10 Top Tips for Candid Photography

If you shoot events regularly, you’ll know that most clients want ‘candid’ shots to go along with more formal photos. The idea is to be more of a reportage photographer and to cover the event in an informal fashion that allows for a more relaxed style.

But as most pro photographers know, indoor events are rarely in the easiest of venues. Here are my top tips for getting the best candid shots you can.

Photographers
image by Donnie Nunley
  1. Use the best camera you can for low light

    Things have moved on since DSLRs first came on the scene, and even prosumer DSLRs are now built with better high ISO capabilities. Having a camera that can cope in low light is an essential tool for working in event photography. There will often be occasions where using flash isn’t possible, so you need a camera that can still shoot at high ISOs. I shoot on Canon 5D Mk IIIs and they can easily cope at ISO 1000.

    As an old school film photographer, I prefer the look of low ISOs and the lack of noise, but even I have to admit that the results are impressive. Buy the best camera you can with your budget but, if you’re going to shoot events, make sure it can cope with the situations.

  2. Use a longer lens and crop tightly

    The best way to get candid shots without your subjects being aware is to use a longer telephoto lens. It’s also far more flattering to subjects than shooting them with a wide-angle lens that could cause distortion. Another advantage of using a telephoto lens is that it allows you to crop tightly and avoid including unnecessary background distractions.

  3. Watch your exposure

    Light in indoor venues can change from area to area, particularly if the client has gone for ‘mood’ lighting, such as candles or different light gels. So do watch your exposure as you move round the room. The aperture you use will also depend on whether you’re doing close-up or larger group candids, so one of the quickest ways to tweak your exposure is to dial in or out a little exposure compensation. This will allow you to adjust your exposure in thirds of a stop so that you don’t alter your chosen depth of field.

    As it’s likely you’ll need to keep your camera on a shutter speed of 1/60th (to prevent camera shake and to allow light into the camera), you will mostly be working with your ISO and aperture.

  4. Don’t photograph people at awkward moments

    What do I mean by awkward? Well, no one is going to thank you if you photograph them with a mouthful of food or drink! Try and take photographs before and after food, but before enough drink has been served to make photos a less attractive prospect. Photographs are best done earlier at an event, before people have too much to drink!

  5. Dress to blend in

    You may ask what this has to do with candid photography, but it’s far easier to get great photos if you don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Do you research and find out what the dress code is for the event and wear suitable clothes.

    As a female photographer, this can be a bit challenging… men can always stick on a suit for any formal function, whereas I have to be a bit more creative! I keep several smart dresses and pairs of trousers available for this work and have found that people pay less attention to you this way.

  6. Be quick

    Whatever type of candid shot you’re shooting, the golden rule is to be quick. If it’s a staged shot, you don’t want to annoy people by asking them to pose for long periods. Likewise, a candid shot of people will only work if they don’t spot you pointing a lens at them, so you need to work quickly. And try not to worry if you miss a shot – just move on and come back to that group or person again at a later stage.

  7. Shoot RAW

    As I’ve mentioned several times already, the light at events can be low, changeable and sometimes just downright unpleasant for a photographer. So make sure you shoot in RAW. This will give you the option to edit afterwards and to correct any minor exposure or white balance issues.

  8. Don’t just take candid portraits

    All events have a theme and it’s important to capture photos of this as well as the people at the event. So, for instance, I always take photos of interesting decorations and the venue as a whole, so as to capture a complete record of the event.

    One of my favourite shots from an event is a shot I took of two barmen mixing drink, with changing gel lighting illuminating them from behind. It’s a simple shot, but tells viewers a lot about the fun nature of that particular event.

  9. Engage with people, but don’t take over

    Often you’ll get better candid shots if you chat to people at events and help put them at their ease. But, be very careful never to interrupt conversations or outstay your welcome. You have been employed by the client to take photographs – not to get embroiled in long conversations.

    Be open and friendly and don’t forget to laugh at people’s jokes, however bad they may be!

  10. Look for variety and individuality

    When shooting candids at an event, try to look for the individual moment in a sea of faces. Find the people who look animated and zoom in for close-ups. And don’t forget to shoot a wide variety of people and setups. There’s never any harm in having to edit down photos from an event.

    Look for action and people who are engaged in the event going on. They’ll be far too busy having fun to see the photos being snapped.

And finally…

Don’t be afraid to think outside the norm when it comes to shooting candid shots. Try different angles and perspectives for your shots. Crouch down or stand on something, or shoot off to the side to catch those in the audience at a conference or wedding.

The possibilities are endless and you can develop your own unique style that will make clients want to keep rehiring you.

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