The Candid Portrait | A Definition

A bride and bridesmaids sipping champagne on their way to the church. Get me to the church, but take your time.

My belief is that many great candid portraits are made with the subject aware that they're being photographed. Surprised?

As a travel photography I make very few candid portraits. However, long ago I was a wedding photographer and I would certainly try to provide the impression that some of my photos displayed a candid feel.

The ability to make great candid portraits is something many aspiring photographers are keen to master. I hear it all the time.

Whether they like the look and the idea of photographing candid moments or are just scared of approaching strangers is debatable.

One thing I know is that I never recommend you spend your time hiding in the bushes waiting to catch someone unawares. No, I don’t like that at all.

What Happened On The Way To The Wedding

Take a look at the above wedding photo made in the regional city of Mildura, situation on the mighty Murray River in Australia.

I'm in the car with the girls and they're aware that I'm there to photograph them. Are they all aware that I'm making a photo at that exact moment? I don't think it matters.

Notice the use of a very shallow Depth Of Field to draw attention to our bride by de-emphasizing the bridesmaids.

The notion of candid is more an impression of being photographed unawares, rather than the actual reality. And wedding and portrait photographers are very much in the business of impression and illusion. Don't you think?

A candid image of a cafe proprietor pouring a cup of water from a green jug in front of his establishment in Kolkata, India.

Portrait Photography Is Often A Collaboration

Take a look at this photo of a cafe proprietor pouring a glass of water from a vividly colored green jug.

He was aware of my presence, standing across the street with a big white lens, and proceeded to put on a little dance for me.

The photo is as much a study in composition (e.g., color, shape, line) and the decisive moment as it is a descriptive photo from the backstreets of Kolkata in India.

The entire process of sensing that the moment was about to unfold, composing and exposing the image took place in a few short seconds.

What made it possible was that I had my camera ready and set for just such an opportunity and, despite the oppressive heat, my enthusiasm opened me up for the possibility of making a great photo.

Being genuinely interested in other people and staying attuned to what’s going on around you is critical to being a good street photographer.

Your Camera Looks Both Ways

Whether you feel you’re capturing a moment in time or creating a moment of beauty might seem like semantics.

However, I believe the way you approach your photography is evident in the look and feel of the photos you make.

Your photos don’t just tell stories about what you’ve seen, they speak to the world about who you are.

Your camera is a window onto the world, but it’s also a mirror reflecting back your own world view. After all they’re your photos.

A Candid Moment, Thailand

About To Travel?


Definition Of Candid Portrait

Have you searched for a definition of a candid portrait? I think it’s reasonable to define a candid portrait as a portrait that’s unposed. Your subject may, as a result, display a more natural appearance.

But that’s not to say they’ve been photographed completely unawares. And there’s no rule that says they have to be.

This following photo features three young girls at play in a garden in the grounds of a Hindu Temple complex in Bali, Indonesia.

The girls were being watched over by someone whom I assumed was a parent or guardian, standing off to one side of the frame.

I gestured with my camera to the adult for permission to make the photo.

My request was greeted with a nod and a smile so I proceeded to make several frames as the kids ran around and played on the tree.

A candid moment of three young girls at play, on and around a tree, in the grounds of a Hindu Temple complex in Bali, Indonesia.

The Decisive Moment In Photography

It’s an image that’s very much dependent upon good timing. I had to anticipate the moment when all three girls were visible and positioned around the frame in such a way to produce a well balanced and interesting image.

It’s an example of that notion in photography referred to as the Decisive Moment which occurs when elements that contribute to a good image come together to form a cohesive and harmonious result. These elements include the following:

  • Exposure

  • Color

  • Contrast

  • Focus

  • Composition

  • Subject

  • Expression

  • Gesture

  • Story

  • Theme

  • Metaphor

I love the image because I feel it illustrates the joy and adventure of childhood and the pleasures associated with play.

The Value Of Definitions And The Language Of Photography

Of course, at the end of the day, being able to define candid portraits won’t make you a better photographer. Making photos and reviewing them with an eye to improvement does.

Properly structured, though informal, one-to-one coaching can really help set you up to make great photos without too much trouble.

As your own photography progresses it’s then natural to clarify information and to better understand terms and meanings within the photographic vocabulary.

Not only will you be able to make great photos, you’ll be able to discuss the aesthetics of photography in a way that clarifies your world view and helps other folks on their own creative journey.

If you live in or around Melbourne, Australia you really should do yourself a favour and enroll in a one-to-one private photography class.

Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru