Candid Street Photography In 2021 (How I Do It)


What Is Candid Street Photography?

There are many explanations on the internet for what a candid comprises of. In my experience,

It’s the art of taking a photograph of a subject in their natural state, in a public place, unposed and without their knowledge.

//VLR

Sounds creepy right? Especially the part where they don’t know you’re taking their photograph.

I’ll let you into a secret.

If you ask to take someones photograph one of two things will happen:

  1. They say no, they walk away, and you miss an opportunity to capture a moment which tells a story.
  2. They say yes and … you miss an opportunity to capture a moment which tells a story.

Voir La Rue – London

Posed v Candid

Its best here to imagine a wedding.

After the wedding ceremony, the wedding photographer will gather groups of people, pose them for the camera, and ensure the lighting, settings and eyes are all in the perfect position for the photograph.

What you lose in this moment, however, is the raw emotion. The single moment where a tear falls down a cheek, the moment where the grandad dances with his grandaughter in the corner. These moments can’t be staged convincingly and so the moment is lost.

This is the same in Street Photography. The moment you pose a subject, or they notice you and subconsciously pose, the moment has gone.

Top tip – Find the moment, pick your shot, raise your camera, take the shot and move on.

I have explained this in more detail in my 10 Ways To Blend In – A Street Photography Guide.

Voir La Rue – Liverpool

Can Anyone Do It?

Absolutely!

Any personally here helps.

Extrovert? Not a problem, you’ll find it comfortable to be surrounded by people. You may even find yourself in situations where you can take photograph of even more intense moment.

Introvert? Perfect! Your skills of avoiding eye contact, detection and your ability to blend in make you the perfect candidate for this stye of photography. Blend in, remain unnoticed, take your shot and move on.

Voir La Rue – Liverpool

What equipment do you need?

Believe it or not, this is the hard part.

There is soooo much choice out there.

DSRL, Mirrorless or even film?

85mm, 50mm, 20mm, 18mm… 14mm?

f/1.2, f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4, f/16?

Don’t even get me started on where to focus!

For now, I would strongly suggest you use what you have, both gear and experience. The equipment is not necessarily the most important part. Sure, its what you need to capture the image but thats all you can capture with a camera… an image.

To capture a story, a moment of interest, you need to immerse yourself with the situation. Use what you have, find the story, follow the moment and press that shutter button.

That being said, there does come a moment when you have the experience and an eye for finding a moment or a story. In that situation, you could consider a mirrorless camera.

Heres a short guide for 10 Reasons Why You Need A Mirrorless Camera For Street Photography!

Canon M50

My Take Away

So I hope that helped.

This is what I prescribe to when im out and about. The opportunity that presents its self and the moment that results, for me, will always be more important than the photography gear I carry.

Do you have any advice for taking candid photographs? I’d love to hear about them in the comments ✌🏼


Henri Cartier-Bresson

Master Candid Moments

10 Ways To Blend In – A Street Photography Guide


Eye Contact

It follows reason that if you’re looking at someone, they will look at you.

If staying inconspicuous is your aim, look straight ahead. Focus on your image. The less attention you pay to subjects around you, the less they will see you.


Side Streets

Putting yourself out there can be very daunting (I know this all too well!).

Something I’ve done in the past, and occasionally still do, is start by finding a side street.

Not only does this give you the opportunity to make sure your camera is all set up, but it allows you to catch your breath.

If you have just spent the best part of 20 minutes traveling to your location, take if a moment to absorb your surroundings (by yourself) – is a great way to calm your nerves and gather your thoughts.

Once you have a clear intention of what you’ve came out to photograph – get out there.


Camera Gear

This one will depend largely on your current set up, your confidence levels and whether you’re willing to put mind over matter.

Allow me to explain.

I’m fortunate enough to have two cameras. Both relatively inexpensive. A Canon 5D Mk I and a Canon M50.

The 5D is bulky, heavy but full frame. It is large, imposing and obvious.

The M50 is small, lightweight but a crop sensor. It is subtle, has the appearance of a “cheap camera” and can lead to some very close up moments.

Clearly both set ups have their perks. In my experience, and in the interest of remaining inconspicuous, it certainly helps to have a small, compact and subtle system.

However, mind over matter, if you have a better set up for the job but are afraid of what people might think…. Well, I’ve already written a piece on how to deal with doubt.


Walk Around

Similar to what I’ve already spoken about with side streets, having a walk around can help you blend into the situation.

If you walk into a scene, whip your camera out and start photographing, there will be some strange looks and even a possible confrontation.

However, if you walk around, through and become a part of the crowd, you will very soon become part of the environment.

Once you find people have stopped paying you any attention, it’s time.

This can take as long as is necessary. You will find that the person holding you back from getting started will almost certainly always be you!


The Tourist Effect

This is a favourite of mine.

If you are in a City and it has a tourist attraction, (it may even be your own City) you can use The Tourist Effect to your advantage.

Simply put, if you take a photo of a well known building, street or setting, people will be less likely to wonder why you are taking a photo.

After a few minutes of taking photos of the local environment – again, using this as an opportunity to test and adjust your camera settings – you will fit right in. People will stop paying you attention.

