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Thoughts on Street and Candid Photography

One of the Fuji X Forum members, Gary Ayala, said this, “Everywhere you look there are photographs, it is the call of photographers to see and capture them.” I completely agree with this statement as I am sure most of you will too. Yet, when it comes to street and candid photography, it seems that […]

Street photography
Photo by Gitte Herden (Flickr)

One of the Fuji X Forum members, Gary Ayala, said this, “Everywhere you look there are photographs, it is the call of photographers to see and capture them.”

I completely agree with this statement as I am sure most of you will too. Yet, when it comes to street and candid photography, it seems that there are many different views about how to do this. I’ll explain more on that later.

When I began shooting on the street I was using an Olympus set-up. I quickly moved to Leica and zone focused much of the time because they were rangefinder cameras. Now I am shooting my Fujifilm X-T1 with the Fujinon XF27 2.8 lens. I have used both methods with the X-T1, zone and auto focus, but find because this camera and lens focus so quickly, when set-up properly, that I am getting very sharp pics using autofocus.

I want to discuss the equipment part of street and candid photography. Some like to use longer lenses, as Gary does at times, and others like myself use shorter lenses. That doesn’t mean I won’t try a longer lens in the future but for now the XF27 2.8 is working great. He and I may use different lenses but we both are doing the same thing- seeing and capturing.

My method is like some. They shoot from the hip and I shoot from the navel. Same concept. I tend to lean toward a photojournalistic  method. I shoot people and they don’t know it, because I love a candid picture. When a person knows you are taking a picture of them, most of the time their expression changes. When I “see” a picture I want the person’s normal expression, not their posed look. It is the raison d’être of candid photography. That being said, I don’t always shoot from the navel. At times I use my viewfinder and frame with it. It really depends on the situation and what I am shooting. In the past I have used a short zoom, an 18-55, and I have shot with 35mm and 50mm primes. Now I am using the XF27 2.8 lens but will probably give the XF35mm 1.4 a try in the future.

Street photography
Photo by Gitte Herden (Flickr)

I have also worked on the posed side of the fence by second shooting about 10 weddings and I shot one on my own. It was mostly posed. If  I were to have another go at it, so to speak, I would shoot the other way. Candid shots most of the time and a few posed pictures. I took Denis Reggie’s conclave class in Atlanta a couple of years ago. It was about wedding photography using a candid, photojournalistic method. This is the way he shoots a wedding and he gets paid a lot of money to do so. I think one of the reasons this type of wedding photography is so popular is people want a photographer to “see and capture” the wedding as it happens. They don’t want to be manipulated and they don’t want to be dragged all over the place to get posed pics taken.

I know there are photographers who shoot on the street that have people pose. Sometimes the result is good and sometimes, not so good. If that is your method, great, but don’t put me down or call me out because announcing someone before taking a picture isn’t my style. Yes, there are ethics to be respected, but asking someone for a photograph isn’t exactly considered candid photography. And it doesn’t apply to street photography also. I prefer to take candid pics of my grandchildren also, acting as they normally do. I shot a pic of my grandson, Carter, taking a pic and he had no idea. I love that pic. It wasn’t posed. It was natural.

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Today I took a pic of my granddaughter, Zoe, while her grandmother was showing her something on the iPad. I had a blast clicking away while she was looking at the iPad screen. I love this kind of candid photograph. They show emotion.

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In both these examples neither one of my grandchildren had a clue I was taking their picture. The result was a natural picture without being posed or fake.

Last year I attended a Leica Workshop about Street Photography. I was using my Leica X Vario camera and took some great pictures walking around Washington D.C. At a street market I met a woman and struck up a conversation. I am an introvert, so I don’t usually do this but she was a very unique person with a pleasant demeanor. As we talked I was taking pictures of her. She was sharing about a dog, she had sold, which was returned to her. The previous owner had abused it. The X Vario has a completely silent mode so I was able to catch this candid shot. She was on the verge of crying. It is not posed. It is not fake. It is a candid picture of real emotion. These are the type of photographs I prefer when I shoot on the street. I don’t announce that I am taking or have taken someone’s picture.

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I was recently watching Zack Arias‘ class on Street photography on Kelby One. In that class he specifically gives instruction on how to take someone’s picture without them knowing it. Basically, to get a great candid photograph, he recommends to take a picture of something above them and then pretend you are reviewing the pic on your LCD. What he is really doing is framing the person, on the LCD, he wants to take a picture of. He gets the shot and the person is unaware. Is there something wrong with that? Not at all! In fact I have used this method too and it works like a charm with no one being the wiser.

I think there are three different genres of street photography: posed, portrait and candid. If that is true, I am in the last camp for the foreseeable future. How about you?


About the author: Vic Schmeltz is a freelance photographer living in Northern Virginia. He maintains an excellent blog on photography here and you can also follow him on Twitter here


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