8 Tips for Great Candid Photos

There are different kinds of photographers and different kind of photos. The goal you have for your photos will determine your approach, style, and outcome.

Take my sister and me for an example. She is a master. I play with my camera. She searches for beautiful light and emotion-filled fog. I make due with whatever light happens to be around. She has an image in mind and creates the scene. I see the scene in front of me and I create the image. She artfully designs her image from idea to finished product. I just click my shutter when the inspiration strikes.

Neither approach is right or wrong. It’s a matter of personal preference. I just happen to adore candid, real-life moments. I love to watch a scene unfold around me and then capture the emotions of my heart in my camera. Candid photos — bits of real life captured — make my heart sing. My life is filled with thousands of little every day blessings and seeing them through my lens brings me much joy. I don’t set out to create a moment to capture. I let the moment create itself and then I make sure I am ready to click.

Candid means “truthful and straightforward. Frank.”

In photography, this means capturing a scene just as it is rather than manipulating the situation. There is no, “Please look here!”, “Just smile!”, or “Can you do that again?” Instead, it’s just watching and clicking.

As easy at it seems, sometimes what is felt in our hearts doesn’t translate well to our camera. I have often seen a special moment playing out in front of me and after clicking away, I am less than thrilled with the results. What I see on my camera wasn’t what I saw in my heart.

Over the years, however, I have learned some tricks for getting the candids that I love and continue to delight me years later. Here are a few of the things I have learned:

1. Have your camera ready and available. Without a camera to capture the moment, the moment cannot be captured. This means that you need to keep your camera out and available. I try to keep my camera in the rooms I spend the most time in and I always make sure that the battery is charged. When I see a moment unfolding, my camera is within arms reach and I simply grab it, get my settings as close as can be without missing the moment, and then click away. I take pictures every day and I take my camera almost everywhere we go. It’s our life, captured. If my camera wasn’t ready I would miss many, many moments.

I adore this photo. We walked with some friends for ice cream and the kids just lines themselves up to enjoy their treat. I was so glad I had my camera!
This was one of those moments that if my camera hadn’t been right on my desk where I was, I would have missed this. How does your two year old play Uno?
A few years ago, my son peeked into our room dressed like this. My camera was right next to me and I captured this photos that I will always adore. I can still hear him say, “What? A party for ME?” Silly boy!
So where do you take your naps?

Try It: Think about the places you spend the most time and move your camera (with battery charged!) to that location.

2. Be aware. Sometimes life’s most special moments are happening and we don’t even realize it. Life isn’t made up of the grand and fantastic. Life is made up of ordinary moments and ordinary days. We have to be aware of what is going on and be ready to capture the magic in front of us. If we are too distracted with other things we will miss the moment: the little acts of kindness, the silly expressions, the soft sun hitting the back of a ponytail. Without being aware with our senses, we’ll miss something special. Keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open (and your computer/phone/tablet off!) and you might be surprised to see what is right in front of you. I love the photos from 3191 Miles Apart because they show the power of being aware.

Bedtime is the hardest part of the day for me since I am so tired and ready to be done for the day. But often, some of our most special moments are captured when the little ones are winding down.

I was sitting in my office working when I heard a sudden rage of giggles behind me. I am so glad I turned around to see this!

We moved recently and one day I was extremely busy packing and cleaning. I walked through the living room and saw this beautiful scene. I could have just kept on working on my packing, but I was aware that this was a beautiful moment. I got my camera and walked back in to capture this.

Try It: Walk around your home (inside or out) and try to be aware of what is happening around you. Maybe you could choose to do a series of photos such as “10 am on a Saturday Morning” or “Ending our day.”

3. Don’t worry about perfection. As a photographer, I love beautiful catchlights, perfect shadows, and beautiful backgrounds as much as the next person. However, for candids, I can’t worry about perfection. If I truly want a candid moment, I have to take what the situation gives me. Sometimes I get lucky with my light, and and other times I have to accept technical imperfections (or downright atrocities!) in order to capture the moment. I’m shooting to preserve real moments and our real moments aren’t perfect. This doesn’t mean I can’t create better photos by being more aware of the light and trying a different angle, but it does mean that I have to decide which is more important: the moment captured or getting a technically perfect photo. For me, I almost always choose the former.

I have always adored this picture! I kept trying to shoo the dog out of the way, but she just wouldn’t budge. I settled for her furry head being in the way in order that I wouldn’t miss this precious daddy daughter moment.
The lighting in this room was severely lacking. It was dark and had weird colors and this photo will win no awards for technical perfection. But who cares! This is real life in our house and I LOVE it!
The lighting in our last house was pretty wonky. We had VERY orange colored lights. Mixed with the color temperature of the daylight spilling in the windows, achieving proper white balance was totally impossible. But I didn’t let that stop me from snapping away when my daughter made herself a chef’s hat!

