a candid photographer, and you’re ready to start taking some beautiful shots of your own! Whether you’re hoping to snap candid portraits that reveal the true essence of your subject, capture some magical candid wedding photos, or explore new destinations with your camera, candid photography opens up a world of possibilities.

Remember that candid shooting is a powerful tool in your creative arsenal, allowing you to capture the raw, unfiltered moments that make life truly remarkable – so whenever you get the chance, give it a try!

Now over to you:

What type of candid photography do you plan to try? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Candid photography FAQ

What types of photos are candid?

Candid photos capture genuine and unposed moments of people in various settings, including everyday life, events, portraits, street scenes, and travel experiences.

Is it rude to take pictures without permission?

While the legality and cultural norms vary, it is generally considered respectful to seek permission before photographing someone, especially in situations where privacy or personal boundaries may be involved. However, candid photography can be done with consent.

Why do candid photos often appear more appealing?

Candid photos have a charm of authenticity, revealing genuine emotions, expressions, and interactions. They offer a glimpse into real-life moments, creating a sense of connection and storytelling that can be more captivating than posed images.

How do you take candid pictures in public?

To capture candid shots in public, blend into the surroundings and be discreet with your camera. Use a longer focal length lens to maintain distance and respect people’s privacy. Focus on capturing candid moments that don’t invade personal space.

What is candid vs portrait photography?

Candid photography focuses on capturing spontaneous and natural moments. Most portrait photography involves posed shots, though it is possible to create candid portraits.

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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