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15 Tips for Taking Great Candid Photos

Tips for Taking Great Candids

Great candid photos should feel spontaneous, but there’s a surprising amount of strategy that goes into capturing a fleeting moment. These quick tips will help you be prepared when opportunity strikes.

Let the action come to you

Instead of hunting for the perfect shot, pick a spot and wait for the subject to enter your frame. Henri Cartier-Bresson, an early master of candid photography, was known to wait hours for what he called “the decisive moment.” Here, I waited until the cyclist rode past my camera.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Look for repetition

Many candid images are actually taken the third or fourth time something happens. Think of children on a swing set or a tennis player serving the ball from the same spot. In this shot, the photographer's cat was meowing over and over to be let inside. 

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Shoot from the hip

A popular technique used by street photographers is shooting from the hip. Holding the camera low while not looking through the lens is a discreet way to photograph people without being noticed. Just be prepared to delete plenty of poorly framed shots.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Wait for the emotion

When you zero in on a person to photograph, don’t simply press the shutter and move on. People will usually smile, laugh or make some other expression if you keep your lens on them for long enough (particularly if they’re interacting with other people).

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Get close to your subjects

One technique for getting authentic images is to desensitize your subjects to the camera. If you take pictures of the same people for long enough, they will eventually get used to you being there and go back to behaving normally. The children in this photo were initially excited to pose for the camera, but after a few minutes they went back to playing, which is when this photo was taken.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Use a long lens

The easiest way to get candid photos without making people feel self-conscious is by using a long or zoom lens. An added benefit to shooting with a long lens is its ability to throw the background out of focus, making your subject pop more. 

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Photograph your pets

Dogs and cats make great subject matter for candid photography, because they’re often doing goofy things with zero inhibitions about the camera. Whether you want to shoot your kitten going wild over catnip or stage a Frisbee game with your pooch, pets provide endless opportunities for candid photography.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Go where the action is

It should go without saying, but the livelier your surroundings, the better your odds of finding great moments to photograph. Festivals, weddings, sporting events, beaches and bustling city streets are perfect locales for candid photography.

Photo credit: Nate Mumford

Keep your eyes open

The best photojournalists are always scanning their surroundings for great candid images. The photographer behind this picture was about to pack up for the day, when she spotted two children holding hands as they waded through the low tide.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Anticipate the action

If you’re lucky enough to know a “spontaneous” moment is about to happen, take a minute to prepare yourself beforehand. By establishing your framing, pre-focusing and making sure your exposure is correct, the odds of nailing the shot go way up.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Be a fly on the wall

Sometimes the best way to capture a candid photo is to discreetly observe the action from afar. In this image, the photographer sat on a bench and quietly took photos while two boys blew bubbles from the back of a pickup truck.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Join the crowd

Protests, rallies and other crowded events are ideal environments for candid photography. It’s easy to find interesting personalities, and people are usually too engaged with the event to pay much attention to a photographer. 

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Dare to be voyeuristic

Let’s face it. Shooting candid photos of strangers can feel a bit creepy. While it’s never OK to invade someone’s personal space, you’re well within the law to shoot public displays of affection, like this couple kissing in a field of lavender.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Catch the moment

When it comes to candid photos, timing is everything. Photographers have historically had to rely on their reflexes to hit the shutter at the right moment, but nowadays it’s easy to capture the shot you want by using rapid-fire settings on your digital camera or smartphone.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson

Always bring your camera

The beauty of candid photography is that it can happen virtually anywhere. The more often you have your camera handy, the better your photographs will be. If a full DSLR kit with lenses is too cumbersome to carry around, considering buying a high-end point-and-shoot.

Photo credit: Lacey Johnson