Photography School #4 :: Candidly Speaking

By Chanel Dror

Candid photos strike a little fear in many people, don’t you think? When we imagine someone photographing us unexpectedly, we fear the strange, unflattering expression we were most likely wearing at that moment. Well it turns out that there are actually a few tricks of the trade to achieving beautiful candid photos, so we thought this would be the perfect addition to our ongoing Photography School series taught by resident expert Mike Bullock. From Mike…


As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my personal journey for photography is to capture moments the way I remember them happening – essentially capturing from my ‘mind’s eye’. For that reason, I’ve never been the biggest fan of posed pictures. While they certainly have their place in the world of photography, to me they’ve never given off the type of authenticity that can be captured in candid photos. I’ve spent significant time developing my technique for candid photography, so I’m excited to share a few of my tips with you today!

First, a little history lesson. You know the drill: someone announces they want to take a picture, they ask the subjects to gather/pose/smile, say ‘cheese’ and snap. Why do we do this? It actually dates back to early photography technology. Early cameras and film required long exposure times so people had to remain still for several seconds (even minutes!) to ensure that the photo wasn’t blurry and dark. Even when cameras got faster, the cost of film and developing was expensive, so people were very careful with the shots they took. Today, all that has obviously changed. Digital cameras are highly-evolved, and allow us to take as many shots as we want for free… so why do so many of us take pictures the same way we did 50 years ago?

If this is you, might I suggest breaking out of your comfort zone and trying to add candid photography to your repertoire? You might actually learn to love it! There are entire books written on the subject, but here’s my short list of tips…

  • Establish yourself as someone who takes a lot of pictures. Once people around you realize it, they will be less likely to react when your camera is raised.
  • Get a camera that you feel comfortable carrying around on a regular basis. iPhones have become a great solution for this, but a dedicated camera will give you better quality images on a more consistent basis if you use it well.
  • Shoot with a fixed (prime) lens instead of fumbling with zoom.  Get a 50mm or 35mm lens and get to know it really well.  Great photographers know how a shot will look before they even hold up the camera.  Primes also shoot well in low light. Reminder: turn off your camera’s flash if you can. It’s a huge distraction and flattens the image. For more on lighting and using your camera, be sure to visit previous lessons in Aperture, Filling the Frame, and Ambient Light.
  • Don’t direct people or call attention to yourself.
  • Don’t ‘chimp‘, which is looking at the back of the camera every time you snap a photo and calling attention to it. This pulls you and everyone else out of the moment.
  • Stay in the situation and anticipate moments. For example, if someone starts telling a joke or story, get ready for the punch line reaction. Focus on capturing authentic expressions, little details, and environmental shots. Tell the story with several images.
  • Shoot outside of the standard situations…like blowing out birthday candles, opening a present, posing in from of mantle with a prom dress or on a beach, etc.  Capture REAL moments.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
*images by Mike Bullock