Five Pro Tips For Better Candid Photos

shoot while walking
Shooting subjects while walking is a great way to catch candid moments - by flickr user loura

If you want to know who to ask about taking good candid photos, find yourself a photojournalist (PJ). When I first really noticed the difference in how a “PJ” shoots and a portrait photographer was spending time in one or two area photography studios. It was obvious we came from different worlds. From the selection of lenses, to camera settings, to framing, we were as far apart as people in the same profession could be. Portrait photographers are all about consistency, PJs are all about the moment in all its unstructured naturalness.

Whether you’re hoping to break into the ever-diminishing PJ ranks some day or are just looking for better candid photos, here some PJ tips for catching those world class candid moments.

Shoot From The Hip

Aiming and framing takes time and, as soon as you point a camera at someone, they react to it. Models, people in the media, and politicians all instantly adopt one of their automatic poses (or lunge at the camera) and people unused to being photographed looked startled and uncomfortable.

A good PJ gets used to aiming and shooting the first couple of shots before ever raising the camera to eye level.

Use A Fast Lens

Waiting for a flash to charge is out, you have to shoot fast! Shooting fast on the go means a fast lens and one more on the wide side.

You want to use a wide lens, but not so wide that it introduces wide angle compression into your pictures which becomes noticeable when doors seem to tilt toward the outside edges of images and it makes your subject’s head outsized compared to their feet. I wouldn’t go any wider than 50mm for candid photos, unless you’re shooting a crop sensor camera, then you can go as wide as 35mm.

Get In Close

In the old days reporters would use huge 4×5 cameras like the Busch Pressman Model C that would allow them to shoot a chaotic scene quickly and use that big negative to crop out the photo for the newspaper later. Today you can do something similar with a wide lens by shooting close in with a full frame sensor, a 50mm lens and zooming the cropped shot in post.

Take a Different Perspective

A PJ will either elevate their camera over the crowd and shoot at a slight downward angle or get low and shoot up which makes their subject look larger than life.

It’s okay to mix in a few eye-level shots, just mix it up with high and low angles.  This is especially important with a wide lens.  If you have a wide angle lens, either get low or get elevation because eye-level shots are going to show wide angle distortion.

Shoot While Walking

A great candid tip comes from something PJs do all the time: Shoot while walking. Let your subject start walking and shoot while you walk along next to them and backwards in front of them. You won’t be able to aim or time your shots, you’ll just have to blaze away and see what comes out later. Walking is a natural action and most people lose apprehension about the camera when they’re moving.

Try that and you’ll discover all the PJ tricks of not aiming, holding the camera up high shooting down and down low pointed up. You’ll discover Live View if your camera supports it and how convenient that can be for shooting on the go.

It may seem hard at first, but with enough practice you can do almost anything while walking backwards and shooting. The first thing you’ll learn is to sense obstacles and curbs, another reason PJs don’t always look while they’re framing. You may only get one or two good shots, but the ones that do come out will be fantastic.