8 Candid Photography Tips for Gorgeous & Pure Travel Pics

People Photography, Travel Photography

candid photography tips, candid photography tutorial
Written by Karin van Mierlo
Karin is a pro photographer with a bachelor's degree in photography bringing 25+ years of experience to your table. She is the driving force behind Photography Playground and loves to write and teach about all things photography related. She is the developer of the Fearless FrameWork, a holistic method of learning photography.

Candid Photography Tips

We all know how to make a selfie or to pose in front of a landmark. Smile when told to and jump when prompted. And it’s great to have those posed pics from the one and only time you did that awesome hike with your newly found friends. Nothing wrong with that.

But having candid pics from your friends and family while you’re traveling is …….. well I would say even greater.

One of the questions I get asked the most is how do you photograph people in an authentic way. Without feeling like a paparazzi hiding in the bushes with a long lens. In other words, what are the best candid photography tips?

So, this post is about discovering what it takes to create authentic pictures of the people you travel with. Candid pics you’ll cherish a lifetime.

These candid photography tips will help you to make candid pics of your travel gang whether they’re your friends, people you met on the road, your family or your kids. The beautiful people you know and love.

We’re gonna start by making sure you get the basic idea of candid photography. And then I’m gonna give you tips on mindset, process, composition and the moments to look for. The last 4 tips are about light, your gear, camera settings, and editing.

candid photography tips, people photography, candid pics | Photo: Girl on a boat, Crete, Greece ©Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

What is Candid Photography?

Let’s start by determining what candid photography actually is. Or how I define it.

Candid Photography is any type of people photography that is authentic and genuine.

There’s no posing or staging involved.

The photographer documents whatever is unfolding in front of the camera without interfering.

Candid photography is capturing life’s fleeting moments with sincere and heartfelt emotions.

#1 Get into the Candid Mindset

The candid mindset is very different from the ‘Hey let’s preserve this moment, look to the camera and SMILE’ kinda mindset.

First of all, you need to let things evolve without interfering. You cannot ask your kid to do that cute thing again. Letting go of the desire to control the scene is the first step in getting in the right mindset.

Besides that being open to the people around you and your surroundings is essential. And so is making a connection with them.

Since you’re photographing people you know you already have a connection with them. That’s the easy part. The hard part is that a candid mindset requires an observing mind. You need to step back from time to time and see the scene you’re part of as an outsider so to speak.

And last but not least you don’t want to be in their faces with your camera all the time. For one because that would be obnoxious but being too intrusive also ruins the moment.

Letting things evolve, being open, connected, and observant plus not being intrusive is not an easy task to pull off all at once.  But with practice, you’ll get the hang of it. You’ll start to see things differently and the genuine moments will present themselves more and more.

Check out Photographing Children Documentary Style to dive deep into Candid Photography for Kids.

candid photography tips, people photography, candid pics | Photo: Girl on the beach, The Netherlands ©Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

#2 Dive in the Process

Being an active photographer is one of the most important Candid Photography tips I can give you. You need to move around because when you’re making candid pics you cannot ask people to move to get the better light or a better composition.

It’s you who needs to position yourself to get the best point of view. How you do that? Yep, by moving around!

Things evolve quickly and everything changes from second to second. One moment someone smiles and the next moment the smile is fading away. To get the picture you desire you’re gonna shoot a lot. Shoot hundreds! You can always edit them down to a reasonable amount later.

And you need to shoot through the moment. Keep your eye behind the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter until you’re sure the moment is gone.

But I want you to be deliberate. Don’t catch the ‘shutter diarrhea disease’ and randomly keep shooting. Follow your subject or subjects and press the shutter at the moments you feel are the best. Only when the action is evolving very fast should you keep releasing the shutter.

candid photography tips, people photography, candid pics | Photo: Boy smiling, Amalfi, Italy ©Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

#3 Mix Up Your Composition

Although Candid Photography is all about genuine emotions and moments you shouldn’t forget about the composition. Making a good composition may seem a little difficult but it pays off to pay attention to it before you press the shutter.

Again, being active is important when it comes to composition. Having shots from the same viewpoint, the same perspective is boring. Very boring. By moving around you change your perspective all the time.

And by moving around I don’t just mean walking. Changing your perspective in height is as important. Don’t shoot from eye level all the time. Get down on your knees or climb on a chair.

A great composition tool for Candid Photography is framing. In framing, you put foreground elements in the frame like a tree, a wall, or a doorway. It gives an intimate feeling to a photo.

Another one I like is photographing people from the back. It shows the viewer what they’re looking at. How they take in their surroundings.

Check out Composition in Photography for more composition tools.

#4 Look for the ‘Good’ Moment

What is the ‘good’ moment? It’s a much-discussed subject in photography. Many photographers reputation is solely based on the ability to capture the ‘decisive moment’.

The ability to capture the decisive moment is something that comes over time. After many many hours of shooting and many many files that end up in the bin. It is the main reason why you need to shoot a lot and shoot through the moment.

