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Candid photography

Candid photography - We give you some tips on candid photography technique.

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Category : Portraits and People
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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.

Candid photography tips 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.

35mm APS Digital compact Digital SLR
50mm 40mm 7.5mm 75mm
80mm 65mm 12mm 120mm
135mm 110mm 20mm 202.5mm
210mm 170mm 32mm 315mm
300mm 240mm 45mm 450mm

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 you.

Candid photography tips

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 shoot.

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.


Candid photography tips 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.

Candid photography tips

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 offend most.

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 shots.


Candid photography tips

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.

Candid photography tips 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!

Candid photography tips 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

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Comments


1100 8 36
13 May 2007 9:51PM
The vast majority of better known candid street photographers choose a 35-50mm prime lens (on 35mm format) set to focus between 2-5 meters and never ask the subject for permission.
A candid shot is literally a snapshot of everyday life as we see it through our eyes, this rules out a telefoto as the distances are compressed too much and is generally looked down upon by those who are fanatical about this genre. Being three meters away isn't really 'in your face' anyway, not to mention the adrenaline-rush is one of the great things about this type of photography.

As for the 'crop' advice, you are given just 24x36mm on 35mm film, use it all. If it doesn't fit in the viewfinder, don't shoot it.

Next time, ephotozine, get a photographer who actually practices the genre to write a 'how to.'

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jazdog 6
21 Feb 2008 9:00AM
Some nod in the direction of the ethics of candid photography would have been useful as well. But as the other comments perhaps an "expert" in the genre would have been better!
21 Nov 2008 11:27PM

Quote: The vast majority of better known candid street photographers choose a 35-50mm prime lens (on 35mm format) set to focus between 2-5 meters and never ask the subject for permission.
A candid shot is literally a snapshot of everyday life as we see it through our eyes, this rules out a telefoto as the distances are compressed too much and is generally looked down upon by those who are fanatical about this genre. Being three meters away isn't really 'in your face' anyway, not to mention the adrenaline-rush is one of the great things about this type of photography.

As for the 'crop' advice, you are given just 24x36mm on 35mm film, use it all. If it doesn't fit in the viewfinder, don't shoot it.

Next time, ephotozine, get a photographer who actually practices the genre to write a 'how to.'

I think your a bit full of yourself to be honest. What the other guy said was fine also. Your arrogant text just made you look awful.

Best of luck

Evan

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