28 zip codes, 1 city.

Tips: Candids

TIPS: Candids




Candids . . .

  • tend to be about the subject(s) and their environment and the action in which they are engaged.
  • exclude the photographer’s prior manipulation of the subject(s) and their re/action and/or the environment of the subject(s); action/environment is not posed/created/altered/planned.
  • may be about capturing the re/action of the subject(s) at the moment they become aware of the camera.
  • may be taken without the subjects’ knowledge, consent, or anticipation of being photographed.
  • depict strong or overarching elements of the subject(s) in relation to the action/environment in which they are engaged.
  • can be perceived as being more “honest,” “pure,” or “objective.”

A good candid photograph captures the essence of a subject freely engaged in an activity. The photographer does not influence any aspect of the subject or the setting/environment except in how s/he composes elements within the frame.

A good candid tells the story of the “bigger picture” in microcosm by honing in on key details of a human subject within an ongoing scene of activity.



The most important elements of a candid are generally the subject’s expression – facial expression, body language, and emotion – and activity – form, shape, and motion. Good candids rely on the photographer’s careful decisions about proximity to the subject and the inclusion of certain details of setting/environment within the frame to convey meaning.

The “spur-of-the-moment” feel of candid photography actually requires some planning on the part of the photographer. The following are tips for preparing to take candid photographs:

1. Choose a particular event to attend or location to shoot ahead of time. Plan to show its significance to the Milwaukee story through your photos, but forget about any preconceived notions of what that significance is. Ultimately, you want the photos to speak for themselves and to reveal something perhaps previously overlooked.

2. Spend time prior to your actual shoot studying the scene. This will help you determine the best camera settings, angles, and perches from which to shoot/set up equipment and give you an opportunity to obtain permission from subjects if any is required.

3. Take sufficient practice shots. Once you have arrived on the scene, take sufficient practice shots beforehand from multiple angles to make sure your cameras are appropriately set up for lighting and focus range, etc. You don’t want to be adjusting settings between photos or deleting bad shots to clear up storage space – you might miss your best shot.

4. Take more photos than you’ll end up using. Candids are a bit like shooting lightning – you can’t know when your best shot will “strike,” so be prepared to take hundreds of “throwaway” photos before getting the shot you want. Bring extra memory! Extra storage! Extra film! Extra batteries! Extra whatever it is you bring with you to a shoot! …But don’t let the extra equipment encumber you either – you’ll need to be agile and versatile with your positioning.

5. Immerse yourself within the immediate space of the subject/activity. Your goal is to intrude as little as possible upon the scene and activity of the subject you’re shooting while getting as close as the best shot requires, usually immersing yourself within the immediate space of the subject/activity. If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with how to take unobtrusive candid photos that close to your subject, practice ahead of time first with familiar people and settings and transition to random public areas and people.



Maybe you plan an event/location ahead of time, or maybe you stumble upon a scene. Either way, good candid photography “goes with the flow.” The following are tips for capturing the key elements of your subject – expression and activity:

1. Proximity matters immensely for both the story and quality of your photo. Determine what it is that captures most the essence of your subject: Eye-level photos are ideal for capturing facial expression, the fine details of a body in motion, and the nonverbal communications among interacting people. The result is a “present-in-the-moment” feel. A little distance may be necessary to show the relationship between your human subject’s activity and the environment in which it is taking place. In that case, you’ll want to compose elements within the frame more like a landscape photograph with a wide angle lens (see landscape photography tips).

2. Don’t limit yourself to strictly one angle or distance. However, avoid extreme zooming (or after-the-fact extreme cropping) in pretty much all cases. If you want a “present-in-the-moment” feel, you’re going to have to get physically close to your subject. If your subject’s relationship to the surrounding environment matters to the story you’re trying to tell, get as close as possible to include only the environmental details that are absolutely necessary to convey the story, nothing more.  

3. Shoot multiple photos rapid-fire once you’ve got your subject in focus. Small changes in expression, activity, and environmental conditions occur from second to second, but they can make the difference between a good or truly excellent candid photo. Don’t stop to scrutinize your photos along the way; examine them for these fine details after you have finished the shoot.

4. Be sure to preserve the “real” and “natural” elements of your human subjects and details of the setting if you do any photo manipulation or “shopping.” Excellent candid photos start with excellent “raw” materials; selective photo editing can enhance already powerful features, not transform “bad” to “excellent.” The power of candid photos relies on capturing the unaltered essence of a moment; too much manipulation destroys the authenticity of that moment.

5. Stay versatile, agile, flexible, open, immersed, and, well, candid. Your subjects will not “hold still” for that perfect, idealized shot. Your subjects may become self-conscious and shy away from the camera. You may not have access to the “best” location for aiming your camera. You may trip over your tripod scrambling to catch the action. Etcetera. The more you are willing and able to adapt to any and all possibilities and conditions of the shoot – the more you are able to go with the flow – the more you and your subjects will relax and stay present in the moment. This is really the key to great candid photography. Don’t be an outsider looking in; be an insider looking deeper.