What is Candid Photography? While many consider it a synonym for Street Photography, I believe that Candid Photography goes even further and offers a much larger scope and way of doing things. With this in mind, I know that my personal approach to being candid will give you a better understanding of its role in photography.
To begin, being candid while traveling is far more complex than being candid locally. Why? It is easy for people to spot foreigners.
In this post, I'll address some important issues like social skills and ethics that will better guide you in traveling effortlessly while remaining as candid as possible. Also, remember to always conduct your own research on public laws and regulations of the countries you plan to visit as they may have restrictions that prohibit photography in certain places or situations.
Importance of Candid Photography
The most important value of Candid Photography is that you can naturally document both ordinary and extraordinary scenes of a society. So, if we are on the pursuit of capturing things without being noticed, further developing our candid skills will take our photography to an even greater and more satisfying level.
Thanks to modern technology, we can capture images at a fraction of a second which, in turn, means that photographing something in its most natural form is now a little more doable. When photographing the streets and telling true stories of our subject is our primary goal, candid is the most objective approach to photography as even the slightest crop can alter an image and change its story completely.
Candid Photography is not solely about blending in with one’s surroundings to become invisible with the hopes of capturing a subject in its true element. It is also about getting closer to people and showing a new level of comfort that welcomes them to be themselves. This is where social skills come into play. Instead of simply shooting from a voyeuristic distance, socializing with your subjects allows you to do things in a different rhythm and with a much slower approach. The key is to get people accustomed to your presence; then, candid images start to bloom.
To add comfort, use common language or slang if you’re familiar with the area. This trick has saved me countless times because, although people easily recognize outsiders, if you share a common language, they slowly let their guards down little by little. Now you know my survival tactic on the streets of my own country. It’s awesome.
Also, show care and compassion to people as you approach them. Listen to their stories, ask relevant questions and ensure the time you spend with them is quality whether it’s five or 15 minutes. Keep that same care in consideration as you compose your images. For example, when photographing homeless people or children, avoid photographing them from a high angle or point of view as this makes them appear more vulnerable than they actually are. A low-angle shot portrays them in a stronger, more humane way.
In most cases, people will ask why are you interested in taking their pictures. Simply be honest and show them your passion for candidly capturing the streets to help them better understand.
Don't give yourself away
If you react with obvious movements, you will easily be spotted. Try to be smooth and fluid when bringing your camera up to your eye. Shooting directly from the viewfinder is amazing, but we tend to overexcite when we move our camera from its walking or resting place to our eyes. This minor yet frantic and sloppy movement often draws unwanted attention.
I've also been on the other side of this as well. I have been photographed while walking along the streets and, rather than complain, I think of it as the price I have to pay—like karma or Newton’s third law. With that being said, any movement is obvious, so we can all work to practice being stealthier in bringing our cameras to our eyes in order to achieve more candid frames.
Also, try to avoid eye contact when shooting candidly. Eye starring has tremendous power that can be felt by others. When this happens, eye contact is made. Do your best to avoid making and capturing eye contact because your image will not be 100% candid.
Shoot from the hip
Shooting from the hip requires a lot of practice. Personally, I think that when practicing this maneuver, it is important to commit to one lens. Getting to know the exact amount of the scene that fits in your lens takes an incredible amount of practice. If you are frequently interchanging lenses, you will only get frustrated as you try and master this amazing technique.
Use your LCD
I don't like using live-view modes when shooting from eye-level but, when shooting from odd angles, it is a great friend of mine especially if the LCD screen has the ability to be tilted.
Another great tactic is to act as though you are looking through or checking pictures on your camera. People only tend to realize that you are taking pictures of them when you bring the actual camera to your eyes.
The best acting trick is to pretend like you are shooting something in the distance beyond your intended subjects. This is really useful when shooting through the viewfinder. My current camera doesn't have an LCD screen that tilts so this tactic is the one that I use the most.
Many photographers recall how Walker Evans painted the chrome parts of his camera in matte black and then hid it under his overcoat in order to be even stealthier and more inconspicuous when shooting his subjects riding public transportation. Maybe this technique was a bit too voyeuristic, but no one can deny that he did a great job while photographing ordinary people traveling on the subway.
Gear, gear, gear! The primary worry of our generation of photographers is gear! The truth is that all you need is a trusty piece (or pieces) of gear that you feel comfortable using and carrying with you at every moment of every day.
Here is a little more about my background in digital gear. As a beginning photographer, I started with a small point and shoot camera. After I was robbed taking street photos, I purchased an entry-level DSLR, which ignited my frenzy with DSLR. My favorite DSLR lenses for street photography are my 28mm and two pancakes I purchased at the end of my lens-buying rush—a 40mm and a 24mm. Occasionally, I shoot with a 10-20mm lens as well. I eventually got back into small gear and purchased another point and shoot camera as I ventured away from commercial work to focus more on street photography. After two years, I purchased the first "Digital Rangefinder" camera.
