How to Recognize a Great Candid Photo Op

Taking a candid photo infuses the authenticity of real-life moments into photos and can take the pressure off of a photoshoot. Candid, by definition, describes something as truthful and straightforward (or in photography, as a moment captured without someone’s knowledge). Candid photography is all about authenticity. Even when your photo subjects know their photo is being taken, you can photograph candid moments by looking for and creating real emotions, and then capturing them as the person is feeling the emotion. 

A posed photo commemorates an event and shows everyone at their best, but candid photos are a snapshot of reality. Candid photography allows your photos to communicate more emotion to your viewers. Candid photos fall within a wide spectrum of human emotions, ranging from grief to celebration. 

Use these tips to help you recognize (and create) the best candid photo opportunities so that you can capture more authentic life moments.

Seek candid photo ops at parties

1. If the energy is flowing, candid moments are, too

If the energy of the event is flowing—people are interacting, laughing, celebrating, or being surprised—then this marks your opportunity to capture great candid photos.

Some events lend themselves more to this: graduation parties, weddings, family reunions, sporting events, engagements or engagement parties, and gender reveals—just to name a few. 

At an event, gathering, or even a planned photoshoot, the energy of the space will tell you everything you need to know. If the people around you feel bored or stagnant, it could be difficult to capture candid emotions. Boredom is a true emotion; a photo of someone looking bored can certainly tell a story, but it takes a pro to tell a compelling story of boredom on camera.

Follow the energy of an event by paying special attention to the “centerpiece” moments. For example, the moment of celebration for a gender reveal. Or the college graduate looking for her family after crossing the stage. Another popular one is the bride-to-be looking surprised when her groom-to-be takes a knee. Anticipate these moments and be ready to capture them. These become the display-worthy photos that make a memory last a lifetime. 

The takeaway here is to go where the energy flows. And of course, always have your camera ready.

Pro Tip: It may be best to set up your camera settings as soon as you arrive at your location. Take photos around that area—with the same lighting, etc.—until you get the shot you need and are ready to move on to the next moment. Rinse, wash, and repeat. That way, you’re not fumbling with your camera at the risk of missing a great candid photo opportunity.

Strong emotions make a perfect candid photo op

2. Go where the emotions are loud

With candid photography, you can only shoot as much emotion as people are truly experiencing. Over time, you will learn to have an eye for intimate, subtle emotions. But when you’re just beginning to experiment with candid photography (or if you’re at a large event with a lot going on) your best bet is to follow the noise. 

Keep an eye on the more expressive people at the event. Listen for laughs, loud voices, and hootin’ ‘n’ hollerin’. Be aware of the big moments for the event and the emotions and motions that will come up. 

At a wedding, for example, everyone will be feeling a range of emotions: joy, pride, or nostalgia, to name a few. The photos of the crowd smiling are great. But the photo of the mother of the bride tearing up and smiling with overwhelming emotion is a memory that will last a lifetime. Those are the moments you should look for. Think: Would I display the photo of this emotion in my home? Will it be understood by people who don’t know the story behind it?

This can still apply when you’re the photographer for a more intimate or formal photoshoot. If you’re photographing senior portraits, family photos, or a couple’s session, focus on the moments where the emotions are loud. If they are laughing at themselves or at you, getting cute and silly, or looking surprised—tap to shoot!

Capture someone jumping for a candid photo

3. Where there is emotion, there is motion

As humans, we tend to show emotion with our full body, whether we realize it or not. When you are happy, you smile and your eyes light up, you sit up a little taller to engage with your environment, and you might even be jumping up and down. When you’re sad, your eyes and lips droop downward, your shoulders fall forward and you tend to shrink your posture down. Capturing great candid photos means capturing the full-body representation of an emotion, regardless if the reaction is big or small. During a gender reveal, for example, look to photograph the people jumping up and down more than the people just smiling and clapping. Everyone could be equally as excited, but different people show their emotions differently. 

Pro Tip: Using a high shutter speed on a DSLR or avoiding flash and night mode on your smartphone will help you capture the motion of the emotion without blur. Some smartphones, like DSLR cameras, offer a “burst mode” where you can hold the button down to take a quick and immediate series of photos. You can go back later to choose the most print-worthy shot out of the bunch—and you never miss a moment.

4. Create authentic emotions where they are lacking

Models and photographers are pros at posed photoshoots. Everyone else is just doing their best. You can follow the energy, the moments, and the most expressive people as much as you want. But sometimes (especially in planned commemorative photo shoots) the energy just isn’t there. Maybe your subjects feel self-conscious or are unsure how to pose in front of a camera. There are many ways to help them feel more comfortable. However, for the sake of capturing great candid photos, there is one favorite rule: Fake it to make it.

Wedding and engagement photographers have gone viral on the internet for the creative ways they prompt their subjects to get a little silly that may not make sense to them at the moment, but the photos turn out amazing. 

Saying “okay, now hug and kiss” can lead to a forced, awkward photo for people who are already nervous in front of the camera. But “give each other butterfly kisses with your nose” can lead them to laugh at themselves, creating the iconic kissing-and-laughing photo that so many couples love. 

Experiment with different ways to mislead and misdirect to get a giggle out of your subjects. This helps shift the focus off the fact that they are being photographed and onto everyone into the present moment. 

Try some of these:

  • Pretend like you’re taking prom photos and sway back and forth like a slow dance.
  • Touch foreheads and don’t break eye contact.
  • Turn one of the kids upside down.
  • Fix your partner’s hair.
  • Grab hands and start running, but slingshot each other one ahead of the other. 
  • Scoop her up like the floor is lava when she’s least expecting it.

Even if your silly prompt doesn’t elicit exactly the emotion or motion you intended, you’ll likely capture some smiles and giggles. Everyone wants to see themselves looking joyful in photos; so, it’s always a win for a candid photo when you capture those authentic, organic moments. The motion was manufactured, but the emotion that came from it was candid.

In planned photoshoots, you should still capture the cliche posed moments (don’t be afraid to flex your creativity there). But putting some thought and energy into creating, discovering, and capturing candid moments can make for some amazingly heartfelt photos.

Choose your best candid photos and display them with Fracture glass prints

5. Choose the best, and display them instead of (or with) the posed photos

Think about which shots make you feel emotional, especially if you weren’t even there. Is it the posed smiling photos or the photo of the family jumping up and down in excitement? When you and the people in your photos focus on the present moment instead of how everything looks on camera, the finished product tells the story of that moment as the emotions shine through the camera.

When you’re deciding which of your amazing candid photos to print, share, and display, narrow down some of your favorites. Try to prioritize photos where everyone’s face is showing, the emotion is obvious, and nothing seems out of place. 

A Fracture glass print is a unique way to display your favorite moments—because candid photography, as you now know, is all about capturing real-life moments. With Fracture, you can choose between a glossy or matte finish to best suit the mood of the photos. 

If you took some amazing burst photos, you could even choose a handful of them and create your own film reel-style Photo Wall that shows the progression of the moment. On the other hand, you may have captured a handful of adorable candid moments from one event, but aren’t sure how to tie them all together. Fracture Storyboard lets you choose different sizes for each photo and arrange them however you’d like on a tasteful display. 

Whichever way you choose to share your moment, memories that last a lifetime deserve a display to withstand the job.

About The Author

Morgan Hughes

Morgan is a storyteller, amateur photographer, and cat mom based in Miami, FL. She is a former journalist from New England and definitely drinks iced coffee in the winter. During her time away from the screen, you can find her at art galleries, taking dance classes, or lying on the ground taking a photo of a puppy.

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