8 Best Candid Photography Tips for Beautiful Natural Shots

Sep 3, 2020 | People Photography | 6 comments

candid photography tips
Written by Karin van Mierlo
Karin van Mierlo is a pro photographer with 25+ years of experience in family, documentary, travel, and street photography. She is the driving force behind Photography Playground and loves to write about all things photography related. She teaches aspiring photographers to photograph their world as it FEELS like ~ not what it looks like.

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 friends. Nothing wrong with that.

But having candid photos from your friends and family is …….. well I would say even greater.

People You Cherish

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 telephoto 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 in your life. Candid shots you’ll cherish a lifetime.

These candid photography tips will help you to make candid pictures of your people 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 what does candid mean. 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, the best camera for candid shots, camera settings, and editing.

You’ll also find some candid photography examples. Basically everything you need to discover how to take candid photos.

If you’re looking for more information on how to shoot candid portraits check out the tutorial for Portrait Photography Outdoor.

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 at the camera and SMILE’ kinda mindset.

Don’t Interfere

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.

Connect & Observe

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.

Know Your Distance

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 Tips 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

The process of candid photography is very different from more ‘staged’ types of photography because you cannot interfere.

Be Active

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 taking candids 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!

Shoot a Lot

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! And then edit them down to a reasonable amount later.

Be Deliberate

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.

Change Your POV

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 point of view in height is as important. Don’t shoot from eye level all the time. Get down on your knees or climb on a chair.

Framing

One of the better candid photography tips for composition 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, creates depth, and makes your subject stand out.

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 pictures. There’s nothing more satisfying than becoming a part of the scene you’re photographing. Especially since the humans 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. But don’t be intrusive. There’s a thin line between being part of the scene and being intrusive.

Discover the wanderer from the flock

The moments of solitude are truly beautiful.

Your daughter immersed in her own thoughts, enjoying a moment of being with herself.

A friend soaking in the beauty of the surroundings or absorbed in a favorite activity. Your partner reading a book or writing in his or her 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 and feet. 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 pictures 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. One of the most important candid photography tips I can give you is to not ever use your flash for candid photos.

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.

Low 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.

And finally, for low light photography, you can crank up your ISO. This will make your camera’s sensor more sensitive to light.

#6 Bring the Right Gear

​The best candid photography tips on gear are to have your camera close by at all times and have it prepared.

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 ready.

Best Camera for Candid Photography

As far as cameras go you should photograph with 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. Getting comfortable shooting with your camera is a vital step in how to take candid photos with DSLR.

Not there yet? Check out this article about manual mode. It comes with an awesome Shooting in Program Mode PDF guide!

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.

Versatile Lens

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 shots.

#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 select some settings before you start shooting.

Shoot in Raw

But let’s start with a basic setting. Selecting the Raw file format.

The file format you select right at the beginning of your candid photography shoot determines what you can do with it when you’re done shooting. In other words, in the editing phase.

The biggest difference of shooting Raw versus Jpeg is that a Raw file is extremely forgiving and that is very good news.

Because when you’re photographing life as it unfolds and you’re chasing a moment you might lose sight of your exposure settings. And end up with a slightly under- or overexposed image.

When you shoot in Raw the range of correcting that ‘mistake’ is a lot larger than when you shoot in Jpeg.

For me, shooting in Raw is a no-brainer. It’s my default setting.

If you’re new to shooting in Raw I advise selecting the option Raw/Jpeg. Your camera will produce both a Raw file and a Jpeg file of the same image.

Find out more about Raw vs Jpeg here.

Shutter Speed

When you’re a beginner I’d recommend shooting in shutter speed priority mode to make sure your photos don’t turn out blurred.

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

When you’ve become a little more advanced I’d suggest shooting in aperture priority mode while you keep an eye on your shutter speed and make sure it doesn’t drop below 1/250.

In aperture priority mode, you’ll be able to control the sharpness or blurriness in the background which is a wonderful tool for candid shots to play with.

ISO

Set the ISO at 400 to give you some leeway with the fast shutter speed. This also depends on the light situation.

When there’s a lot of light available select a low ISO of around 400 and when there’s a little light available select a high ISO of 1600 or higher.

Focus

There are basically 2 focus modes you need to be aware of:

  1. The one-shot focus mode locks the focus once you press the shutter half-way.
  2. Continuous mode keeps focusing as long as you keep the shutter pressed half-way.

Depending on the movement in the frame you select one of them. In most situations, the one-shot mode works best.

Unless you’re photographing action and there’s a lot of movement. Then you select the continuous mode and track the movement 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 your candid pictures is editing.

Find the One

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. It explains the entire culling process in-depth. This process is universal and applies to candid photography as well.

Black & White

The second step is to give them a little loving aftercare. For the best candid photos, 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 shoot in Black and White! Shoot in color and convert the file to black and white in editing software like Lightroom.

New to Lightroom? Go here to find out how to edit photos in 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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6 Comments

  1. Robyn Jones

    I am not a photographer, but when I do take photos, these are the kind I take! Very in-depth and informative. 🙂

    Reply
    • Karin van Mierlo

      Thanks 🙂

      Reply
  2. David Coultham

    Really in-depth article, and definitely one to come back to.. I really struggle getting portraits to look candid, these hints and tips will really help.

    Reply
    • Karin van Mierlo

      Hi David, So happy you like it and think it helps 🙂 Thank you!

      Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
    • Karin van Mierlo

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

      Reply

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