Nov 11, 2022

What Is Candid Photography? Basics, Tips, Tricks (2024)

Is It Candid? Or Street? Here Are The Differences & What You Need To Know.

Hunter Scott
Hunter Scott
What Is Candid Photography? Basics, Tips, Tricks (2024)

Candid photography and street photography are often lumped in together, but depending on who you ask, they can mean very different things. 

Broadly, candid photography is taking pictures of people that are unposed, while street photography is taking pictures on the streets. There’s a little more to it than that, of course. Though the terms are commonly used interchangeably, there are some important differences you should know. 

What Is Candid Photography?

Candid photography is a blanket term for photos of people (or animals) that are taken without the subject having been posed. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the photos are always taken without the knowledge of the subject, but it’s most often the case. 

Taking a candid photo isn’t always street photography. For example, if you take some pictures of your partner cooking dinner while they’re not looking, those would be candid portraits - but clearly not street photographs! 

Example of candid photography Hunter Scott
A Candid Shot That Definitely Isn't Street Photography

When To Use Candid Photography

One of the biggest benefits to shooting in a candid manner is authenticity. Since your subject doesn’t know that they’re being photographed, you can create an image that represents them as they are in reality. 

Often when people know they’re having their picture taken, they’ll completely change their demeanor, and the way they hold themselves. This is understandable, as people often want to be seen in a particular way. Women often lift their chin and turn to their “best side” while men will stand tall and try to look mildly menacing. If you’re taking posed portraits, this is handy and helps the subject like how they look. If you’re shooting in an artistic or documentary style, this isn’t so great. Photographers often want to capture moments in time completely unadulterated, showing the way things are in the most raw, authentic, and honest way possible. Sometimes it can be a person’s flaws and abnormalities that make an image stand out and resonate with people. 

An example of a candid street photograph

Is Candid Photography Always Secret?

No! Candids can be shot without your subject having any idea you exist, but you can also plan them out with your subject. The way trends are going, more and more people need photos of them, but hate the idea of posed portraits. Old school portrait shoots with a telephoto lens in a studio are quickly going out of style, as people (especially young people) are more enthusiastic about coming across as genuine than they are about having perfectly retouched skin. 

You can agree with a subject to take candid photographs of them, either for you to use, or for them! I often run my portrait days like this. I’ll spend 4-6 hours following my subject throughout a day of fun activities, and shoot in my usual speedy and stealthy style, capturing genuine moments of them. People absolutely love to see these photos at the end of the day! It’s also a much more enjoyable experience for the subject, as they’re just having fun and not being instructed to look a particular way while sitting on an apple crate in a damp studio. 

Is All Street Photography Candid?

When you’re learning street photography, it can seem like almost every street photo is shot candidly, but this isn’t the case at all. Of course, many street photos are shot without anybody the wiser - but they don’t have to be. One technique that many street shooters use is to deliberately get noticed, then snap their shot with the subject making eye contact with the camera (and therefore the viewer). Other times, street photography can be even more connected with the subject, using their interaction with the camera and photographer as a storytelling device

Of course, it isn’t always obvious whether a photograph is candid or not. Sometimes you get lucky and catch someone already posed perfectly, without them moving or seeing you get your shot. Other times, an image may seem candid, but has been elaborately designed to look just so. That’s all part of the fun and magic of seeing great street photography at exhibitions, online, and in photo books. 

An example of non-candid street photography
Street photography where they definitely saw me!

How To Take Candid Photos

Freeze! - What Shutter Speed Should You Use?

The recommended shutter speed for freezing objects in different directions can vary depending on factors such as the direction and proximity of the subject. Typically, a shutter speed of around 1/125 second is suggested, but this can be subjective. When photographing an object in an oblique movement towards the target, it is advisable to use a shutter speed of at least 1/250 second. However, if the movement is perpendicular, a faster shutter speed of around 1/500 second is recommended to effectively freeze the action. Keep in mind that these recommended shutter speeds are not fixed and can be adjusted based on the specific situation and desired outcome of the image.

Shutter speed serves as a powerful instrument that photographers can employ to solidify and express their unique artistic style. Through deliberate manipulation of the shutter speed, photographers are able to create visually striking images that embody their creative perspective.

One way in which shutter speed can affirm a photographer's style is through the control of motion. By adjusting the length of time the camera's shutter remains open, photographers can either freeze the action or allow for intentional blurring. This technique allows them to convey a sense of movement or stillness in their photographs, which can greatly influence the overall mood and tone of the image. For instance, a photographer who prefers to capture fast-paced subjects might opt for a higher shutter speed to freeze the moment in sharp detail, emphasizing the dynamism and energy. Conversely, a photographer with a more ethereal and dreamy style may choose to utilize a slower shutter speed, deliberately introducing motion blur to create a sense of fluidity and tranquility within their work.

