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17 Best Tips for Candid Street Photography

Street Photography

What is Candid Street Photography?

Candid Photography refers to capturing photographs without the consent or awareness of your subject. The subjects in most cases are unaware that a photograph is being taken. Candid street photography captures the moments just as they are, subtle and beautiful at the same time.

Taking “perfect” close-up candid photos on streets without people noticing you is really hard. As soon as people notice you, they get conscious and react to the camera. The fear of getting caught and ending up in trouble is among the biggest fears of any street photographer.

Here’s the list of 17 best tips to help you get better at candid street photography—

Use Smaller Camera

It’s obvious that a bigger camera draws more attention and that’s obviously the last thing you’d want as a street photographer. You may have to walk a lot while shooting and carry everything by yourself. So a smaller and lighter camera is much better option than a bigger one.

Candid Street Photography

Prime lenses, because of their simple lightweight design, smaller size and easier handling are recommended for candid street photography projects. It is better to carry around a small camera. You can try Sony, Olympus, Fuji, Ricoh or Leica.

Use LCD

Using LCD screen instead of viewfinder is a good way to ‘hide’ yourself out on the streets. Using LCD to see what you’re capturing makes it less obvious that you’re shooting, while viewfinder will attract people’s attention.

Also, it gets difficult for people to tell exactly whose photos are being taken, which is good for you. Keep the camera a little distant from your face while shooting (obvious when using LCD), it might look like you’re doing something with your camera— scrolling photos, changing settings or anything; but not clicking photos. This is a nice way to get photographs without much attention and suspicion.

Keep the Camera Higher

It is an important point. Always keep the camera close to your face (unless your subject will easily see it or arouse suspicion).

Decisive moments often offer very less time to you. Don’t waste that precious time in grabbing the camera, bringing to your face and then shooting. You should adjust the camera settings to appropriate values and keep the camera close to your face, ready to click pictures the moment you find something interesting.

Also, it helps you avoid unwanted attention. Sudden quick movements will only attract attention of people around you. And if your subject notices and reacts to you, everything is ruined.

Candid Street Photography

Shutter Priority in Street Photography

Many photographers work with aperture priority in almost all kinds of photography. Aperture priority performs great in shallow depth-of-field shooting like architectural, landscape or portrait photography; but usually not for street photography. If you’re exceptionally comfortable with it, go for aperture priority or manual mode. Otherwise, I suggest Shutter Priority.

One of the hardest things in street photography is to capture moving subjects and avoid motion-blur. Moreover, while out on the streets shooting, you can’t use a tripod. So you might also have to deal with camera-shake caused by hand-held shooting.

Adjust to faster shutter speeds to capture sharper images when moving elements are involved. Increase the speed in case of intense sunlight and decrease in low light conditions. I suggest you to take a few test shots on the background and adjust camera settings beforehand to right values.

High ISO

Many Photographers prefer low ISO, but in a few cases higher ISO values can yield wonderful results. It is extremely hard to capture candid shots with absolutely right focus and correct sharpness. Higher ISO values can be really helpful in getting better shots.

High ISO sensitivity can get you correct exposure even for higher shutter speeds (to freeze perfectly) and larger aperture, along with good sharpness. For multiple subjects in frame, you have a better chance of having all of them (or at least most of them) in fair sharpness.

Candid Street Photography

Wide-Angle Prime Lens

You might have come across articles online emphasizing the use of wide-angle prime lenses for candid street photography. Well, I can’t agree more.

Wide angle lenses compel you to go closer to subjects, making you “a part of the street life”, the life you’re trying to frame. This can work wonders in street photography. The subject in foreground appears larger and holds viewers’ attention. Moreover, wide-angle lens along with large aperture creates a better range of sharpness in your images.

When shooting candid, you need your camera gear to be smaller. A large/heavy camera gear only attracts more attention and increase suspicion. With smaller and lighter wide-angle lens your work gets easier.

Zone Focusing

Zone focusing is a commonly used technique in candid street photography. It involves pre-focusing your camera to a certain distance i.e., you switch to manual mode & (generally) focus 8 or 10 feet away and Photograph the subject when in right focal range.

Most of the things happening on streets are often so sudden that you need to be lightning quick to capture them perfectly. And adjusting things manually need time. Zone focusing thus saves you from the hassle as you set everything beforehand.

In this way you can capture photographs without your subjects noticing you and also have them in ‘acceptable’ sharpness. This technique works best when plenty of light is available around, but can be used in low light environment as well. You just need to configure the settings to appropriate values.

Using a shutter release to shoot to avoid sudden movements is a good idea. Camera shake is reduced and you “stay away” a little from your camera, which cuts down chances of people noticing you clicking pictures.

Zone Focusing, however, is not suitable for every photo. So be ready to switch to auto-focus (you don’t get enough time to set everything manually) whenever needed.

Rat’s eye view angle

Sometimes, you won’t be able to hold the camera to eye-level because of risk of your subject noticing you. And that’s the last thing any photographer would want in his/her street photography.