This gives you free reign to start your session.


Get There First

This one ties in with The Tourist Effect.

You have a location. The light is right. You have the image in you mind.

If there is a subject in the right spot when you get there – but it would cause confrontation taking that image – it may be best to just wait.

Once the subject has left, the setting is under your control. When the next subject enters the frame (providing the subject is right for your intention) the shoe will be on the other foot.

I have found, very often, that people will tend to stop and apologise for almost walking into your image.

This is the perfect time to look up, smile and wave them through. They wont mind if you take the image. As far as they are concerned, you were planning to take the shot before they got there – not because of them.


Dummy Shots

I use dummy shots to make it appear that I’m photographing something im not.

For example, say there’s a story developing, or a beam of light getting brighter as the clouds move for a brief moment, I will take a few photographs of the surrounding area. I will stand on the spot and take photographs all around me.

Timing my shot, I will rotate into position, taking the photograph at the exact moment my subject enters the position I had in mind.

You know the dummy shots will not be used, but it’s a way to take the confrontation away from the situation. If someone thinks your taking photos of the whole environment, they are less likely to think you are taking their photograph.

The image above is a prime example of this. There is no way I would just walk up to him and take his portrait. Instead, I took a few images of the surrounding location, as well as above him, allowing me to take the portrait of him without confrontation.

Once I have the image, I looked away and headed off.


Shoot & Move

This one is simple.

The longer you stick around, the longer people will notice you for.

Take only as much time as you need.

Compose your shot. Frame you subject. Control your light. Click. Move.


Neutral Clothing

This is fairly obvious.

Wear clothing that will allow you to blend in with your environment.

If you don’t look like you belong there people will notice.

Keep it simple, keep it plain. The aim of the game is to focus on capturing your images with as little confrontation as possible.


Stay Calm

Breath.

This is something I have to remind myself of constantly. People are inherently more concerned with their own day then they are with yours. Meaning, people will generally notice you and move on.

What counts is that you share your story. Remind yourself that the story is more important than the pressure you’re putting on yourself.

Because it is – self induced.

Street Photography: Telling A Story

Why Is A Story Important?

Sharing stories is something that separates us from all other intelligent species. Since the advent of photography, documenting a situation allowed events to be shown to someone who was not present at the time.

As an emotionally driven species, stories help up to relate, understand or simply acknowledge other peoples perspectives.

It is therefore important to ensure the situation is documented in a way that reflects the nature of the event.


Contrasts Between Images With And Without a Story

To illustrate my point, I have provided an example of two images. One image shows a story. The other does not.

Above we have an image named “No Story”. This image shows a front door, Though it fits the theme of my style of photography, it does not convey a story, You could say it shows a level of symmetry – which is the reason I took the shot – but it does not lead the imagination.

The image named “Story” however appears very compelling. First of all, what is everyone doing? What signs are they holding up? Why does the woman in the centre look so sad? Is the Union Jack flag relevant or symbolic of the event? What are they all looking at?

Before you realise, you’ve been looking at the image for well over a minute.

In a world of social media and endless streams of photographs on applications such as Instagram, a minute is a significant amount of time to stop scrolling for.

The iintrigue of the story is what compels me to continue this Art. It is what inspires me to share my knowledge. And it is what motivates me to teach others – so that you might enjoy the process as much as I do.


Documenting A Story

Take a protest for example. I tend to surround myself with the crowd. I become part of the body of people – to the extent they forget that I am there. This allows me free reign to manoeuvre to in different directions to capture different perspectives.

Whilst everyone is looking forwards, heading in the direction of the protest, I will look back and to the side. I can see the faces, expressions and emotions.


Turn Around

Turn Around

Although the main event is happening right in front of you, it will be the people behind you, their expression, their emotion that will truly tell the story.

For context, the people in the photograph above are all looking at a large screen.

Turn around, capture the story.


Helpful Tips

  • If everyone is looking forwards, turn around
  • Ask yourself, what is happening in this moment
  • if you can, surround yourself with the event – it makes for an exciting photographing session
  • If in doubt, capture each moment as it develops.
  • Unsure if you have a good image? Remember editing can make all the difference.

Dealing With Doubt


The Little Voice

Your batteries are charged the lenses are clean and you’ve packed your rain coat. Then the little voice in your head starts asking questions:

  • Am I allows to do this?
  • What if someone asks what im doing?
  • What if people think im weird
  • Should I just use my phone so people won’t notice?
  • What if I don’t get any good shots?

These are all questions that still, to this day, pop up in my head before a session in the streets. in the section that follows I will attempt to answer these questions (and hopefully put your mind at rest).


Am I Allowed To Take Photographs In Public?

It is not illegal to take photographs or video footage in public places … The taking of photographs of an individual without their consent is a civil matter. 

askthe.police accessed 27 Jun 21 (https://www.askthe.police.uk/content/Q717.htm).

But what does that mean in reality? In the United Kingdom, as long as you are in a public place, it is not illegal to photograph a person without their permission. Now there are a few cases where this may be challenged by authority. For example, if a photograph is taken of an individual classed as a “soft target”, under the terrorism laws, the Police may ask you to delete the image.

