10 Tips for Capturing Memorable Candid Shots

Capturing the moment isn't always easy, but these tips will help!

By ccrookston in Articles and Tips on Jun 28, 2014
10 Tips for Capturing Memorable Candid Shots

Every photographer wants to capture fun, quality and memorable candid photographs.  And doing so is a blend of technique, practice, work, and good old fashioned luck.  Here’s ten tips that may help.

1) Notice light
All good photographers are connoisseurs of light. Candid photography is no different. If a face is half in sunlight and half in shadows, it won't make a good shot. While direct sunlight in the middle of the day can cause funny shadows around noses and eyes, the light at sunrise and sunset (the golden hours) is soft, gentle, and flattering. Skies that are cloudy but not gloomy give an even, well diffused light, free of harsh shadows. And light bouncing off water or walls can help fill in the shadows from direct sunlight.  Pay attention to the overall lighting around you, recognize when you have favorable, beautiful light, then get to work.  

Regaring the photo above: Sunset is always a good time for candid photography.  If you don't want silhouettes then use a reflecor.  In this case, one wasn't availabe.

2) Take LOTS of photos
Many great candid shots are an accident.  You happened to be at the right place at the right time, and you clicked the shutter at just the right moment.  It stands to reason, then, that the more photographs you take, the more your chances of capturing that once-in-a-lifetime candid shot increase.  This means bringing your gear with you almost everywhere you go, and learning to be loose and fast with your camera. Shoot quickly and don't fuss too much about perfect framing or leveling the horizon. You can crop later. What you lack in quality you make up for in quantity. This will require a lot of (boring?) time afterwards filtering through all the shots and weeding out the junk from the gold. But who said photography is all glamor, right?

Original image, snapped quickly while she was focused on her mother and holding still.

Cropped and lightly color adjusted

3) Get people used to your camera
Often when people see a camera pointed at them, their gut reaction is to stand stock-still, look into the lens, and assume a cheesy smile.  Either that, or they run and hide.  Neither is the reaction you want when hunting for candid photographs, but it’s not too hard to coach your subjects into acting naturally.

If you are someplace where cameras are expected, like a wedding, then the presence of a photographer might not put people on edge. But around the house with your own family and children, the trick is to have your camera be omnipresent.  After a while, they will stop noticing it and will begin to act naturally while they go about their routines and you happily click away.

In a social setting such as a party or large group gathering, if someone tries to pose for you, go ahead and take the posed shot, and then politely let them know you’d also love some candid shots as well. For the first few shutter clicks they may not relax, but eventually, they'll loosen up.

At the beginning of this dinner, they were annoyed with the constant presence of the camera, but by the time the
had set, the lights were on, and the torches lit, they had become use to click of the shudder.

4) Blend in
It's easier to take candids of people who know you. But in a large group setting where you might be a stranger, you'll need to put people at ease to get good candids. Keep a low profile, stay quiet, and move unnoticed in the crowd. This will help people be relaxed around you, and act more naturally when they notice the camera pointed in their direction.

5) Mix up your perspective
Stand up on counter tops. Lay on the floor. Shoot through window panes.  Experiment.  Now obviously you can’t always do this, especially in a setting when doing so would violate Tip # 3. But around your own home, or in places where everyone knows you and it’s appropriate, don’t be afraid to be original. In addition to playing with extreme camera angles or perspectives, you can also experiment with a narrow depth of field, letting something unexpected be in focus while the expected subject is blurred.

6) Use a zoom
Nobody like a lens in their face.  If you know you’ll be taking candids, bring along that zoom.  You can stand further away from people but still get closeups.  It also allows you to zoom in tight for personal shots, or zoom wide for more scenic perspectives. Also, a tight zoom gives good bokeh.

4th of July photo taken with a 28-200 zoom from several yards away.  The park was jammed with people, but the tight zoom gives them a sense of isolation, and adds the bokeh effect.

7) Shoot in burst mode
Sometimes the perfect moment happens just a split second after you took your shot. Dang! Missed it! Avoid this by putting your camera in burst mode.

8) Take candid shots of people being photographed
Many weddings will have two photographers, one to shoot the posed shots, and one to take candids. Sometimes the best candid shots happen when people have their attention focused on being posed.  While they are stationary and concentrating on the other photographer, you can capture the spontaneous moments that happen between the posed photographs. It’s also a good time to catch the other wedding guests, including the kids, who are hovering near by.

9) Take pictures of people doing things
The idea of candid shots are to capture real life moments, and sometimes those moments can even be of mundane activities. It doesn't matter what they are doing. Cooking. Doing the dishes. Laughing. Telling someone a secret.  Even something as simple as laughing or crying can end up being a photo that will evoke strong emotions years from now.  We don't think ahead of time that these can make good candid shots, but these are often the kinds of shots that make it into scrapbooks because they remind us the most of the actual person in the picture.

An activity as mundane and routine as bedtime is still a good time for some candid shots.

10) Don't be afraid to be honest
Life happens all the time, and life is not always pretty. Capture it! Don't be afraid to bring your camera to the emergency room, or to have it handy when a child comes inside crying after a spill on the bike. Take pictures of booboos being cleaned up, of toddlers being calmed down after temper tantrums, of moody teenagers glaring at the camera, of your spouse who just woke up and still has bed-hair while cooking breakfast in pajamas. The very best photographs will give us a powerful emotional response, and sometimes those moments are captured at times when we would not normally be using a camera.

Taking candid shots during the hard times isn't something we think of often,
but down the road, these photos can bring back powerful memories

What Are YOUR tips?

While these ten tips may help, there are many other methods and tools that photographers use to capture memorable and impactful candid shots.  Please, share some of your own in the comments.

We'd love to hear from you!




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