Shooting candid portraits shouldn’t be hard, right? Your friends or even strangers will pose for you while you take a quick photo.
What’s even better is if you’re on a trip and someone offers to take a photo of you with your iPhone or camera. It’s a kind and generous thing to do, and you’re thrilled. After all, as the family photographer, you’re never in the photos.
So why are the photos usually pretty dreadful? And how can you avoid being “that photographer” who takes those dreadful photos? Here are three tips to help you be a hero instead!
- Tip #1: When you’re shooting candid portraits, place the person’s head at the top of the photo and not in the center.
- Tip #2: Don’t cut off the person’s feet unless you’re taking a closeup.
- Tip #3: Try to stand the same distance from each subject if you’re shooting a candid portrait of a group.
- Of course, there is a caveat and an exception when you are shooting candid portraits!
- Bonus Tip:
- Now it’s your turn:
Tip #1: When you’re shooting candid portraits, place the person’s head at the top of the photo and not in the center.
Take a look at this photo of my college roommate and me at our reunion. See how unimportant we are in the picture? Now note where our eyes are, right in the middle. All the space above us is wasted.
Instead, you’ll want to place the person’s head near the top of the photo when you compose it.
A way to remind yourself is to turn on the grid on either your iPhone or your camera. This will add faint lines that divide the scene into nine boxes. These are called the “third lines” and help divide the scene into thirds going up and across. The strongest parts of the photo are usually along those lines.
Try to place the eyes of your subject on the top line. This serves two purposes. First, the eyes will be in a strong place in the photo. Second, you’ll be using the space wisely.
This leads me to tip #2.
Tip #2: Don’t cut off the person’s feet unless you’re taking a closeup.
Again, look at the first photo. No feet! Doesn’t that look strange? We were cut off at our ankles. A good rule of thumb is to avoid cutting people off at joints, like ankles, knees, wrists, and elbows when you are shooting candid portraits.
By the way, these photos really were taken on my iPhone by a kind person who volunteered. When I looked at the first one, I thanked her and then asked if she’d take one more. I asked her to move closer, put our heads at the top, and include our feet. Much better! And she was thrilled with the difference, too!
Speaking of close-ups, this photo of my friend Jackie was taken in San Francisco. I placed her eyes at the intersection of two of the grid lines and had her facing into the scene. It’s an environmental headshot. She’ll always remember where she was when the photo was taken.
Tip #3: Try to stand the same distance from each subject if you’re shooting a candid portrait of a group.
Whew! We now know to move the heads to the top of the scene and include the feet. We’re using the entire photo and are on the way to being a hero. But why might it still look a little strange?
Whoever is closest to the camera will appear larger than the other subject(s). Think of the photos you’ve seen of railroad tracks disappearing into the distance. The farther away they are from you, the smaller they appear.
This is one of the reasons to place a group of people in a semi-circle and not a straight line. (It also helps keep them all in focus.) Otherwise, the people at the ends of the line will be smaller.
Now, look at the second photo. It’s a great shot except for one thing: our relative size.
My roommate and I are the same height and the same size. Would you guess that from this photo? Doesn’t she look bigger than me? (She says it proves she’s taller… 🤣)
There are a couple of solutions if you’re faced with one person standing closer. You can move slightly to the right or left to correct the relative distance. Or you can move back and use the zoom lens to zoom in.
Of course, there is a caveat and an exception when you are shooting candid portraits!
Let’s start with the caveat.
When you are shooting candid portraits, leave a little room below the feet and above the head. This will allow for cropping if your subjects love the photo so much that they want to create an 8 X 10 print to frame. When you print your photo at 8 X 10, a little of the length is cropped off.
The second photo of my roommate and me leaves just enough room.
And now to the exception.
Sometimes, the environment is part of the story that the photo is telling and you need to include it.
My husband took this shot of me earlier this month. We were staying in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and driving Skyline Drive. The scenery was gorgeous. When we came upon this viewing area, we stopped to explore. There was a sign that suggested that this large rock was a good place for viewing.
I slowly crept out towards the edge of the rock and turned around for the photo. You can tell I’m not a big fan of heights! The photo tells it all. I look awkward and the scenery is large and magnificent.
I took this photo of my friend Sarita in Shanghai. The food and Sarita’s smile tell the story and the man watching from the back adds some intrigue. I didn’t need to include all of her. Getting close made a better composition with less clutter.
When you’re shooting candid portraits, keep the horizon straight! Remember the first photo of my roommate and me? The camera was tipped slightly. The second one looks much better!
In the case of the photo of nervous me on the rock, the horizon was a bit crooked, but I was able to straighten it afterward in the Photos app. It’s an easy correction to make!
Now it’s your turn:
For more ideas about shooting candid photos, read this post: https://www.carolinemaryan.com/be-your-family-paparazzi/
To understand more about printing your photos and cropping, here’s a post to read: https://www.carolinemaryan.com/shooting-photos-to-print/
For more about composition, check out this article: https://www.ephotozine.com/article/9-top-photography-composition-rules-you-need-to-know-17158
Be sure to practice so this becomes easy. Then, next time you offer to take a candid portrait for someone, you’ll be a hero.