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

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Comments (10)
  1. 1
    Lotoya Vongrechin June 19, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I can not wait to try out all the photog school lessons with my new Canon EOS Rebel I just ordered yesterday. Sssssshhhhhhh early birthday gift to myself. I love love love taking pictures.

    • Camille Styles June 20, 2012 at 8:29 am

      So exciting!! Let us know how it goes once you start playing with your new camera… hopefully these “lessons” will help you get started! 🙂

  2. 2
    Ashley @ Any Lovely Thing June 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Oh, I love this lesson! Candid shots are my favorite to look at, but I never thought to focus solely on taking them. I think I shall get to experimenting once all this work travel clears up 😉


  3. 3
    Ali ( A Dash of Details) June 19, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    I love this series. I am learning so much from each lesson. Thanks Camille!
    xo- Ali

  4. 4
    Ferren June 20, 2012 at 4:25 am

    I hate being photographed for some reason. I always worry about how I’ll look. Wish I could learn how to be photographed well, but there aren’t really lessons for that 🙂

    Ferren x

  5. 5
    Corinna June 20, 2012 at 7:52 am

    I love these suggestions and it would be like capturing something entirely new. Unfortunately, I’m not well-versed in cameras and I never find the time to learn, although I will someday!

  6. 6
    Lynn June 27, 2012 at 4:09 am

    I love the tip about anticipating moments like the punchline/etc, because while I love taking candid shots, I often end up with shots of people listening, and the picture might not be that interesting.

    I wish there was a way to get people together for a shot of 2 or 3 of them that didn’t look forced — especially in the US, every woman between 15 and 50 seems to have her “look”, chin down, head to the side, etc. Every photo of her looks exactly the same. And everyone smushes together for the photo and then afterward disperses again to their natural state. I’d love to find a way to take group shots that capture that natural state.

  7. 7
    Kim June 27, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Ah, love this! There’s so much to learn in this big ‘ole photography world. Similar to Mike, lifestyle/candid shots have a special place in my heart. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!



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