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Chapter 4. People Shots, Portraits, and Pets > Candid photography techniques

Candid photography techniques

While some of the best candid pictures are taken by simply pointing the camera and pressing the shutter button, most are the result of a unique mix of spontaneity and technique. The informal nature of candid photography requires that you be aware of your surroundings and prepared to react when that special moment arises. You must also develop the ability to blend into your environment, allowing your subjects to go about their activities naturally. By being mindful of some simple photographic techniques and utilizing the best features of your digital camera, you can put yourself in position to capture great candid shots while still having fun.

Evaluate the scene

It's important to understand your subjects, their activities, and how they fit into their environment before you start shooting. However, it's even more important to understand what you'll need to do to get a good shot, such as:

  • Make sure you have a good feel for the available light in your scene. Using the flash should be avoided when capturing a candid moment, as it not only gives you away, but it also only gives you one shot to get it right.

  • Think about how you're going to frame your shot. Look for shooting positions that maximize your subject by eliminating distracting backgrounds.

  • Consider using the zoom feature on your digital camera to not only place yourself inconspicuously away from your subject, but also to reduce your depth of field, further separating your subject from background elements. In Figure A, we eliminated the distracting bright windows by shooting down on the subject. The result is a better-framed shot with the subject clearly emphasized.

    A. When shooting candid shots, make sure the background doesn't distract from your subject. If it does, reframe your shot to improve it.

  • Candid photography relies on catching your subject off-guard, so do your best to blend into your surroundings. If you take the time to evaluate your scene, you'll be able to choose your spots to keep your presence discreet.

Get your camera ready

Your shooting situations dictate the settings on your camera, but here are a few suggestions that work in most of them:

  • Candid shots require speed; shoot at a higher ISO so your camera can select a faster shutter speed. Since blurriness can be a problem when your lens is in a telephoto position, a fast shutter speed also helps freeze any movement and helps make up for any unsteadiness.

  • Try to pre-focus your shot to eliminate any lag caused by autofocus. This isn't always practical, but if you have a good idea of where your subject is going to be positioned, you can shave off precious milliseconds from your exposure.

  • Avoid a center-weighted mode if you're using autofocus and shooting more than one subject, as your digital camera might focus on the space in between your subjects instead. Figure B shows a great scene thwarted by a center-weighted focus mode. Go with a zone or matrix focusing option, if available, and you can avoid blurry shots.

    B. While this scene provided a great candid moment, active focus mode got in the way of a good shot. Be aware of the pitfalls of active focus mode and reduce problems by pre-focusing.

Be ready to shoot

When the moment arises, shoot away. Take as many shots as you can before your subject is on to you. If your digital camera has a pronounced shutter delay, adjust when you press the shutter button to compensate. If you miss a shot, don't worry. Just be patient and continue to observe your subject. If the person is on to you, disappear for a few minutes and re-evaluate your shooting opportunities.

The digital advantage

Digital cameras have a few advantages that can help you record candid moments:

  • Since they don't use film, there's no audible film advance noise. And unless you're using a professional digital SLR, the shutter noise should be minimal from a digital camera.

  • If you use a large capacity memory card, digital cameras give you the freedom to take many shots without having to change a roll of film or worry about processing fees.

  • Some digital cameras have rotating LCD screens for viewing, so use it to your advantage. Not only does it allow you to frame a shot without bringing the camera to your eye level, but it can allow you to get unique perspectives by shooting from a range of low and high angles.

  • Most digital cameras are small in size, allowing the photographer to hide them until the last minute. This allows you to catch your subjects behaving naturally before they have time to strike a still pose.

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