Try It: Take photos even if the setting and/or lighting isn’t ideal. Big pile of laundry in the background? Who cares! Crazy orange lighting? No big deal!

4. Let it happen naturally. I know I am stating the obvious, but for a candid photo to be candid, you have to let the scene play out in front of you without being involved in it. Calling out names or begging kids to smile isn’t fitting with the definition of candid. Just watch, wait, and be patient and the moment will happen. Even if the subjects know you are taking photos, try to stay out of the scene and let the moment present itself. My kids are used to my camera being around, but I rarely have them intentionally interact with it. Instead, I just let them play or sing or whatever they are doing and I wait for the moment. I don’t ask them to “move over there” or “lower your chin a bit.” I click what I see.

I adore this photo of my daughter and her friends. They hadn’t seen each other for a long time and they were loving the time at the pool. They were cuddled up together and I knew if I waited long enough, the moment to snap a picture would appear. It did!

My boys were having a grand time snatching the syrup from each other during one of our “no manners meals.” I just watched and snapped away!

This picture makes me smile every time I see it. THIS is our life. A cool spring day. Little kids playing in the yard…one with a bucket on her head. Ah, childhood captured!

Try It: The next time you see your kids/friends/family interacting, sit quietly and just watch and click. Try to be as inconspicuous as possible. If you want natural reactions from people, you have to let them be natural!

5. Try different angles. Photos can be shot from many different perspectives. In front, behind, from the side, up above, down below, and more. When I am taking photos of my kids, I often try a number of different positions. I especially love shooting from behind. There is something extra special in seeing people from behind as they are completely oblivious to the fact that you are taking pictures. Get down on the floor. Get a chair and stand above. Try the other side. See how many ways you can capture the same scene. Often a change of shooting direction makes all the difference! This is especially true when it comes to small children. You need to get down on their level and see the world from their vantage point.

Try It: Challenge yourself to shoot the same scene from at least two or more angles.

6. Bring in some context. Sometimes, in order to best capture the moment, you need to step away from the action. Candid photos tell a story and sometimes you need to bring in more of the surroundings into your photo in order to tell that story well. I will often step away from a moment with my family so that I can take a few photos and preserve more of the surrounding context. I might get up from the dinner table, run ahead on a walk, or step out of the room and peep back in. It isn’t for long, but it enables me to capture more of the surrounding details.

We went daffodil picking in late February. I am so glad I stepped away for a few moments so that I could capture this whole scene.
Recently we spent a month in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. While there, we visited the famous Russian Market. I let the family walk ahead of me a bit so I could capture the (hot and tight!) experience better.

The door frame in this photos gives the feeling of peeking in on a private moment between sisters.

Try It: The next time you are taking photos, try stepping back and getting more of the background or some other feature that adds to the story.

7. Take a lot of photos! This may seem obvious, but one of the surest ways to get great candids is simply to take a lot of photos. We are blessed to be in the digital age when we can take as many photos as we like and simply discard those that don’t turn out. When you are watching a scene that you want to capture, take a lot of photos and you can bet that there will be at least a few that speak to your heart. I often will take 10-20 of the same scene and only keep one or two. My goal when shooting candids is to preserve a feeling that it is in my heart. When I see the photo that captures it, I keep it and toss the rest.

We were on a walk last summer and my girls were being silly and playing together. I just watched from a distance and took a lot of photos. I am glad I didn’t stop after one or two because I got this!

I probably took 50 or 60 photos of my kids blowing bubbles. I won’t do anything with most of them, but this pictures just makes me swoon. This captures my girl’s personality perfectly!

I noticed my husband and daughter sitting on a bench last summer. They were just playing and interacting and I snapped away. The picture just melts my heart!

I really wanted to take some photos of my husband and boys helping build a shed. The problem was, they were always moving around, the dogs were getting in the way, and I just couldn’t get the scene right. So, I just took pictures until the moment came. This photo perfectly captures their day of shed building!

Try It: Challenge yourself to take 100 photos in a day. As your walk through your day and your routine and snap your photos, you’ll love the realness that you capture.

8. Ask someone else to take photos. Because I am striving to capture our real life, it is important that I actually be in some of the photos. I want to have images that show me doing what I do: reading to kids, cooking, cleaning, and cuddling. At times I simply ask my husband or one of the kids to grab the camera and take a few shots. At other times, they grab the camera on their own. Either way, I get to be in some photos. Often they don’t turn out, but every once in awhile they capture a real gem. I am so thankful for these moments!

Try It: Being in photos can be difficult and awkward at times, but remind yourself why you take photos to begin with. Don’t you want to be part of the story you are trying to tell? Ask someone to take a few photos of you today, doing what you do!