How to Photograph Natural-Looking Candid Portraits

26/10/2020 8:14 am

Lifestyle and candid photography have become increasingly popular in the last few years. A good candid photo gives the impression that the photographer just happened to be in the right place at the right time and captured a beautiful, organic, authentic moment. While some of these photos are simply the result of having your camera ready at the right time, professional lifestyle photographers have a few tricks up their sleeves to help you capture great candid moments.

We’ve partnered with the professional lifestyle and commercial photographer Gina Milicia to round up the best lifestyle photography tips. Gina Milicia is a Commercial, lifestyle and portrait photographer and educator with over 30 years experience. She is the author of 5 best selling photography books, and co-host of the top rating ”So You want to Be a Photographer” podcast.

How to take good candid photos

Capturing these candid moments happens in one of two ways.

1. Spray and pray:

“When I was starting as a photographer, I thought great photography was a numbers game. If I took enough images, eventually I would get lucky.”, says Gina. With this technique, you may occasionally take an okay shot, but the majority of your photos may not be up to par.

2. Carefully plan, light, pose and direct the shoot.

Working as a commercial lifestyle and portrait photographer for the last 30 years, Gina quickly realised that the spray and pray technique is risky and inconsistent. As a professional photographer, you can’t afford to just “wing it” and hope for the best. It is crucial to deliver consistent results regardless of the light, or experience of the people you photograph, even if under time pressure.

 How to photograph natural-looking candid portraits

The most successful photographers plan their images, scout locations, look for the best light and then choose the decisive moment.

Here are Gina’s five favourite techniques to help you nail your next candid photoshoot.

1. Light wins

 How to photograph natural-looking candid portraits

“Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman.

Learning the difference between lousy light, good light, and great light is a game-changer.

At first, all light looks the same, but the more you keep shooting, the more you notice the subtle differences in the quality of light. Pay attention to the light, take notes and experiment. The best photographers know how to find the best light, manipulate or manufacture their own.

The most beautiful light for beginners is flat, even daylight. This light can be found outdoors in overcast conditions, under an eve, awning or anywhere where there is solid shade.

Don’t be afraid to move your subjects into better lighting. If you can’t find a shady area, Gina recommends to soften the lighting with a diffuser or use fill flash. Her favourite Speedlight for these shoots is the Godox AD200 with a Gary Fong Diffuser.

2. Choose the right gear

The best camera and lenses for this type of natural lifestyle family and portrait photography is the one you feel most comfortable using.

Whenever she wants to travel light or is working on my personal projects, Gina loves shooting with her Fuji mirrorless. “These little cameras look sexy in a cool retro way, and they are so tiny that nobody takes me seriously when I’m using one.”

For commercial gigs, Gina prefers to work with her Canon 5DMK4 and a 70-200mm zoom. The beauty of working with a zoom lens is that it allows you to stay out of your subject's personal space. “I’m shooting from 5-10 meters away, and eventually, they forget I’m there”, says Gina.

 How to photograph natural-looking candid portraits

3. Know your camera settings

 How to photograph natural-looking candid portraits

If you’re an absolute beginner, we recommend you start shooting in Auto mode and concentrate on composition and recognising great light. Once you become more comfortable with your camera the next step is to get off Auto mode and take control of your images.

Shooting in manual mode is a game-changer because you can control precisely how you want your image to look.

Shoot with a fast shutter speed and use single-point autofocus so you can move your focus point to exactly where you want it to be.

4. Give specific directions

The most popular direction a photographer will give their subject is “smile” or “look happy.” Or “just act natural” the problem with giving direction like this is that most people freeze up and don’t know what to do.

Be more specific with your directions and ask your subject to repeat them over and over. If you are photographing children, give them an activity like, run towards me, have a tea party, run through a sprinkler.

If you’re photographing a couple, ask one of the subjects to whisper into the other subject's ear. “Be very specific with your direction”, Gina recommends. Instead of saying “whisper into your partner’s ear”, you can say “tell your partner about the first time you knew you were in love with them” This will create authentic warmth and connection between your couple.

 How to photograph natural-looking candid portraits

5. Set the stage

 How to photograph natural-looking candid portraits

The right background is crucial to nailing a beautiful candid portrait.

Imagine the background you choose is like a stage. A stage setting should never overpower your subject, avoid social media cliches like sunsets, and country roads.

According to Gina, the best backgrounds for candid photos are minimal backgrounds, free of clutter. “Before I take my final images, I check there is no clutter in the background or nothing that looks like it’s growing out of the back of my subjects head.”

Try your hand at candid photography now

Have you taken a candid image you love? If you want to learn more about how to take amazing candid photos, have a listen to Gina's podcast episode on candid, natural-looking portraits.

Don’t forget to check out more great photography tips on our blog, and find a wide range of products for your candid photos on Ted’s Cameras. With free shipping on orders over $100, it’s a great time to get yourself out with some new equipment.


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