The usual definition of a candid portrait is misleading. Here's a more helpful way to define candid portrait photography.
It’s my view that the definition of candid portrait photography should state that a great candid portrait is often made with the subject aware they're being photographed.
Are you surprised by that seemingly contradictory definition of a candid portrait?
Candid Wedding Photography
Long ago I was a wedding photographer. In that particular photography genre it’s a common practice to produce photos that display a candid feel, so as to appear more natural and unposed.
But that’s not to say the bridal party and members of the bride’s family are unaware of the photographer’s presence or that they’re being photographed.
It’s all about creating the impression of a truly spontaneous moment, within a slightly artificial environment, that matters.
And by no means is this candid look an easy thing to achieve.
The professional wedding photographer has to anticipate and keep control of events, as they unfold, while allowing the day to flow as naturally as possible.
And all this must be done within a pretty unforgiving time frame.
While it’s expected that the bride will be running late, who’s job do you think that effects most?
It’s not the hairdresser or the makeup artist. It’s the photographer, the one working hardest and under the most pressure.
Back in the day I photographed several hundred weddings. While I don’t do that kind of work anymore, I still have an interest in what goes on in the world of wedding photography.
I also think my past experience allows me to discuss wedding photography with a measure of authority.
Candid Portraits On The Way To The Wedding
I think the above photo provides a very good (visual) definition of candid portrait photography.
It was made in the regional city of Mildura, situated on the mighty Murray River in Australia.
I don't think it matters.
Notice the use of a very shallow Depth Of Field to draw attention to our bride by de-emphasizing the bridesmaids that surround her.
It’s good to remember that the notion of the candid portrait is more an impression of photographing the subject unawares, rather than it being what actually happened.
And wedding and portrait photographers are very much in the business of impression and illusion. Don't you think?
The photo of the bride and bridesmaids, sipping champagne, on their way to the church provides the impression of a fun and relaxed time.
I think it’s a lovely example of a candid portrait showcasing what many might consider a part of the perfect wedding day experience.
I’m reminded of that old saying, “Get me to the church on time.” Perhaps, for fun, we could add “but not before the booze runs out.”
Needless to say there’s the photo and there’s what actually happened. I can tell you that this was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had to photograph.
In saying that it was still a great experience and I was very happy with the way it all worked out. But it was a physically exhausting and technically challenging time, which unfolded as follows:
- I become airsick travelling to the wedding
- The job started in blisteringly heat
- Pouring rain welcomed us as we arrived at the church
- The light was extremely challenging throughout the day, including the reception that evening
Of course central to any kind of portrait photography are the people with whom you’re working.
What made a hard and challenging day worthwhile was the wonderful and highly cooperative bridal party members and the photos I was able to create.
Candid Travel Photography
These days I brand myself as a travel photographer. It’s fair to say that candid portraits don’t feature all that prominently in my own approach to travel photography.
I do love photographing people and I have no trouble photographing strangers. However, more often than not, I work in a collaborative way with my subjects creating more traditional portrait photos.
It’s simply the way I prefer to work.
Nonetheless, the ability to make a great candid portrait is something many aspiring photographers are keen to master. I hear it all the time.
Whether they like the look and the idea of photographing candid moments or are just scared of approaching strangers is debatable.
One thing I know is that I never recommend you spend your time hiding in the bushes, waiting to catch someone unawares.
No, I don’t like that at all
The Candid Portrait Is Often A Collaboration
Take a look at this photo of a cafe proprietor pouring a glass of water from a vividly colored green jug.
He was aware of my presence, standing across the street with a big white lens, and proceeded to put on a little dance for me.
The photo is as much a study in composition, particularly color, shape and line, and the decisive moment as it is a descriptive street photo from the backstreets of Kolkata in India.
The entire process of sensing that the moment was about to unfold, then composing and exposing the image took place in a few short seconds.
What made it possible was that I had my camera ready and set for just such a candid portrait opportunity.
What’s more, despite the oppressive heat, my enthusiasm helped prepare me for the possibility of making a great photo.
Being genuinely interested in other people and staying attuned to what’s going on around you is critical to creating great candid portrait photographs.
Your Camera Looks Both Ways
Whether you feel you’re capturing a moment in time or creating a moment of beauty might seem like semantics.
However, I believe the way you approach your photography is evident in the look and feel of the photos you make.
Your photos don’t just tell stories about what you’ve seen, they speak to the world about who you are.
Your camera is a window onto the world, but it’s also a mirror reflecting back your own world view. After all they’re your photos.
Define Candid In Portrait Photography
Have you searched for a definition of a candid portrait? I think it’s reasonable to define a candid portrait as a portrait that’s unposed.
Your subject may, as a result, display a more natural appearance.
But that’s not to say they’ve been photographed completely unawares. And there’s no rule that says they have to be.
The above photo features three young girls at play in a garden in the grounds of a Hindu Temple complex in Bali, Indonesia.
The girls were being watched over by someone whom, I assumed, was a parent or guardian standing off to one side of the frame.
I gestured with my camera towards the adult for permission to make the photo.
My request was greeted with a nod and a smile so I proceeded to make several frames as the kids ran around and played on the tree.
Your Best Candid Photography
Your best candid photography will, very much, be dependent upon good timing.
I had to anticipate the moment when all three girls were visible and positioned around the tree in such a way to produce a well balanced and interesting image.
It’s an example of that notion in photography referred to as the Decisive Moment which occurs when the elements that contribute to a good image come together to form a cohesive and harmonious result.
These elements include the following:
- Meaning and Metaphor
I love the image because I feel it illustrates the joy and adventure of childhood and the pleasures associated with play.
I also feel that deciding upon a black and white rendering of this particular candid photo helped to separate the image from reality and produced a timeless result with which I’m really pleased.
I hope you like it as well.
Candid Definition In Photography
Properly structured, though informal, one-to-one coaching can really help set you up to make great photos without too much trouble.
As your own photography progresses it’s natural to want to clarify information so as to better understand terms and meanings within the vocabulary of photography.
Not only will you be able to make great photos, you’ll be able to discuss the aesthetics of photography in a way that clarifies your world view and helps other folks on their own creative journey.
If you live in or around Melbourne, Australia you really should do yourself a favor and enroll in a one-to-one private photography class with me.