Rat’s eye view means to shoot keeping your camera low (of course, lens upwards). In this way photos can be clicked and no obvious gestures are given off. No doubt, getting good shots is difficult in the beginning; you’ll get better with time and practice.

Patience in Street Photography

Patience is essential in street photography and I couldn’t go on with the list without including this point. Many photographers think they just need to look for a great/unusual scene to capture and that’s absolutely wrong.

As a street photographer, you don’t need to always keep hunting for the right shot. It doesn’t work like that (well, not for everyone I believe). A not-so-perfect yet interesting background and an “interesting” subject are real ingredients of a great street photographs.

When you come across a nice/unusual background, don’t rush! Have some patience and wait. Adjust camera settings, find a good position to stand and wait until a subject walks into your frame. Then what? Shoot!!

Candid Street Photography

No Eye Contact

Making an eye contact with your subjects makes them think that you’re keeping an eye on them. It is crucial in street photography that your subjects are unaware of them being followed/shot.

With an eye contact, you also invite their attention towards you. Try clicking photos of them pretending to shoot something behind them, a tree perhaps. Make them feel they’re not being photographed and are “unwanted” in frame. This will help you capture much better candid photographs.

You don’t always need people

Most of the street photographs you see are just people standing or walking on the streets. But is street photography all about people only? I don’t think so. Although candid street photography means to capture life “as it is”, but street-life is not about people only. There’s much more to it, like— street signs, stray animals, deserted houses, graffiti, construction sites, vehicles, etc.

Candid Street Photography

Many such things together represents the street-life, culture and way of living of people in a place and they all should be a part of your street photography as well. I know such photos might not be needed by your clients, but self-satisfaction is important too, no? Keep the pictures for your personal collection.

Know What to Say

Street Photography is creepy! Most people obviously won’t like the idea of being photographed without their consent.

Every candid street photographer has to deal with the fear of getting caught by someone. You have to convince others that you’re not stalking or spying on them; or you might end up in big trouble.

If someone catches you, don’t show that you’re frightened (you will be, for sure). Have a normal smile on face, confident body language and talk politely. Just be honest, lying won’t help you in any way. Showing your business card (you should have one) would be great. Say that they looked great, so you decided to add their photo to your collection. Praise their looks, but don’t sound like an obsessive freaky stalker.

If the other person is shouting at you, try to calm him down. Otherwise, a lot of people might gather around hearing him and the situation will only become worse for you.

They might get convinced by a polite request to keep photos (chances are slim though). If they’re still mad at you, delete the photos right there! Losing a couple of photos is better than losing all of them. You never know what people might do to you or your camera.

Capture Gestures

Most of the street photographs just have people walking or standing still on the streets. These photos are (no offense) boring! You should look for gestures and actions people do while out on the streets.

There are a lot of things people do out on streets, unintentionally most of the time. You can look for people sneezing, caressing their pet, or stretching their arm to stop a taxi, etc. like this one —

Keep the Camera with You

Whenever you hang-out with your friends or go shopping with your family, keep the camera in your bag/car. I already suggested you above to have a smaller, lighter one for street photography.

You never know when you might across something interesting that you would never wanna miss. Decisive moments occur at the most unexpected times. Spontaneity is precisely what candid street photography demands out of you.

Get Inspired

This is a simple yet an important one for you to grow as a photographer. Exploring the works of other photographers opens up your mind to new possibilities, techniques, ideas and creative approaches in your own work. Study portfolios of some renowned street photographers in your free time. The knowledge you can gain has no bounds.

You can create a digital collection of the works you like or would wish to reference in future. Purchase some prints for walls of your room. The more you immerse in street photography, the better you emerge as a street photographer.

Names of some famous street photographers to begin with: Wittner Fabrice, Zack Arias, Bruce Gilden, Helen Levitt, Bruce Davidson, Bill Cunningham, Sergio Larrain, Mark Powell. Just Google them!

Tell a Story

Street photography must tell a story. Your photos are (no offense) meaningless if they don’t reflect the life you’re trying to capture. Candid street photos must resonate with the emotions of your subject. A photograph without emotions to convey or a story to tell are somewhat “dead”.

Candid Street Photography

Just Be Yourself & Have Fun!!

Photography is an art meant to be enjoyed, cherished, loved and lived. You can’t be happy as a photographer unless you love what you do and live everyday of your life for the same only.

Photography, out of all art forms, gives freedom only when you “capture” life (quite ironical, isn’t it?). You need to go out, take your camera with you and live a life filled with passion, creativity and joy.

Candid Street Photography

image: ©RK

That’s all I had to share. Please share any valuable tips/ideas in the comments section below. If you want me to write posts on specific topics, feel free to comment below, it means a lot to me 🙂

1 Comment

  1. I agree and I guess candid photos are the only ones that actually show the real emotions of the people being photographed. If you can nail the shot then you’re actually getting a photo full of emotions.

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