Design, Photography, & Fashion

The Best Candid Photography Tips

Written by MasterClass

Aug 16, 2018 • 5 min read

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Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography

Taking candid shots of people is one of the most common styles of photography. Having the ability to capture candid moments naturally on camera is a skill every professional photographer should practice and learn well.

The essence of candid photography is to be comfortable with the camera and to easily blend into any situation. Learn more about candid photography, and a few tips and tricks to getting started, below.

Photo Credit: eflon CC


What Is Candid Photography?

Candid photography is a style of photography where the models and the scene are not posed. Candid photographs can be taken anywhere—at home, at the grocery store, at a child’s birthday party, etc. The style is generally attributed to both street photography and wedding photography.

Famous Candid Photographers

The history of candid photography is nearly synonymous with that of photography itself and as such, hundreds of photographers have practiced the style—many to great acclaim.

Learn about three famous candid photographers, as well as their contemporary counterparts:

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Widely recognized as the godfather and master of candid and street photography through his images of decisive moments in 1930s European streets.

Garry Winogrand

Shot from the hip on the sidewalks of New York often capturing strange expressions.

Helen Levitt

Photographed the children and families living in the tenements of New York’s Lower East Side and Harlem.

More recent photographers who have gained notoriety in this genre are Nan Goldin, Ryan McGinley, and Olivia Bee who all shot the intimate, candid moments that happen between their friends and lovers.

The Different Uses of Candid Photography

1) Street Photography
Street photographers use their camera to observe the rituals and the happenings on the street. Generally, street photography creates candid portraits of the people on the street to tell a slice of humanity’s story. While street photography is usually candid in nature, candid photography is not necessarily street photography.

2) Wedding Photography
In a similar vein, candid style photography can be used in weddings as way to capture the uninhibited emotion of the celebration. A wedding photographer who is adept at taking candid photographs will capture the smiles and laughter shared between people, the occasional tears, and all the “candid moments” that add up to a more complete portrait of the wedding.

3) Wildlife Photography
In many ways, candid photography is similar to wildlife photography — you must blend in and remain unnoticed, and you have to take many images before you get the perfect shot.

Tips to Capture the Best Candid Moments

As someone who takes candid photographs, you must blend in with your surroundings by remaining comfortable with the camera and around people. Follow these tips to

1) Always keep your camera on you.
Do not leave in the morning without your camera ready to take pictures, and keep it by your side throughout the day, all day, every day, even into the evening at home (and maybe in your bed!).

2) Practice on friends and family first.
If you are uncomfortable taking photos, people will most likely sense that and be uncomfortable having their photo taken—so the key here is to get comfortable with the camera. Try interacting with your family, friends, coworkers, etc. with your camera first. Ask them for feedback on your photography approach.

3) Shoot, shoot, shoot.
Take hundreds of photos. Take hundreds more. Start with volume and quantity— you can always edit down your selections later. Candid photography is about capturing moments that you usually can’t anticipate. Therefore shoot, and shoot some more.

4) Shoot From the Hip
Shooting from the hip is one of the most important techniques in candid photography. Find out more about shooting from the hip, below.

What Does it Mean to Shoot From the Hip?

To describe someone as a person “who shoots from the hip” can mean many different things, but when used to describe a photographer it means quite literally that they shoot images from their hip.

This is a great technique for capturing candid photographs, as it allows you to compose your image from an entirely different angle. It also frees you from having to look through the viewfinder and finicking with the composition of the image—you can just shoot almost at random and hope for the best.

Shooting from the hip is an especially great photographic technique when at a wedding with small children, as it allows you to capture images from their eye level and their perspective. Some of the best photos are those shot from the hip.

The Best Camera for Candid Photography

For this type of work, you will want a camera that is as unobtrusive as possible. The “classic” camera for candid photography is a Leica due to their slim body and small lens, but any digital camera will due—digital specifically because you can take hundreds of photos and are not limited by the cost and time of using film.

Whichever camera you choose, make sure it has a high ISO (film speed) so that you will be able to take great photos even in low light scenarios.

The Best Lenses for Candid Photography
Once you have selected your camera, consider investing in the following lenses:

50mm: This fixed lens provides a natural effect with no distortion and is excellent at capturing portraits on the fly.

24-70mm: A wide-aperture lens that works well in natural light and low-light scenarios, this lens is a workhorse that captures close-up details as well as it captures the whole scene.

70-200mm: The most popular telephoto lens, this lens allows for unobtrusive photography as the zoom lets you capture your subject from quite a distance.

The Best Equipment for Candid Photography

1) Bounce Flash
Using a flash is certainly not ideal and not recommended when practicing candid photography because a bright flash of light will distract your subject, potentially ruining another photograph and worse, will draw attention to you.

For this, you can invest in a bounce flash, which points the flash in a different direction (usually angled about 45 degrees up) to bounce the flash off the surrounding walls and ceilings. This creates a more “natural” lighting effect with little effort.

2) Diffuser
A diffuser, which is a plastic, translucent device that covers the flash and allows it to be better dispersed in the area and less harsh, is helpful to have on hand.

3) Memory Cards
Keep multiple memory cards on file—the nature of candid photography is such that you might end up taking hundreds of photos before you get your shot. Running out of space while you’re out and about would be less than ideal.

4) A tripod
A tripod is a helpful tool for the candid photographer, if you envision you might be standing in one place and shooting the same scene for some time. Tripods also help stabilize the image—particularly helpful in low-light scenarios—so it’s always good to keep one on hand.

5) Backup Batteries
And finally, make sure to pack an extra battery and charger. As a candid photographer, you want to be prepared at a moment’s notice to capture that perfect shot.

By practicing candid photography and learning the best ways to naturally capture those special, impromptu moments, you will have the tools to be a versatile photographer who can bring in more clients and business. Just blend in, take lots of shots, shoot from the hip—and have fun!