A guide to Candid Photography at Weddings

Candid photography tips

By Jason Nolan



A candid photograph is an image where the subject is unaware that they have been photographed, or at least appears to be unaware. A good candid can capture a special moment such as a loving glance from a groom to his bride, or a group of friends sharing a joke, or simply a child playing with a toy. They can be incredibly powerful images and tell a story that a posed image cannot. On the other hand a poor candid can simply result in an unflattering awkward image that looks like you pressed the shutter by mistake!

When I worked as an assistant photographer I noticed that time and time again clients would ask for more “candid” photographs during the pre-wedding meeting. In fact this was often my job as a second photographer to capture moments that were occurring away from the main action of the wedding day. I quickly learned that getting a selection of good candid images is harder than it looks, but through my experience I developed a number of ways to improve my technique. I developed such a love for these images that when I started my own photography businesses I branded myself as a specialist in candid photography as I knew there was a gap in an otherwise saturated market. I believe that for any wedding photographer, providing a great selection of candid photographs is a great way of standing out from the crowd. In this article I will share some of the tips and tricks I have learned to help you take great candid photographs.

Getting good candid images can be a great way of boosting your photography business. Firstly, your clients will love them, trust me on this. Everybody likes to see their friends and family sharing a moment, or having a laugh, or a bit of gossip. A posed image does not capture this which is why candids can be so appealing. Another reason is that different people react differently when in front of a camera and may be shy or simply very awkward. Kids also may simply have no interest in standing still for long enough to take a photo so in these situations a candid can be a great solution. One example is the children in the image below. The main photographer tried his best to get the boy and girl to pose for a photograph but they were having none of it so he gave up. A few minutes later, while the attention was on the bride and groom I spotted the kids playing in the garden and captured a number of really sweet images.


Funny photographs are also an incredible marketing tool. Nothing will go viral on social media quicker than a hilarious dancing photograph where people will tag their friends, and hit the like and share buttons. This is one of the easiest ways to gain a lot of activity on social media and the best thing is it’s free!


So now you know the benefits of candid images let’s talk about the best way of capturing them. I have broken down my personal technique into the following sections. Your technique may vary as of course, there is no perfect way to do anything in photography, but these are the things that work for me.


Knowing WHEN to get great candids.

Ideally you should always be ready to capture a candid moment but there are definitely certain times in the wedding day that make it easier than others. Take the morning preparations as an example. This is often such a busy time with people trying to get ready, worrying about the time, sometimes getting stressed! It can be a challenge to get posed shot let alone candids! This is also where people are quite nervous and a photographer sneaking around is probably not a good idea! Any “candids” I take in the morning are usually just set up posed shots made to look natural such as a moment with mum or dad and the bride.


During the ceremony I prefer to be as discrete as possible so I tend to take a minimal approach during this time. As I am based in the west of Ireland the majority of wedding I do are in a catholic church where the bride and groom sometimes don’t even sit together! You have to respect the celebrant and many of them really dislike a photographer moving around too much. There are some moments however, such as during the holy communion, where the bride and groom are no longer the focus of attention and can talk for the first time in the day. I often take a couple of quick shots if I see a smile of a laugh at this point but that’s about it for the ceremony.

Directly after the ceremony is usually the first decent opportunity to get great candids, but you have to be quick! What happens is that as people leave the ceremony venue they will gather in small groups and chat among themselves. The first few minutes here are the best where the groups are small and people are usually laughing and smiling. As more people congregate the groups gets too large and it’s hard to get a good shot. I find that groups of two or three people work best and using a long lens I simply wait for the right moment and take the shot. I’ll talk more about camera technique and settings later.


The best opportunity for candid photography at weddings has to be cocktail hour. We don’t call it that in Ireland but we don’t really have a name for it so I’ll use it for convenience! We definitely don’t drink cocktails that early! This is where people are relaxed, thanks to the drinks naturally, and where you can happily go around discretely capturing photographs. The trick is to be blend in with the guests, use good technique, get your shot and move on.


Back button Focus and the decisive moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson is often credited as the master of Candid Photography and is widely known for his ability to capture the “decisive moment” in his photographs. This ability to anticipate and capture an important moment is somewhat of a dying art in the digital world. Many photographers prefer a “spray and pray” approach with the theory that at least some of the shots may turn out ok. In my experience this is rarely the case. As Henri did not benefit from modern autofocus system he more than likely prefocused his shots so that he was ready to capture the frame when he needed to. These days we can still adopt this technique but it is much easier. I use a technique known as back-button focus where one of my buttons at the back of the camera is assigned to lock focus. Most cameras by default focus by half pressing the shutter button so you will need to consult your camera manual as to how to activate back button focusing. One thing I can promise you is that once you go back-button focus, you never go back! The huge advantage of this technique is that once you lock your focus point, you can wait until the perfect moment and simply fire the shutter.



Use a long Focal Length


In simple terms this means zooming in fully with your lens. Most cameras come with a kit lens with a reasonably long telephoto end which is perfectly fine for candids. In fact I often prefer to use my standard zoom rather than a longer lens such as a 70-200mm. These lenses are fantastic lenses however they are also quite large and not ideal for trying to remain discrete. I take most my candid shots using the telephoto end of my standard zoom and may crop in a little in post after. Cropping does reduce your quality somewhat but remember that candid photographs are less likely to be printed in a large format like portraits will so you can get away will a little. A longer focal length in addition to a small aperture will help give you a shallow depth of field, which will help to isolate your subject.


Don’t use flash

Nothing gives the game away more than a large flash from the top of your camera so if you want to take candid’s its best to tackle low light situations without flash. First of all you will need a high ISO. Almost all entry level DSLR or mirrorless cameras these days can comfortably shoot at ISO 1600 so I would start there. Set your camera to manual mode and your aperture to its lowest value. On a kit lens this could be f5.6 whereas on more expensive zoom lenses it’s f2.8 but work with whatever you have. Next set your shutter speed to around 1/125s. Take a test shot and check your exposure. If its too dark try raising your ISO to 3200, be careful though because too high an ISO will result in a lot of digital noise. You can also lower your shutter speed a little but going below 1/80s of a second may result in a blurred image if your subjects move or your camera shakes. If you are struggling to get a good exposure and are using a kit lens, try shooting wide. This will enable you to use a lower aperture, and a slower shutter speed. I took the shot below at ISO 1600, f3.2, and 1/25s!


It also helps if you shoot in RAW so that you have more scope for correcting the image in your image editor. Adobe Lightroom is excellent for reducing noise and increasing exposure without degrading the image quality too much. If you do have a very noisy image these can often look better in black and white too. Just be prepared for your client to ask for the photo in colour!

Use a shallow depth of field

Depth of field is the area in front of the camera that is in focus. A shallow depth of field is where only a small area is in focus and everything in front and behind that area is out of focus. This is a great way of isolating your subject as everything else in the frame falls out of focus and your viewer is drawn to your area of focus. To achieve this you should shoot at the lowest aperture value possible with your lens zoomed fully. The closer you are to your subject also helps to reduce your depth of field.




I hope that my article has given you a few ideas and tips you can use in your own photography. Of course as with anything in photography, practise makes perfect, so next time you have an event or a wedding why not try and incorporate a little candid photography into your shot list.



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