Candid Photography Tips

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Candid means frank, honest, open, truthful and sincere – how does that work with a camera?

Candid photography means you just shoot what you see – no rearranging the composition or using models – the photographer is “there” with the subject or scene and records it faithfully.

Usually a candid photo also means a standard lens like a 40mm or 50mm on an SLR – the human eye is 40mm so photographic genuises like Cartier-Bresson used a 40mm lens on his Leica exclusively, so as to capture the ‘moment’, which is really what candid is all about.

The challenge in a candid photo most of the time, is to be there in the scene without influencing the scene.

This means be as unobtrusive as possible and ideally have the ability to disappear into the background.

Of course if you’re wearing your big Canon with the nine inch tele-zoom, plus camera bag, plus water bottle, bum bag, staring maniacally at the little screen on the back etc. etc. you’re not going to disappear very far!

Cartier-Bresson, who is the king of candid, used to wrap his camera in newspaper or brown paper on occasions, hold it down at his side while he surveyed the scene he wanted to shoot, only bringing it up for the shot and then dropping it out of view again.

I met one of his assistants once who described the master visiting the same street corner in Paris for three days, and standing there for an hour or so to pick up the rhythm of the scene, then finally taking one shot on the third day and going home.

See the Wikipedia entry here on Cartier-Bresson and you can see his portfolio at Magnum.

Make sure you follow the Magnum link because you’ll see some of the most powerful imagery ever captured on film – although many of the scenes were quite ordinary in themselves.

You’ll notice that he worked in black-and-white; this was in deference to the speed of B&W film versus the color film of the time – also for what he was shooting B&W added to the dramatic or graphic qualities he was seeking to depict.

Maybe this is all more than you want to know about candid photography but it’s free so don’t whine.

How Do You Shoot Candid Photos?

With digitals this is much easier, because digital cameras can give you the speed and sharpness of B&W and in glorious color.

If you want to take Cartier-Bresson’s lead, get yourself one of the better small digitals. This is good advice in any case because the first step before taking great photos is taking good photos and this means having your attention on the subject not on all the knobs and dials on your big black SLR.

Attitude plays a large part here. You’re trying to capture an image or a moment that defines something about the subject. Candid shots are rarely pretty, so you don’t go about getting candid shots by trailing along from one “photogenic” scene to the next – photogenic here defined as a scene that says ‘I am pretty – so shoot me!’

Candid means you have to open your eyeballs and LOOK at what is around you – you find the picture the picture doesn’t find you.

Getting too Zen here?You’re seeking a moment where the geometric or compositional elements come together or where the human elements communicate something unique about themselves. Take another look at Cartier-Bresson’s portfolio and that should give you a better idea.

Here are a few of my own attempts:

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