Why is gear so important? Because it is the tool that allows you to capture your vision. My passion for street photography has driven my gear purchases and, after a few years, I realized that small and inconspicuous gear works best for me.
Whatever your passion, don’t let yourself be driven by gear innovations or brands. Choose your companion gear by listening to your passion instead of the market.
Another key to excelling at Candid Photography is to always be patient. In general, Candid Photography offers you very little control over anything, especially when it comes to lighting and pose. For example, in Street Photography, one can wander the streets for hours taking only a couple of pictures or absolutely none. This happens when we are in pursuit of something specific, a special moment or a meaningful story. Capturing this requires high levels of patience and discipline. It does not, however, mean that you must lower your guard. You never know when the moment of your life will burst in front of your eyes, so you must always be prepared.
Being able to blend in with the crowd is crucial for capturing candid images. Much like it is out of the ordinary to dress in bright, bold colors during the winter in Paris or to wear an overcoat at a California beach in the middle of summer, blending involves more than just your clothes. From the way you walk and carry yourself to your mannerisms, it is important to be smooth and avoid giving yourself away as a tourist on your travels.
Separation from Vernacular
Candid Photography goes beyond vernacular photography, which is more oriented for domestic purposes such as newspaper publicity. The real difference between Candid Photography and natural vernacular is the aesthetics a photographer can achieve by taking into consideration various composition and exposure techniques.
Respect everyone you encounter in front of your lens. Whether they are friends, acquaintances or complete strangers, respect each person who stands in front of your shutter eye. The voice of the image is extremely important and, when things are done without respect, it is often reflected in the image.
Cultures and religions also deserve respect. It doesn't matter if you are an open minded traveler in a conservative country or vice versa, you must always have respect for the culture, the religion and the people.
If you can't show respect in your surroundings or to those around you, social photography is likely not your strongest suit. I only tell you this because a lack of respect will negatively impact your ability to blend in as well as hinder your social skills, which are necessary for interacting with others. Physical language speaks volumes more than verbal language., so the next time you are surrounded in a foreign culture, show the utmost respect. You will see firsthand that things will flow better and, as a result, you will capture more candid photographs.
Niches that Glorify with Candid Approach
As I mentioned before, Candid Photography is more of an approach that has a larger span than the general, more simplified photography genre. The two niches that I think earn a larger benefit from Candid Photography are, without a doubt, Street Photography and Photojournalism. This is because these two genres cope better with natural and ordinary happenings.
Please, don't make Street Photographers—or any other photographers for that matter—look bad. Don't be rude to people if they ask you to delete their pictures. Even though you feel you have a right to capture moments in a public space, some people just don't like to be photographed by a stranger with a camera. If they ask you to delete the image, please do it. Also, if you’re only taking photos to spy on someone or you find yourself having to run after taking someone’s photo, you might want to find a new hobby because that is just not cool.
A little anecdote around my twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera
Last month I bought a secondhand, near-mint condition Yashica Mat 124G and, just recently on November 2nd, had the opportunity to try it out for the very first time. In my country, November 2nd is the Day of the Dead where people traditionally go to the cemeteries to mourn their loved ones.
I woke up early, loaded my Yashica with film and ventured to one of the local public cemeteries. I knew that I was entering a fragile ecosystem filled with mourning people and was aware of the possibility that I could get a few insults if I didn't approach people with the utmost respect.
The thing is, this camera is so obvious that people didn't even react to it. I placed it over some concrete structures, figured my exposures with my smartphone app, focused the camera, composed and took the pictures.
To my complete surprise, all of the images were completely candid, not to mention I got away insult free.
Some people like to do portraits of strangers and are, believe it or not, incredibly comfortable approaching strangers and convincing them to pose in front of the camera. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with doing portraits of people on the streets, but we reduced this article to reflect plain, candid approaches in photography. The real magic of Candid Photography is when you see an image and you are not sure if it was posed or not.
I invite you to push yourselves to the limits in order to capture completely natural and close images that tell meaningful stories of people and places. It is not the same to walk around in a crowd with your camera on your hip and shooting like crazy. Seek beautiful, amazing, compelling and meaningful moments inside or outside these crowds. Always have your camera with you and prepared to shoot so that those incredible and breathtaking moments will have a hard time escaping your eye.
In sum, Candid is an approach for doing photography, therefore it spans a larger scope than just a genre inside photography like Street or Photojournalism. Candid is a way of getting involved with societies and crowds in order to capture meaningful stories that otherwise will remain unseen to the public. Candid Photography is about being inconspicuous, sneaky, stealthy, but above all, respectful and socially skilled in order to get close to the intimate and ordinary moments of urban and rural peoples' lives, and capture them in the most natural and purest way.
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