So what are ‘good’ moments to look for?

Go where the action is.

Get in the middle of the action for close up candid pics. There’s nothing more satisfying than becoming a part of the scene you’re photographing. Especially since the people you’re photographing are your friends, your kids, or your family.

They want you to be part of it. And they will become more and more comfortable around you and your camera.

Discover the wanderer from the flock.

The moments of solitude are truly beautiful.

Someone immersed in their own thoughts, enjoying a moment of being with themselves.

Someone soaking in the beauty of the surroundings. Or they’re absorbed in a favorite activity, reading a book or writing in their travel journal.

Photograph the Less Obvious.

The natural thing to do is to focus on the faces and you should definitely do that but look beyond the faces as well.

For instance, look at the hands. How are they finding each other? What are they doing? What are they making? Details of gestures and body language can be truly beautiful.

Look for those ‘little’ and less obvious moments to give your candid pics more depth.

candid photography tips, people photography, candid pics | Photo: Girl sleeping, Crete, Greece ©Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

#5 Use Natural Light

This is a biggie. First of all, do not ever use your flash for Candid Photography.

Nothing kills a genuine moment more effectively than having a flash in your face.

Natural light is the most beautiful light there is anyway. So look for places, areas, and environments where the light is abundant or beautiful. Check out Natural Light Photography to discover more about shooting with natural light.

If there’s not a lot of light available a fast prime lens comes in very handy. It will allow you to open up the aperture and make the most of the light that is available.

Another thing when you open up your aperture the background will become blurry allowing your subject to stand out. This is a wonderful candid photography tip to direct attention to your subject.

#6 Bring the Right Gear

The most important candid photography tip on gear I can give you is to have your camera close by at all times. Because you never know when that epic moment will appear. If it does you want to be prepared and have your camera ready.

This means not only keeping it close but also having a charged battery and loads of memory. To be sure it’s best to have a charged spare battery and a second memory card with you.

Best Camera for Candid Photography.

As far as cameras go you should bring the camera that you’re most comfortable with.

Because candid photography relies heavily on speed you do not want to figure out your camera while you’re shooting. This can be your smartphone camera but if you’re comfortable shooting with a DSLR it’s even better.

Best Lens for Candid Photography.

Despite the convenience of a zoom lens, I don’t recommend them. For one because the quality of a zoom lens will always be inferior to a prime lens.

But the most important reason is a zoom lens makes you a lazy photographer. When you use a prime lens you need to move your ass to get a different perspective. And active photographers always create better images.

So what I recommend is a prime lens preferably a 50 mm or 35 mm full frame. Both lenses are very versatile which is why they’re so great for candid pics.

They give you a wider perspective when you wanna shoot from further away and incorporate the surroundings.

But they also allow coming close. The good thing is they force you to be in the middle of the action. And that creates those ‘being part of the scene’ kinda candid pics.

#7 Best Camera Settings

Due to the nature of Candid Photography, you need to be fast and so does your camera. Both shutter speed and focus mode have to be set with that in mind.

You can set your camera before you start shooting. I’d recommend shooting in shutter speed priority mode.

A shutter speed of 1/250 sec. is good. It will be fast enough to freeze the movement.

Set the ISO at 400 or above to give you some leeway with the fast shutter speed.

Use a focus mode that is suitable for action so that the camera keeps focusing. Check out capturing motion in photography for more tips on action photography.

candid photography tips, people photography, candid pics | Photo: 2 kids and a dog in the forest, The Netherlands ©Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

#8 Aim for Natural Editing

The final phase of every picture is editing.

The most important in editing for Candid Photography is to cull your selection big time. Because you’ve shot a lot and you need to weed out the bad and uninteresting shots.

When you have a sequence of 10 pics of the same thing you need to choose just one. Nobody wants to look at the same moment 10 times. Trust me there is one pic in there that best represents the moment and all its emotions. You need to find that one picture.

Check out this post for more info on how to make a travel photo album

Black & White

The second step is to give them a little loving aftercare. For the best candid pics, I recommend to keep it as natural as possible.

Black and White conversions can work really well. Not natural at all but because of the absence of color the emphasis is more on the emotions of the moment.

Black and White photos tend to have a timeless feeling to them because they let you focus more on the emotions, the connections, the expressions, and the gestures.

But don’t ever shoot in Black and White! Shoot in color and convert the file to black and white in editing software like Lightroom.

Final Thoughts

It will come as no surprise your most important tool as a Candid Photographer is your mindset. When you adopt the ‘go with the flow, connect, and observe’ mindset your candid pics will have that natural, authentic, and genuine feel to them. The rest will follow almost by itself.

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  1. Katie Diederichs

    It’s so hard taking candid photos and even posing for candid pictures. It took me quite a while to get used to it, too. I wish I found your blog earlier. I love all of your tips! Thanks for sharing Karin.

    • Karin van Mierlo

      You’re welcome Katie! I’m really happy you liked the post. 🙂


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