So You Want to be a Candid Photographer

G'day Focussion Folk,

I live by the policy: "Shoot first, answer questions later."

When in the street, at an event or sitting at my favourite coffeehouse I am constantly on the lookout for interesting characters, people doing interesting things, the reactions between people and people reacting to their close environment. Any day and any weather. On my own or with friends. It's my "thing".

I have been caught many times and have even made some great candids with the subject looking right at me. Many times this gives me a photograph much better than what I had in mind. Most of the time a smile, nod and a wink will make everything OK but there have been occasions when I have been approached by the person involved, mostly out of curiosity. I show them the image/s on the camera's screen, have a chat, offer them my card, ask that they send me an email so I can send them a low resolution copy and then offer them a large print. I have made a few sales this way, made a few new friends and generally the whole experience has been quite good. In only a couple of instances has there been any aggravation and at those times I simply deleted the images.

I am a great fan of candid photography, past and present. I would never ask anyone if I could make a photograph of them as that would spoil the whole idea and people never act the same when they know they are being photographed anyway. Much better to learn to become more observant, learn to anticipate, learn how to alter camera settings quickly, learn to understand more clearly just what the light is doing to your subjects, learn to be patient and learn how to handle disappointment. It's also a good idea to learn to relax because if you get all wound up and angry you will begin to make mistakes and lose the enjoyment of the "hunt".

After a while you will know what camera and lens settings work best for you most of the time so it is a good idea to preset your camera even before you leave home as on many occasions in my early days I missed a lot of opportunities while I was fiddling with my controls when I should have been shooting. Once you reach the spot you wish to shoot from - standing, sitting - make a quick test shot if you have time, make any necessary adjustments, set your focal length for the range in which you may be shooting in then turn your eyes onto stealth mode. Be as unobtrusive as you can but don't go to the length of camouflaging yourself in the bushes as this could attact the gendarmes. One trick is to pretend to be photographing someone or something else then quickly move, lock onto the subject and shoot.

I always set my camera to spot metering, centre focussing, high speed motor drive and continuous focus though I will quickly turn off the continuous focus for a static shot. I used to pride myself on being able to bag a lot of photographs by shooting one frame only, (a throwback to my Fuji days when I could only make one RAW frame at a time). The problem with that was, I threw a lot of shots away because the eyes were closed or half closed. Ergo high speed motor drive is the difference between "eyes open - eyes shut".

As much as I would like some better glass, ie: faster L series, I am currently stuck with my Canon 100-300mm USM (non IS) and Canon 28-135mm IS USM lenses. They are quite adequate and work extremely well in good light - the brighter the better. However as soon as the light drops outdoors or I am indoors, I must expect under exposed images because the lenses will only open up to f/4-5.6 and f/3.5-5.6 respectively. While this can be a bummer at times, I have learned to live with the problem, bumping the ISO up to 200 and will even purposely under expose for effect as 99% of my candid work ends up as B&W or monochrome and I just love tweaking the highlights and lights out of an image in Lightroom and Photoshop.

I must add that after I make a test shot for the conditions, I set that on Manual Mode. I will then set the shutter speed a bit higher in Shutter Priority for any freeze action shots that come my way and set the aperture as wide as possible in Aperture Priority in case I may suddenly have a subject in the shade. Oh, and 1/100sec is a good shutter speed on a rainy day to catch people rushing about with umbrellas. It makes the rain look nice and streaky and it's a good idea to pan the shot too.

Phew! I didn't mean to go so far and I think I have given you enough to work on so good luck with your journey into the world of candid photography.


by DennisG 5 may 2012 15 replies

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