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Is Being Shy a Good Reason to Only Take Candid Photos?

Standing back with a long lens on your camera and snapping candid photos is an easy option for many people. The alternative is to use a shorter lens and get in close and connect with your subjects. This is challenging for most photographers.

Flaming Wallet illustration Is Being Shy a Good Reason to Take Candid Photos
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D700, lens 20mm, f/4, 1/125, ISO400

A candid photo is one where your presence and your camera are not affecting the outcome of the photos you take. There is no pose. There is no distraction from you or your camera at all.

When you are shy, using a long lens for candid pictures might be less taxing on your emotions. But it does not often result in the most engaging photographs. If you are capturing candid photos only because you are shy, this is a cop-out. Only using this technique will limit your potential as a photographer.

French Horn - Is Being Shy a Good Reason to Take Candid Photos
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 35mm, f/1.4, 1/5000, ISO 400

When a candid approach to photography is better

At times, a candid approach to photography will result in more interesting photos.

You will not always be in a position to engage with your subject. Sometimes doing so will disrupt a natural flow of events.

Finding yourself in situations where you think you or your camera will alter the scene, it’s good to remain candid.

If your subject sees your camera, it may distract them. Sometimes when people are aware there’s a photographer present, they will alter their behavior.

This will not always be to your benefit.

Fruit vendor at a market in Chiang Mai, Thailand
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 35mm, f/4.5, 1/250, ISO 400

Other times, you might be wanting to photograph a whole group of people. There’s no way you’ll be capable of approaching them all for even a short conversation.

Alms Giving in Chiang Mai - Is Being Shy a Good Reason to Take Candid Photos
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D700, Lens 180mm, f4, 1/200, ISO 400

Is your subject highly focused on what they’re doing?

If your subject is absorbed in what they’re doing, you might not want to interrupt them. They might be:

  • Having an animated conversation
  • Playing sport
  • Creating art
  • Working
  • Or even sleeping

These are all times when asking permission or otherwise engaging a person will break their concentration (or slumber). This will affect the potential photo opportunity.

In ideal situations, you’ll be able to catch a person’s eye. They will see your camera and might give you an approving nod without breaking the flow of what they are doing. Then you can take photos in a relaxed manner because you know your subject is comfortable with you doing so.

Street Drummer - Is Being Shy a Good Reason to Take Candid Photos
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 105mm, f/2.8, 1/1000, ISO 400

You can’t always engage with your subject

Many times it’s not practical to engage with your subject. Candid photos are the only practical option when you are photographing:

  • Crowds
  • Street scenes
  • Where your subject is inaccessible

At times like this the only other option to taking candid photos is to not take photos.

When you can’t engage, it pays to be patient and observant. Wait for the decisive moment when the action is at its peak. When as many of the elements of a good photograph align, this is when you can capture the best candid photographs.

Poi Sang Long Festival - Is Being Shy a Good Reason to Take Candid Photos
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 35mm, f/5, 1/20, ISO 100

You don’t need to be an extrovert to photograph people

Being shy is a strength. Shy photographers can make the best portraits. This is because they show empathy toward the people they photograph. Learn to overcome the fear of imposing and you will take portraits with more depth.

To simply take candid photos because you are shy is not a good reason. Yes, as I have pointed out, candid photography is valid at times. But to avoid connecting with people because you don’t want to impose will often not result in the best photos.

When you want to photograph someone you see at the market, or a friend or your barista, talk to them first. Engage with them and build a rapport.

If you’re photographing a wedding or portrait, work on building a comfortable relationship with them. In many circumstances, the degree with which you connect with your subject will directly influence how good your photos are.

Portrait of a couple
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800

Approach with care, not fear

Don’t worry. If you are fearful of someone’s response, this will show. They will know and respond accordingly. Approaching someone with confidence, you are more likely to receive a positive response.

You don’t need to get in their face with a false boldness, just be yourself. Know what you want and communicate this to your subject. Take your time as it will pay off with better photos.

Spending time with anyone you want to photograph will usually result in a more interesting portrait. Learn to connect, even if you don’t have much time.

If you’re in a street market or a coffee shop, take a few moments to show people why you are interested in taking their photo.

With a friend, share with them what’s on your mind. Talk with them about why you want to take their picture.

When you’re photographing a model, compliment them.

There are many ways to communicate positively that will enhance your photographic opportunities. Staying quiet will often inhibit your creative potential.

Portrait of a Kayaw woman
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 85mm, f/1.4, 1/400, ISO 1250

Overcome your shyness

As a young man, I was painfully shy. I loved photography, but could not bring myself to photograph people. Now, the main subjects in my photographs are people. I learned to use my camera as a bridge to connect with the people I want to photograph.

In my book, Photographing People – A Guide For Shy Photographers, I share my experience and teach you how to overcome your shyness.

My journey to becoming a people photographer has been challenging. Camera skills are only a part of what you need to create great portraits, no matter what gear you use.

Learn when it’s best to connect. Learn how to connect. You will create more interesting, more engaging photos of people when you do.

Please Click Here to purchase my book on Amazon.

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Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience that he loves to share with others.

Check out his e-books and his website.