Over the weekend I went to a summer party and decided to take along my Canon EOS 400D rather than the smaller Nikon E4600 I usually use at social gatherings. This is because I’m now used to the incredibly high quality photos that can be produced by using the Canon with its 10.1 megapixel capability – the Nikon’s 4 megapixel capability just doesn’t come close. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to see how the Canon performs when taking more ‘candid’ photographs of people instead of the posed photos I’ve mainly taken so far.
What is ‘candid’ photography?
Candid photographs are those that are taken spontaneously without any posing or staging and with the aim of capturing people acting naturally. Therefore, when you are trying to take candid photos you need to take them quickly and inconspicuously since people’s behaviour tends to change when they are aware of cameras.
Technical settings for candid photography
Candid photography “focuses on spontaneity rather than technique” (Wikipedia). This makes sense; if you want to photograph people as they really are (without cheesy grins and model-like poses) you can’t afford to stand for ages messing around with the camera’s settings to get the perfect shutter-speed, aperture, ISO etc. The photo may not be technically perfect, but this is a situation where the photo’s content takes priority.
I took my candid photos using the fully automatic mode on the Canon EOS 400D since it meant I could take reasonably good photos very quickly. However, the downside to using this mode is that the flash will always fire in low light – there’s nothing like flash photography to draw attention to yourself!!
While writing this article I have found a really helpful webpage (Digital Photography School) with tips on taking candid photographs, which I shall have to try in the future. One of the tips is to avoid using flash photography by setting a higher ISO value and widening the Aperture to allow more light onto the imaging sensor – therefore avoiding dark photos without using flash. However, I’m not sure this would have been enough in the dark marquee that I was photographing in on Saturday night!
Practical approach to candid photography
One practical problem I encountered when using the Canon EOS 400D to take candid photos was the fact that it was quite difficult to inconspicuosly take photos in the relatively small area in which the party was held. This was probably mainly due to the fact that the Canon was so much bigger than all the other digital cameras (simple point-and-clicks) being used at the party.
Additionally, the fact that I usually store it in a Lowepro camera bag didn’t help; by the time I had the camera out of the bag and ready to take photos people were very aware of its presence and therefore tended to strike poses or at least look less natural.
However, I got around these problems by carrying the Canon around my neck outside the bag for periods of time so that people got used to it being there and I could access the camera to take photos quickly.
Staged vs Candid Photos
Staged Photographs – advantages and disadvantages
I find that staged photos work well as formal momentos of an occasion, particularly if you are not very photogenic! The subjects of the photo can take the time to groom and pose themselves properly and the photographer can fine-tune both the lighting and the camera’s technical settings, meaning that the resultant photograph is much less likely to be a source of embarrassment for anyone.
However, people undoubtedly look less natural in staged photos – one example of this is the tendancy to adopt either a fake wide toothy smile or an uncomfortable close lipped grimace/smile. This means that looking at a staged photo will not give any insight into how the person in the photo was feeling that day and you often lose any true sense of the relationship between individuals.
Additionally, staged photos usually don’t capture the atmosphere of the occasion – when looking through my own and other people’s photos I have often noticed how people adopt the same pose in each picture with only their clothing and the backdrop changing!
I find candid photography very enjoyable because I can take lots of photos very quickly without causing any fuss and not miss out on the fun of the occasion myself. Later, when going through the photos, I am often rewarded by a few really amazing photos of people totally immersed in the events.
Good candid photos seem to have so much more ‘life’ than posed ones, since people’s facial expressions are genuine, as are their interactions with others and they are concentrating on something other than the camera.
Another friend took one photo on his point-and-click digital camera – I wasn’t even aware that a photo had been taken until I saw the photo, which perhaps indicates that for candid photography purposes smaller digital cameras may be better or at least easier.
Obviously candid photography does have disadvantages – firstly, the technical aspect of your photos will not be perfect, which means photos may be too dark/light and secondly, you are likely to get a lot of unflattering photos of people caught unawares and at a bad angle by the camera. However, at normal social gatherings (or where there is someone else in charge of formal photos) I personally prefer candid photography, because the resultant photos usually have a much greater emotional value than their posed counterparts.