Candid photography is one of the more difficult types of portraiture you can shoot. In this tutorial we’ll show you how to capture both informal portraits and documentary-style pictures of people at work using a variety of techniques.
Words and images by Claire Gillo.
For our shoot we took a trip to Cotswold Airport to photograph Wiltshire Fire and Rescue service on a training exercise. You may not be able get the same type of access to the emergency services, but you can apply the same candid photography techniques we’ve used to whoever you’re photographing.
People whose jobs involve recognisable ‘props’, such as hairdressers, chefs and farmers, all make good subjects for this type of candid photo story.
For our documentary-style portrait of the firefighters we used two external flashguns in a simple lighting setup. If you don’t have external flash units you can still take a similar approach to the shoot, but you’ll need to light them in a different way – you could use a reflector to bounce natural light onto your subjects, or use the pop-up flash on your DSLR.
For our documentary shots we used only natural light. When you’re photographing people on the move you need to be able to react quickly, so for that reason we used two zoom lens: an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and an EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM.
An added advantage of both lenses is that they have fast and constant maximum apertures – when you’re relying on natural light a fast lens will enable you to get sharper shots if light levels fall.
Set up your camera for informal, candid photography
Select Tv mode, and set the shutter speed to 1/250 or 1/200 sec to enable the shutter to sync with the flash (if you’re shooting indoors you may need to reduce the shutter speed to 1/100 sec to capture enough ambient light).
Adjust the ISO to suit the ambient light conditions. In our case we set the ISO to 100, then dialled in -1 stop of exposure compensation to darken the sky so it looked more dramatic, and to ensure we didn’t overexpose the clouds.
These settings gave us an aperture of f/8; this is ideal, as you want both your subjects and background to be in focus. If you want a narrower aperture you can up the ISO or reduce the shutter speed, but don’t take the shutter speed below 1/100 sec.
To light our subjects we used two Speedlites. Attach the first flashgun to the hotshoe of your D-SLR (or use your pop-up flash if you only have one flashgun) and set it up as the master unit (refer to your manual if you’re unsure how to do this).
Set the flash to E-TTL mode, and dial in -1 stop of flash exposure compensation so the flash fills in shadows without being too overpowering.
Set the second flash as the slave unit (make sure it’s set to the same channel as the main unit), and position it to the side and behind the subjects on a tripod (you can clone this out at the editing stage if it’s in shot).
We need this flash to be more powerful, to create rim or side lighting, so set it to E-TTL mode and set the exposure compensation to +3 stops. Take a test shot, and adjust the settings if necessary.
Shoot on the go!
For the remainder of our shoot we were photographing the firefighters as they took part in a training exercise, using only natural light.
For the best results when shooting in natural light set your camera to Av mode. If you want to blur the background use a wide aperture, such as f/2.8; this will also give you faster shutter speeds to freeze action.
If you want more of the background in focus you can stop down the aperture to around f/8, but be aware that shutter speeds will be slower; in low light, you may need to increase the ISO to ensure the shutter speed doesn’t become too slow.
PAGE 1 – Set up your camera for informal, candid photography
PAGE 2 – How to compose your candid photography
PAGE 3 – How to edit your candid photography: steps 1-6
PAGE 4 – How to edit your candid photography: steps 7-12
PAGE 5 – How to give your candid photos a documentary look
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