Moreover, shutter speed can also be utilized to experiment with different visual effects and techniques, further solidifying a photographer's unique style. By playing with longer exposures and slower shutter speeds, photographers can venture into the realm of long exposure photography, capturing mesmerizing light trails, starry skies, or silky smooth waterfalls. These creative choices allow photographers to showcase their personal preferences and artistic vision, establishing a distinctive and recognizable aesthetic.

Additionally, shutter speed can act as a tool for storytelling within a photograph. By actively selecting a specific shutter speed, a photographer can emphasize particular elements within a scene, drawing the viewer's attention to specific details or subjects. This deliberate choice can provide insights into the photographer's narrative and the emotions they wish to evoke. For instance, a photographer who specializes in wildlife photography might utilize a fast shutter speed to freeze the instant of a predator pouncing on its prey, intensifying the rawness and intensity of the moment.

In summary, shutter speed plays a pivotal role in affirming a photographer's style. Through careful manipulation of this fundamental element, photographers can breathe life into their images, effectively conveying their creative vision and evoking desired emotions. Whether freezing fast-paced action, embracing motion blur, experimenting with visual effects, or enhancing storytelling, shutter speed empowers photographers to establish their unique style and connect with their audience on a deeper level.

How To Compose Candid Photography

Understanding composition rules can greatly assist in capturing unique moments in street photography. While landscape photography allows for more time and careful consideration in composing and capturing a scene, street photography often requires quick decision-making. Therefore, it is crucial to give these composition rules proper attention. They serve as valuable tools to enhance our comprehension of visual aesthetics, guiding us when we embark on a photo walk.

By taking the time to examine photographs that successfully utilize these rules, we can internalize them and begin to instinctively seek out similar compositions in our own work. One widely applicable rule is the uneven number rule, particularly the use of three principal elements. This principle holds a certain magic in the world of photography, as it brings rhythm and a sense of strength to an image. Likewise, finding a balance of light in uneven successions can also elevate the impact of a photograph.

By incorporating these composition rules into our street photography, we create a solid foundation upon which to build our unique moments. These rules not only provide structure but also foster our ability to capture scenes that stand out and evoke a strong emotional response in the viewer. Through thoughtful application, we can ensure that our compositions effectively communicate the story and essence of the streets we explore.

In my opinion, breaking the rules is more fun anyway - so feel free to throw all of that out the window and do what you like!

So What Is Street Photography, If Not Candid?

Street Photography is one of those terms that’s grown, changed, and been flipped around so many times since it was coined. It can refer to all sorts of different kinds of photos and photographic practice! In essence, street photography is imagery created in the public realm. By this definition, street photos don’t even need to feature people, and this is often the case! Given the broad definition of street photography, I’ve done a full article discussing what it really means. If you’re just looking for an easy two cents answer, here you go: Some street photography is candid, and some candids are street photography. The main difference is often the intention behind the photo, and how it was taken. 

How should one approach differing opinions on street photography styles?

It is important to remember that everyone has their own opinion when it comes to street photography styles. Personal preferences may vary, and it is perfectly acceptable to have differing opinions. Embracing different styles and respecting diverse perspectives can enrich the overall understanding and appreciation of street photography.

Are there any exceptions or variations in street photography styles?

Yes, there can be variations in street photography styles. For instance, photographers like Alex Webb have a style characterized by chaos, where multiple scenes within one shot fill the frame. This is different from traditional street photography, but it showcases the diversity and individuality within the genre.

What should be the mindset when practicing street photography?

When practicing street photography, it is important to not constantly think about the rules, but rather focus on applying concepts that can improve the final product. The mindset should be centered around the creative process and capturing compelling images.

Why Is So Much Street Photography Candid?

A huge chunk of street photographers only ever shoot in a candid manner, and there’s a good reason for this. Traditionally, street photography was much closer in intention to documentary work, with photographers doing their absolute best not to disturb the scene and simply document the world around them as it was then. Many of the all time greats shot this way in the early days of street photography, and as a result, their work has gone on to influence generations of newer shooters. It’s also much easier to create more work, quicker, when you shoot in a candid manner. Candid shots can be easy to fire off and are often less scrutinized by the photographer - if you’ve taken a shot that isn’t candid, any slight misalignment or error in composure can seem like a much bigger issue. 

An example of Garry Winogrand's Candid Street Photography
An example of Garry Winogrand's Candid Street Photography

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