A day rarely goes by without some celebrity being harassed by a
photographer who's trying to take a scoop photo that will turn up in a
national newspaper or gossip magazine. Its no surprise that candid
photography gets its fair share of press attention, but there's more to
this than the high-pressure world of the paparazzi.
A candid photo is basically a photo of a person, or group of people,
that is natural and unposed. So as well as photos of Britney Spears
caught with her bikini off, it could equally be a portrait of a friend
looking out of a window or a tramp sleeping on a park bench.
To take candid pictures you have to have a good eye for detail and
good reactions to shoot at the right moment. Okay, the tramp asleep on
the park bench is going to be easy, but the market stall holder who's
likely to spot you pointing a camera at him could cause a reaction.
There are two distinct approaches to candids. One is to hide and
shoot from a distance and the other is the in-your-face approach. If
you decide the distant method is more your style you'll need a camera
with a long lens (telephoto). All lenses are measured by their focal
length. If you have a 35mm SLR or compact camera and use a lens with a
focal length longer than 50mm its classed as a telephoto. 50mm is
standard and is roughly the same magnification as our eye. If you had a
100mm lens that would be 2x magnification, so the subject would look
twice as big. For distant candids you'll need a 200mm or longer which is
4x magnification. A useful lens for SLR users is an 80-200mm zoom,
which gives you a 1.5-4x magnification making it ideal for close range
or longer shots.
||The wall of a cathedral and a
fairly busy thoroughfare so I had to wait for 10 minutes for the right
person to come into view. The vibrant red contrasts against the
starkness of the background. The camera's zoom lens was deliberately
set to the wide end to make the women look dwarfed against the huge
building. And she'd never think I was taking a picture of her!
Focal lengths for different formats compared
As 35mm film is larger than APS or digital camera CCDs, the camera
focal lengths are also different. The table below compares the 35mm
format with APS and digital (figures are rough estimates based on
popular 35mm focal lengths). Digital compact cameras feature very short
focal lengths, but the field of view at each length corresponds to that
of the 35mm film camera. To avoid confusion, many manufacturers simply
refer to digital compact focal lengths as 35mm-equivalents. Digital
SLRs on the other hand are a different kettle of fish. Here, the
sensors are usually (unless the camera has a full-frame CCD) smaller
than 35mm film and use the central part of the lens, effectively
extending the focal length of the lens. This is very close in
telephoto, or candid work, but not so for shooting in small spaces. The
standard focal length extension is around 1.5x, so a 50mm lens on a
digital SLR gives a field of view and telephoto reach of a 75mm lens.
With SLRs you can buy a new lens if you don't have the range with
your existing lens and with digital compact cameras you can extend the
range by adding an optional teleconverter. The most popular options are
2x and 3x converters that increase the focal length by the indicated
magnification. There's a review of Nikon ones on ePHOTOzine here.
Compact film camera and APS camera users could shoot from a
distance and ask the lab to crop the shot when its printed, but the
quality will not be as good. This is the same reason why you should
avoid using the digital zoom on your digital compact because it just
crops into the CCD and produces a picture that is recorded using fewer
pixels. Fortunately a number of digital compacts have sizeable optical
zooms, and their small size and proliferation make them ideal for
shooting candids with.
The wide-angle approach to candids is to shoot from close up and, if
the lens angle is wide enough, you will look as though you are not
pointing the camera at the subject, but at something to their side. The
persons instinct will normally be to look around to see what you are
photographing so you have to move quickly, ideally before they notice
With a wide-angle on the camera you can shoot from the hip.
The skill here is to point the camera in the direction of the subject
with the camera at waist level and fire hoping you get the shot. The
good thing about using certain digital cameras, such as Canon's G7 or
Nikon's Coolpix S10 is that you can rotate the viewfinder and
view from above. The unwise will think you are just inspecting your
camera and not taking their photo. Wait until they lose interest and
This grab shot of an old lady was taken as I walked past
with the camera supported against my waist. A bit of luck was necessary
to ensure the correct framing.
||Another waist- level shot of two people
having a conversation in a street cafe. They would have spotted me if I
had pointed the camera at them from eye level.
Then there are the brave who wander up to people and shoot
without a care. Here a 50mm lens is fine and any camera will cope. Be
prepared for questions, as this is quite a rude approach and will
If I ever see anyone who looks interesting I will first ask
if I can take a picture. The response is usually an agreement, but
there's the natural reaction to pose, so I explain what I saw and ask
them to continue as though I'm not there.
In this shot the girl was promoting the local tourism and
was dressed up accordingly. I would never have got away without her
noticing me take a photo so I asked and she duly posed. Trouble is it
does look posed. The alternative is to explain what you are doing and
ask the person to act naturally and ignore you while you take a few
When choosing film its best using a faster film with an ISO400
speed which allows you to gain a faster shutter speed, helping you grab
the shot. Colour print film such as Kodak Gold or Fuji Superia offer
lots of latitude so you wont have problems with the exposure using your
cameras integral metering. Black & White is also worth trying, to
emulate the reportage style used by the newspaper pros. Here Ilford HP5
Plus or Agfapan 400 are good candidates. For digital users, simply
increase the ISO rating on the camera, though beware that ISO800 and
upwards will be noisy on most cameras.
I wandered around an inside market loaded with a camera
loaded with Kodak T-MAX ISO400 film. This butcher was handing the
customer change. As I took the photo he spotted me and asked what I was
doing. After a brief discussion I ended up getting a commission to
photograph one of the other stall-holders children. The same happened
recently while photographing pictures at a fairground. One of the stall
holders asked for a portrait of him standing in front of his stand. The
clever thing here is to be able to turn it into a profitable shoot.
It's worth having some idea of how much you would charge for a shot,
and maybe carry a business card that you could hand out should anyone
approach with an interest in having their photos taken.
Subjects that provide ideal for candids are guests at a wedding -
currently the candid approach is very in-vogue with wedding
photographers. You could also look at market stall holders, street
entertainers, people resting on high streets benches, locals abroad,
workmen, people at sports events, people in crowds, people in pubs, not
forgetting the tramps, oh and Britney on holiday and don't forget to
send us the pictures that's of Britney, not the tramp!
As far as the law goes, if you are on public property, you are
allowed to photograph other people who are also on it. You cannot use a
long lens and photograph people on private property, even if you are on
public property. Laws vary from country to country though, with those
in places such as France being more restrictive. However, most people
don't like being photographed without their permission, which is why
the aim of the candid photo is to shoot it without them noticing. Also,
if you want to use your photo's commercially, very few, if any, stock
photography libraries will accept photos where people are personally
identifiable if you do not have a signed model release form.
||Every town and city has a tramp
or two that you'll find surrounded by bags of clutter or bottles of
cider. Some just keep themselves to themselves, others can be quite
hostile, when drunk, so take care if you're pointing a lens at one. This
one had his eyes closed at this unusual angle. The shutter alerted him
so I made a quick exit!
||Beaches and cliff tops provide
great locations for those who become lost in thoughts and they'll never
know they've been caught on camera.
This article was updated 03 January 2007