In my experience, this will not readily be an issue for most street photographers!

In reality, subjects may (very rarely) ask why you are taking photographs, and more importantly, of them. It is always best to be completely open and honest!


What If Someone Approaches Me?

My reply to “Are you taking a photograph of me?” has been and will remain:

Hi there, I have taken a photo of the surrounding area with you in the shot. If you wish I can show you? If you would rather I delete it, I’d be more than happy too.

You will be far more successful in your street photography journey if you remain polite and respect people’s privacy. And who knows, they may even take your details to see the final product… cheeky little future client?



What Will People Think Of Me?

It took me a while to learn this little secret … “No one actually cares”.

People now days are either taking photos themselves (on their phone) or are too busy with their busy lives to even notice you.

For the introverts out there (myself included) reminding yourself that “No one actually cares” is enough to suppress any anxieties that may crop up. The end result will always be worth putting yourself out there.

The bigger problem to worry about is when they start posing to “make it easier for you”!


Using Your Phone To Save Embracement

In the modern world, mobile phone photography most certainly has its place. It is far more convenient to pull your phone out to grab a quick image. Arguably, significantly easier and more often than not, allows you to get an image you would have otherwise not if you were carrying your DSLR.

However, in the context of suppressing that Little Voice I would strongly advice against it. Think of your phone as a safety net. In a situation where a DSLR would be insensitive or would distract the subject to the point you would miss the shot – use the phone. Having the image is far better than not – in every situation.

Otherwise, remember … “No one actually cares”.



What If I Don’t Get A Good Shot?

This is all in your hands. The photographs you regret are the ones you don’t take.

Editing can completely transform an image. I have written a small piece on the matter here.


Summary

  • It is not illegal, in the UK, to photograph someone in a public place
  • If someone asks you to delete a phot of them, please do – no image is worth the confrontation
  • Use your phone only if you absolutely have to – or dedicate a full session to mobile phone photography
  • Photography is subjective – you may not think it’s a good shot… someone will
  • If that Little Voice crops up just remember…… “No one actually cares”.

What It Takes: A Beginners Guide


“A Good Eye”

Fortunately, photography remains, and will always be, subjective. The advantage being there is no real requirement to have a trained eye.

Being self taught, as I was, enabled me to find my own way. Now yes, there is of course merit in taking on board other peoples experiences and lesson learnt along the way. But it doesn’t necessarily mean their style is the right one for you.

Your style will develop organically. You may have ideas of becoming the next big Wedding Photographer or indeed the next Street Art Journalist… but theory is always sweeter than reality.

I find it best to hone your skills and find the right environment. Only then will you begin to have an eye for what works best to tell your story.


Story Telling

Social Media became an obsession for me. The likes governed my style as I move from my established environment to one that sought photographic situations which would bare the best fruit – in the form of followers.

The problem becomes that over time, you lose focus of why you started this journey. For me, the business element took away from why i began this journey… to ponder peoples stories in a brief click of a button.

I do what I do to show emotion from subjects that are blissfully unaware I exist.

The image on the left, of the Gentleman on the phone, doesn’t represent what I would describe as storytelling. Although it meets some of the basic fundamentals of photography, it fails to draw the audience in. There appears to be an absence of narrative. It simply looks like a photograph of a stranger.

In contrast, the photograph on the right leaves you asking questions. “What are they all doing there?”, “Do they know each other?”, “Why does she look so sad?”

It is in these questions we ponder our own humanity.

These photographs were taken just moments apart. Before you commit to the image, ask yourself…. What story am I trying to tell?


Shoot And Move

Getting caught up on the composition of an image can be the undoing of a good days catch. In street photography you must remain nimble. Ready to react to a given expression or interaction.

It is in these brief moments people are removed from their inner monolog and peer their heads up to take stock of the world around them. Capturing this brief moment lends its self to some interesting insights to human behaviour.

See the situation developing, frame the image and take the shot… Move on.


There’s Always Tomorrow

Not all ventures into public spaces are eventful. Sometimes its best to know when your days is done.

On more that one occasion I’ve found myself frustrated with the handful of images i gathered – only to be pleasantly surprised with the final results post edit.

Understand your limits and know that There’s Always Tomorrow.


Editing To The Rescue!

Editing can turn a mediocre image into something quite special. With the correct tools – and a little know how – you can turn that frown upside down.

My editing software of choice, is of course, Lightroom.

There will be a full tutorial on editing, along with a follow along style video. But for now, here is a little before and after.

If you are looking to achieve a Black & White image, it must contain black and white. All to often, “Black and White” images are in fact actually different shades of grey. Don’t be afraid to bring the highlights up and the shadows down – it really makes all the difference.


Summary

  • Allow time for your style to develop organically.
  • Understand in your own mind what you are trying to achieve by photographing this particular subject
  • Don’t get too hung up on the technicalities of your equipment
  • If today didn’t quite work out, there is always tomorrow
  • If in doubt, run it through your editing software to see if the image has a hidden gem.