Some of the best photographs are created when a fleeting moment is captured to convey a story which otherwise can never be said in posed photographs. These spur of the moment scenes are what photographers long to capture. Once captured, these once in a life-time moments become candid shots.
There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever. – Henri Cartier-Bresson
(This candid was captured on an assignment – Village Trip with Operation Eyesight Universal. The child is getting her eyes examined. Just for a fleeting moment she had this expression of confidence and looked straight at the health worker. An expression that said that ‘you can help me if anything is wrong with my eyes’. A moment too late, this would have been just another photograph)
From the beginning days of photography, the camera manufacturers kept on trying to perfect their offerings so as to help photographers capture those candid moments. This meant faster shutter speeds, wide open apertures, high ISO films with low noise, autofocus, focus tracking and so on. Similarly photographers also kept on perfecting their techniques to get those right moments. Pulitzer prize started to include photography as one of their categories. Henri Cartier Bresson came out with the concept of decisive moment, where an anticipated candid moment was planned for and photographed at the peak of drama and emotions. Candid photography is what captures a scene in its true essence, freezing the moment forever.
(These children were posing for a photograph. Once the portrait shot was over, the eldest of them pulled the remaining two away. Enough of posing, time for play. I still had the camera in my hand and this was the resulting photograph. Their friendship and happiness is best conveyed in this photograph and not the ones they had posed for. More about it here – Photographing Children)
For perfecting candid photography, here are some settings for the camera –
Shift to Auto ISO. This is best gift in the digital era from camera manufacturers. The ability to change ISO on the go and automatically is God send for candid photography.
Auto-focus tracking: Nikon calls it continuous auto-focus or AF-C. This keeps the autofocus on all the time and keeps tracking the subject. The focusing changes as soon as the subject moves. This is very helpful for photographing children who never stay stationary at one place.
Manual exposure mode. This saves battery life. Take a reading of the exposure and set your aperture and shutterspeed as explained below. Now the only thing that will change with exposure is the ISO in case the scene gets dark.
Use a medium aperture. Too wide open an aperture will improve the bokeh or the background blur but even small errors in focusing can become glaringly obvious. By using a medium aperture, depth of field is increased a little and this can cover up some amount of focusing errors. Too small an aperture will reduce the amount of light reaching in and increase the ISO, resulting in increased noise.
Shutter speed should be kept according to the lens being used. Going too high can help freeze the movement and also help in avoiding accidental hand shake, but it does so at the expense of ISO. Unnecessarily high ISO reduces the image clarity by adding high ISO noise.
Keep your camera ready. Don’t push it to the base of a bag. Keep it where it can be easily accessed. Some photographers in fact, carry their cameras without any camera bags at all and a few of them don’t even use lens caps. I would not advice going to that extent but being ready helps.
Don’t use flash and tripods. These are obvious give-aways that you are photographing. The candid snaps no longer remain candid.
(A horse looks over his companion to see the person with a camera)
Developing the eye
Learn to predict. One practical exercise I tell photographers is to keep the camera away and just observe things happening in front. Trying to see photographs in these happening helps strengthen the sense about what can happen in front. If there are children playing around, be ready to see some really interesting moments. Similarly street photographers can observe how the expressions change on the people around them. It’s just a fleeting moment. Learning to predict where a candid moment might occur is the easiest way to get fantastic candid shots. Candids are ephemeral, learn to predict them.
Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of things that go around you. Observe the human nature, see the way people interact with each other. Keeping a camera ready is just the basic, being aware of the surroundings is what helps you identify potential scenes which can tell a story in a single photograph.
Shed the fear of people. Most of the candid photographs involve human element in some way. Learn to approach them and capture photographs. One thing that I do not support is intruding onto someone’s privacy. Do consider everyone’s personal space and privacy before photographing.
(A candid photograph of a dog training the other dog – captured by a close friend of mine)
Addendum : I had initially added photographs showing some candid moments with children. However the parents of one of the child objected to the photographs being in the website, when I shared the draft with them. So, I have removed those photographs. Most of my best candid photographs are of children.