While everybody knows what candid photos are – and most of us have been subjects of them in one way or another – few people fully understand the exact nature of this diverse genre and even fewer are really proficient at taking candid shots.

The essence of candid shots is their un-posed nature. It has nothing to do with whether the subject knows about – or even consents to – having their photograph taken.

Candid photography lies at the heart of snap-shooting, photojournalism and street photography. It can be the most fruitful approach to photographing children, parties and family or community events.

Candid photography is all about capturing spontaneous moments. In this case, using a shallow f/4 aperture with a shutter speed of 1/2000 second made the subject stand out against the splashing water from the fountain behind her.

Above all, candid shots should capture a sense of spontaneity, recording a ‘decisive moment’ in time. To achieve this, the photographer must master the art of making people feel so much at ease in the presence of a camera they forget it is there. It’s essential to ‘blend in’ with the environment, whether it be domestic, official or out in a public arena.

Eye contact is a great way to engage with the viewer and should be attempted when shooting close-up portraits.


Keep it simple, small and light is the best advice when choosing equipment. A single camera with a standard range (24-105mm in 35mm format) lens should provide adequate scope for capturing single subjects of small groups, regardless of the situation.

Use available light since flash alerts subjects to the camera and may make them either self-conscious or hostile. Forget about tripods; as well as getting in the way, they draw attention to the camera.

Flash would have distracted the subject and also produced an uneven light distribution due to the inverse-square law. Shots like this are only possible with ambient lighting.

Work within your equipment’s capabilities. Almost all the latest cameras let you set limits to the range covered by the auto ISO function to define the lowest and highest ISO settings for a particular shoot. This is a reliable way to minimise image noise.

In the auto ISO mode, the camera’s processor always sets the slowest shutter speed setting it ‘thinks’ you can manage when hand-holding the camera. However, this may push up ISO sensitivity to unacceptable levels by setting a faster shutter speed than you need, particularly if the camera and/or lens have built-in stabilisation.

We suggest you restrict the ISO range to 6400 or less, depending on the nature of your camera. If your camera is older than about three years and uses a cropped sensor, you may need to scale sensitivity back to ISO 3200 or even lower. Shoot RAW+JPEG pairs to give you the best chance of getting editable pictures.

Shooting with long lenses and wide aperture settings can produce some interesting results. This portrait was recorded with a compact, extended-zoom-range camera using a 500mm equivalent focal length at f/4 with ISO 6400 sensitivity. This combination blurred out both foreground and background details to create an interesting selective focus.

Built-in stabilisation in the camera body and/or lens provides more scope for taking photos in poor and variable lighting. The latest cameras can integrate camera and lens IS systems to provide at least five stops of camera shake correction – and 7.5 stops is not inconceivable.

Practice your shooting technique and learn the slowest shutter speeds you can tolerate in different conditions.  Most cameras let you customise sensitivity and shutter speed values to match what you can handle with the lens you are using, taking account of available stabilisation.

Shooting tips

The best results are achieved by photographers who are part of the scene; close to the action but not drawing attention to themselves. Don’t attempt to hide; it only draws attention and makes people suspicious of your intentions. If you keep thinking people don’t notice you you’re more likely to behave in a way that keeps you ‘below the radar’.

Survey the scene thoroughly before you start shooting. Look for useful vantage points, move around and have your camera ready to record the instant a ‘decisive moment’ crops up.

Success comes from practice and the confidence you develop as a result.

Public demonstrations are a great place to practice street photography. You don’t need long lenses when shooting subjects in the crowd.

It’s easier to take photos in busy places where there’s plenty of action. Not only is your choice of subjects broader, you’re also less likely to stand out in a crowd. Trust your instincts. If it feels right to take pictures, it probably is; don’t shoot when it feels wrong or dangerous.

In potentially tricky situations, it may help to be accompanied by a friend who can provide backup support. You could also try shooting from the hip, either guessing how to frame the shot and using a wide angle lens with plans to crop the frame later to achieve the result you want or using the LCD monitor to frame the scene. High-resolution cameras (over 20-megapixels) are needed in situations that require extensive cropping.

Find a spot with a useful background or frame for your pictures and then wait for the special moments to occur. This tried-and-proven strategy can often be the best way to obtain attractive lighting and shooting angles.

Pictures like this are possible if you choose the right spot, have a suitable lens and are prepared to wait. Taken with an 85mm equivalent lens and 250 ISO setting plus a fast shutter speed of 1/100 second.

Don’t be afraid to ask people if you can photograph them. However, if your subject is an artist of any type and you want to photograph them with their work, don’t be surprised if they refuse. It’s perfectly legitimate for them to want to protect their original concepts from being replicated by others – and you should respect that.

Don’t be afraid to ask people if you can photograph them. This pair of buskers in Tokyo actually asked for this picture to be taken!

Street performers and buskers are logical targets for your camera. Since they want to attract attention, they’re used to being photographed and often ‘perform’ for your camera. Be generous with what you toss in their hats.

Street performers can make wonderful subjects for your camera.

Take lots of photos. Although you might think famous photographers took only one shot to capture ‘the decisive moment’, in fact most of them shot many frames and chose the one to print afterwards. Put your camera away as soon as you detect signs of hostility. Use your common sense and move on. If your approach is refused or you encounter antagonism, don’t shoot! No photograph is worth an unpleasant argument.

Rules and regulations
Australia has no Right to Privacy legislation that protects a person’s image as such, although the Commonwealth Privacy Act of 1988 provides some protection against the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. State laws can also provide some privacy protection. However, in the main, these laws apply to personal information; not photographs.

In most places you are free to take photos of people, buildings or public places without seeking permission. This includes photographs containing people you don’t know – as long as they have been taken in a public place and the photographs are for your own use. Situations where someone would ‘reasonably expect to be afforded privacy’ are off-limits if the subject has not given permission.

Any photographs that will be used for advertising or placing with a picture agency MUST be accompanied by a signed model release giving permission for you to sell the image. Image libraries also require model releases for any shots that contain recognisable people, even when they involve side or rear views. A sample photographer’s model release form can be downloaded from the Arts Law Centre of Australia’s website.

Most states outlaw any action that could be construed as peeping or prying upon another person. Stalking people is also outlawed and photography that could be construed as child pornography can result in criminal charges.

When it comes to taking pictures on private land or in sports grounds, theatres, museums or similar public spaces, permission may be required. Shooting non-commercial pictures is normally permitted but permission is required if shots are to be sold.

Federal Government legislation makes it illegal to photograph defence installations and military bases. Your camera may be confiscated and you risk arrest if you attempt to do so. Other Government property, such as ports, railway yards, electrical installations and similar establishments, is also off-limits.

As far as privacy is concerned, situations that are covered by the ‘own use’ definition include photographs that will be displayed in exhibitions, published in magazines and online ‘blogs’ and entered in competitions – as long as no payment is made for use of the photographs. Note that some competition and exhibition organisers place restraints on the types of pictures they accept and many require model releases for shots containing recognisable individuals.

The Australian Copyright Council publishes two information sheets (G0011 and G035) covering photographers’ copyright rights as well as a general guide, G11 Photographers and copyright. Both are available as free downloads from the Council’s website.

See more street photography shooting tips

See profile on award-winning press gallery photographer Alex Ellinghausen

Excerpt from Portraiture pocket guideby Photo Review tech editor Margaret Brown.

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