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Consider candids (01/09/2005)
By Tom Hirsch

"Let's be candid." You know the expression. It means, let's be honest, sincere, genuine. A candid shot is the same, representing a slice of life as it really is. In successful candid photography, the presence of a camera makes no difference in the actions or reactions of the subjects. The photographer is only an on-the-scene observer, and there is no manipulation of any kind.

Subjects for candid photos are everywhere: children at play, spectators at a ball game, students studying, newlyweds at their wedding reception - almost anyone at anytime. The subjects might be friends, relatives, or complete strangers, but it's much easier for us to take candid shots of people we know.

This is not to say that even then candids are always easy. A person reading a book or talking on the phone might be aware of anything unusual in the vicinity, such as a camera. If so, he or she will probably be inclined to act and look unnatural, and the resulting photos will appear posed. But people engaged in an activity requiring concentration, such as engaged in an animated conversation, fixing a meal or engrossed in an exciting ball game on TV, might totally ignore the intrusion.

Its the situations in which a person is most apt to react unnaturally that are the trickiest. For these shots, you want to be as inconspicuous as possible. To do this, you might have to be a little sly and crafty. In other words, uncandid. A few guidelines should prove helpful.

Rule number one: Keep your distance. If the camera has a telephoto lens, use it, unless you want to include some of the surroundings for an environmental effect.

Another reason for staying some distance from the subject is the noise of the camera, especially if you intend to take more than one shot. The whirring sound of the camera as the film advances is a dead giveaway that pictures are being taken. This is especially true indoors. Outside, environmental noises can mask the sound of the camera. A digital camera is better for candid photos than a film camera because digitals are much quieter - there's no film to advance.

The second rule for good candid shots: Don't use flash. It gives pictures an unnatural appearance. Also, if you want to take more than one shot, the flash will alert the subject to the fact that something out of the ordinary is occupying their space.

Rule number three: Plan ahead. When an opportunity for candids occurs, estimate the location and distance you think you should be from the subject. On your way to that spot, figure out whether you want a wide angle or telephoto shot and set the camera accordingly. Also determine ahead of time whether you should be shooting horizontals or verticals. When you reach the predetermined spot, bring the camera up to your eye and snap the picture as quickly as possible. Things don't always work out as smoothly as planned, but it's worth working toward.

Here's an idea for candid shots if you really want to be sneaky - I'm sorry; candid: Shoot from the hip. This is pretty awkward with an SLR, but with a compact camera, it's a snap (okay, a pun was intended.) Hold the camera upside down at your hip. Depending on the camera, the shutter release will fall at about the tip of the middle or ring finger of your right hand, or the index finger of your left. Use the wide-angle lens for better control, and fire away.

Here again, some digital cameras are ideal for shooting from the hip; its the ones with a swiveling LCD monitor. The photographer can hold the camera at the hip, and pivot the monitor to get the best angle on the subject.

Candid photography is not about being sneaky in order to get embarrassing pictures. The idea is to take photos of people when they are relaxed, engrossed in an activity, at play - in other words, just being themselves.

Oh yes, when shooting candids, concentrate on the subject, but remember other aspects of good photography, such as camera steadiness. Candid shots are only effective if they portray your subjects as you would like to remember them. 


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