Street Photography is a very loose term and in its broadest definition, it includes any photograph that is done on the street. To me one of the basic characteristics of Street Photography is candidness. I feel that as a Street Photographer it is my duty to show the candid street. To document the life at a certain location and time.
Candid Photography is a very difficult task and there is a lot to consider when pursuing this genre as a Photographer.
So here is my overview of Candid Photography and tips on how to be candid in Your Street Photography.
The Definition of Candid
Candid has more than only one definition and to start it off, I want to present the official definition by a dictionary.
Relating to or being photography of subjects acting naturally or spontaneously without being posed
candid photos of the family at play
This definition puts an emphasize on the unposed character of candidness.
Candid Street Photographs are unposed and the subject acts naturally. By nature, this can be hard to achieve as people tend to behave differently around cameras or when they are being photographed.
How much a photographer influences his subject can never be told, but to create an authentic documentation, the street photographer should have a minimal influence.
Posed Street Portraits = Street Photography?
Another popular genre that is often seen as a sub-genre of Street Photography are posed Street portraits, where You ask people on the street spontaneously to take their pictures.
Often times the photographer also gives directions on how the “street model” has to pose and which light might be the best.
Obviously, posed portraits are not candid. The subjects are very aware of the photographer, don’t act naturally and pose to show off their best side.
From my point of view, the posed character disqualifies these portraits as Street Photography.
All they have in common with Street Photography is the public location. But the location alone doesn’t describe the character of the photographs, which are entirely different.
Those portraits are much closer to any other portrait, or fashion photography than Street Photography.
The candid character is a requirement for Street Photography in my opinion.
Posed portraits don’t show anything about the life itself. It shows people, but not their actions or real emotions.
Therefore posed portraits defy everything that Street Photography stands for.
That doesn’t mean that posed portraits don’t have any value. Of course, they can be interesting as can any other portrait can be. But they are not Street Photography and their value doesn’t come from the authentic documentation of life.
Is Candid Creepy?
The value of Street Photography lies is in its candid nature. So far so good, but when I hear about photographing people in a way that they shouldn’t notice to be photographed, I don’t really imagine superior ethics to be into play.
To be more specific, I imagine some photographer with a Tele lens taking pictures from far away.
I understand the point of view, that I also quite frequently observe, that people feel disagree with Street Photography and taking pictures candidly, but to me “candid street” doesn’t mean secretly or far away.
Furthermore, we can take another look at the definition of the term candid in other contexts:
a: marked by honest sincere expression
a candid discussion
b: disposed to criticize severely: blunt
c: indicating or suggesting sincere honesty and absence of deception
her candid face
In these contexts, candid could also mean to photograph openly and honest.
To put it with Bruce Gilden’s words, when You are far away photographing secretly, then it is creepy. But when You are getting close and photograph openly, then it is honest and less suspicious.
Getting close is one key aspect of this discussion and in candid street in general.
By getting closer to the subject, You give them the chance to react in case they don’t like the picture. It gives both, the photographer and the subject an equal playing field, whereas from far away, the photographer holds complete power.
Up-close candid Street Photography, therefore, isn’t creepy. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but at least everyone gets the chance to voice their opinion.
Being Invisible While Doing Candid Street Photography
Getting close without influencing the scene seems like a contradiction. As a street photographer, You will to some extent always alter the scene, simply with Your present.
Yet there are still techniques and tips how You can get more invisible while taking candid images.
I love to photograph at touristic places like monuments or other landmarks. Those places are usually filled with people and the good thing is that a lot of them are already carrying a camera with them.
Trying to be part of that crowd makes it a lot easier to photograph candidly.
Notice how tourists behave and try to replicate their behavior. For example, this can mean to walk slower, to show interest in the most mundane objects (which are new to them) or to carry the camera around the neck.
Look behind the Subject
Humans are very focused on eye contact. Even through the viewfinder, a lot of people will sens that You are directly looking at them.
This eye contact can make them nervous and they may act differently.
To avoid making them nervous, You can simply point the camera at an object behind them and photograph them “accidentally”. This technique works especially well in touristic places as well, because there are many points of interests that You could be interested in.
Use the LCD Screen
Instead of using the viewfinder, You can also try to utilize the LCD screen, to photograph while the camera is not directly in front of Your face.
Beneficial for photographing with the LCD screen is a camera with a tiltable screen. This way, You can look down and still see the exact frame on the screen. It almost looks like You are shooting with an old school twin lens camera like a Rolleiflex.
Another advantage is, that You are automatically shooting from a lower point of view than the eye-level, making photographs more interesting itself.
Tips for Candid Street Photography
To get the best candid pictures, below are some tips that should help You to get close and candid pictures while minimizing the influence on the subjects.
A Small Camera
The bigger the camera, the more conspicuous You are. Not only is a bigger camera more easy to spot, it also looks more professional and to the average pedestrian, a big DSLR is more intimidating than a smaller mirrorless camera.
Although we know, that even cameras like the RicohGR can produce professional level quality pictures, they look more like “touristic” cameras.
Small cameras also have the advantage that You can take them everywhere and anytime You find an interesting scene, You can just photograph it without the need to carry Your camera bag.
In addition to small cameras, a prime lens can work wonders too. Prime lenses are smaller and lighter than zoom lenses. You are also not tempted to twist the zoom lens, which makes You more noticeable.
A short prime lens of around 35mm works best for Candid Street Photography.
Alternatively, You can also look for cameras that don’t have interchangeable lenses, but only one fixed focal length.
Overcome Your Fear
People sense when You are nervous and they will ask them themselves why this photographer might be nervous now.
Nervousness is a sign that You are not feeling comfortable and it might look like You are not really confident in what You are doing.
The more experience You have and the more You push Yourself out of Your comfort zone, the easier it will be for You to just walk on the street and photograph like it is the most normal thing in the world.
As described before, getting close and candid photographs at the same seems like a paradox at first. You might think that the closer You get, the more unnatural will people behave.
This may be true when You are a few meters away and pointing with Your camera directly at them.
But the closer You get from that point, the less worried people will be because You are already that close that You can impossibly photograph the person. They rather believe You are more interested in something in the background.
Photograph at Crowded Places
Places that are popular and where a lot of people walk around are easier to blend in as a Street Photographer.
Even with a camera, You will stand out less, because usually at those places You are not the only one taking photographs.
The other positive aspect is, that there is a lot happening, so it will be easier for You to get candid scenes.
Look for interesting Backgrounds
You are looking for interesting people to photograph, but what You really should search for are also backgrounds that are worth a picture.
With an interesting background, You have two simple advantages.
First, You have an interesting background in Your picture which can be a good looking subject itself.
Second, when You see an interesting person in the foreground, You don’t have to worry too much, that people will be skeptical of Your camera.
Be in the Action
The most impactful advise when going for meaningful candid pictures is to be right in the action.
Don’t just stand and observe the scene from far away, but when You are seeing something interesting get as close as if You were a normal participant.
When You are looking for actions on the street, people will also be more distracted and You are less likely to be noticed.
Therefore, don’t just simply take photographs of people, but of their actions. Document the street life and what happens on the street.
Candid Photography is the easiest when there is a lot going on so that You as the photographer just become another participant in the middle of the action.