Candid photography is all about capturing life at its rawest: unedited, unfiltered, and unscripted. Just like a RAW image is an unfiltered version of what the lens sees, a candid shot records a moment in time where the subject is not aware that they are being recorded.
Being oblivious to the camera means the subject is photographed ‘unfiltered,’ so to speak. They are unable to strike a pose, put on a face, or hide behind a façade they create for the lens’s sake.
What Candid Photography Isn’t
When people hear the word candid photography, many will immediately conjure up images of photographers decked out in camo gear skulking in bushes or hugging the trunks of trees.
It’s the wrong image. Instead, the experienced candid photographer is skilled at hiding in plain sight. Consider a typical wedding.
There’s a place for posed shots and pre-arranged sets, but they fail to capture the myriad special moments that make up a busy wedding ceremony.
The whimsical smile of a bride unaware of the lens as she watches her new groom from across the room, or the lively conversation and animated laughter of brides waiting to get their hair done while sipping champagne.
Then there are all those moments the guests share as they mingle at the reception area.
The skilled candid photographer moves about the room and becomes part of the background noise, using their camera to immortalize the raw and unscripted joy of the day.
As you can imagine, candid photography is all about being in the right place at the right time, but it’s also about being able to blend in with the crowd.
Here are a few tips you can use to make yourself a better candid photographer, and why the micro 4/3 system may be the superior choice.
Nothing advertises a photographer’s presence like a massive DSLR with a huge lens and flash hanging off it.
1. Keep Your Equipment Small and Unobtrusive
When people see you moving toward them with all that gear in hand, they will start to compose themselves for the shot, even if it is only subconsciously.
A small camera body, such as what is found on the Olympus OMD range, and the Panasonic Lumix series are a lot less obtrusive. You will be able to look a lot more like part of the crowd rather than a hired lens.
2. Use Burst Mode
Burst mode helps to ensure that at least some of your shots will come out just right. The latest micro 4/3 are capable of some impressive feats when you consider their compact nature.
For instance, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk II can record 5fps with AF. If you’ve got the focus all set and aren’t moving around too much, you can bump that speed up to 10 fps continuous.
Likewise, the Lumix GH5 features 12fps of continuous shooting.
3. Use A Long Zoom
A long zoom will come in handy when you want to remove yourself from the action and catch people acting naturally in the wild.
Find yourself an out of the way spot and make prolific use of burst mode as you capture beautifully random shots of life being lived. It’s a lot like wildlife photography, but with humans.
4. Use a Prime Lens
We’re doing a bit of an about-face here, but the trick to candid photography is to find what works at the time.
Sometimes that may be to distance yourself from the action with a zoom lens. At other times you may want to try a strategy that has you circulating as part of the crowd.
If you decide to mingle, then you will need a prime lens that keeps your kit small and unobtrusive. Move around through the gathering and avoid making eye contact.
People will notice if you are sizing them up for a shot and will become self-conscious.
Keep a lookout for groups of people who are obviously having a great time and learn to be a candid photography ninja.
Take the shot before your subjects have a chance to react to your presence, and then move on to the next opportunity.
5. Stay on the Move
Candid photography doesn’t give you the luxury of asking people to pose just so or move a little bit further to the left or right.
You need to adjust to being the one on the move and knowing how to quickly spot the best locations and angles without much time to prepare.
This is where M43 bodies can come into their own because they are compact and lightweight, and you can move them into awkward positions that a bulkier setup wouldn’t be able to manage.
Liveview is also a handy feature you can use when getting yourself into an ungainly position, which could prohibit you from analyzing the scene through the viewfinder.
6. Leave the Flash in the Van
A flash is a dead giveaway that there is a photographer on the scene.
If your audience is intimately aware of your presence due to a flash continually going off, they will be on their best behavior, which isn’t the best environment for capturing the more interesting side of humanity.
Of course, not using a flash will mean you will have to raise the ISO to around 800 and widen the aperture.
The advantage is that the shots will have a shallow depth of field which will put the subject nicely in focus.
7. Get Your Subjects Comfortable with the Lens
Being able to engage with your subject and getting them to act naturally even though they know they are being photographed is a skill you will want to develop.
It’s kind of like a faux candid shot; the subject knows they are being photographed, but they are acting naturally anyway because you are engaging them in conversation and drawing their focus away from the lens.
It’s rare to get people acting naturally during a portrait shot, but if you can pull it off, you will have some standout images to add to your portfolio.
The trick is to get to know your subject and draw them into a conversation on a topic they are interested in, so some prior research may be required.