Posed Street Portraits vs Candid Street Portraits – The differences and how to shoot them
When out on the streets, a Street Photographer can shoot anything from random scenes to portraits. Every type of shot has its level of interestingness. In this post we will talk about the later, portraits.
Specifically we will get to know the two basic types of portraiture that can be shot on the street and once we have done that we will take a look at the differences between them. At the end of the post, I thought that it would be great if I shared some tips on how to snap awesome portrait shots. I think the average street photographer will find them helpful.
The two types of Street Portraits
Portraiture is a genre of photography on its own and I am sure that it can be split into more than two basic categories, but the purpose of this post isn’t to examine portraiture in photography in general, but more specifically to examine portraiture in the streets. So after saying that I can continue with this post.
As I see it, there are two different types of Street Portraiture that a Street Photographer can choose from when out and about. One type is Posed Street Portraiture and the other is Candid Street Portraiture. Both types of Street Portraiture are interesting in my opinion and can produce some really awesome results. The type you choose each time is up to you and you only and depends on many things as we will see soon.
Posed Street Portraits
As the words themselves imply, Posed Street Portraits are shot with the consent of the subject. In other words, when you, the Street Photographer approaches your subject(s) and asks for permission to take his/her/their shot and get approval, you are getting approval for a Posed Street Portrait shot. “Posed” doesn’t necessarily mean that the subjects have to stand still and look at the camera for you, although that is definitely a Posed Street Portrait! Your subjects could continue to do their thing, for example a busker could continue singing, or a pantomime artist can continue doing his pantomime thing. Even though they are “minding their own business” you still have consent and the shots will be posed because the subjects will know that their are the focus of your attention. So, unconsciously they will try to look natural for you, which makes them not look natural, as is always the case when shooting someone that knows they are being photographed.
Candid Street Portraits
Candid Street Portraits are captured without the consent of the subject(s) and without them even knowing, at least before the shot is taken. The Candid Street Portrait must be a genuine photograph of the person’s expression that isn’t aware that is being observed. How many times have you seen someone in the street lost in thought, oblivious to everything going on around them? Have you looked carefully at their facial expression? That facial expression reveals the soul of that person at that moment, because their guard is lowered and they are letting their inner feelings surface to the top where everyone can see them. The second they realise that someone is even looking at them, that expression is lost. The Candid Street Portrait must be shot in order to capture that moment, so it needs to be executed fast, precisely and without hesitation. The split second you hesitate, you have lost the shot. The mask of your subject is on and the expression is lost for ever. It is said that there is a split second just before the subject realises what is happening in which his/her guard is lowered the most and that is the best time that a Street Photographer must press the shutter button. To precisely capture this moment you must practice this many times.
Differences and Similarities in the types of Street Portraiture
Tips for shooting better Street Portraits
I always find that quick tips are useful. They are easy to remember and they can really make a difference if used properly. I always like reading quick tips when they are offered to me and I believe in sharing any tips I know. So here are all the tips I have picked up during the time I have done Street Photography Portraiture, I hope they prove useful to you too.
Tips for shooting better Posed Street Portraits
- Approach your subject with a smile on your face. This is very important.
- When you talk to your subject(s), try to be humble, calm but happy at the same time. Don’t be boastful, harsh or loud.
- Tell your subject(s) the reason why you want to take their picture. It doesn’t have to be a real reason, it can be anything. E.g. a college project, a dare, you like Street Portraiture, anything.
- You must make your subject(s) feel comfortable. I can’t stress the importance of this point.
- When you get consent and they look into your camera and you take a few shots, be quick, don’t take up their time. It is them that are doing you a favour, not the other way around.
- Take their photo with a wide aperture so you get nice bokeh, or depth of field. If you have a 50mm+ lens, use that to get better results.
- Frame them in the centre of the shot and get as close as possible so you can get many details of their face. This works great when your lens produces great bokeh.
- Frame them in the left or right third of your picture, so you can include more of the background in your photo, if that is your purpose. I find that when I am interested in not using bokeh, because there is a good background, then I compose my portraits like this. Otherwise, if there is bokeh, the subject(s) are in the centre of the frame.
- Try to find the best lighting vs position combo. For example, don’t shoot your subject(s) if there is strong backlight, because they will turn out very dark in comparison to the background. You can use backlight to your advantage by placing your subject in a way that their face is partially lit up by a sideways backlight.
- Get close.
- Get closer.
- If they are not actually posing for you, but doing their thing, like Street Performers, try to get them either in the left or right side of your shot so you can include their tools of trade in the image as well.
- Once you have finished, show them your shots (or one of them). People appreciate that.
- Ask them if they would like a copy of your photos. If yes, you can ask for an email and send them a copy. This is great if you are working with film too, because it is the only way that they can see their photo.
Tips for shooting better Candid Street Portraits
- Pick out your subject(s) carefully. Don’t just point your lens to anyone around you.
- Use a wide angle lens so you are sure to get your subject in view.
- Use a narrow aperture so you are sure to focus on your subject(s) accurately.
- Use a high shutter speed to “freeze” their expressions.
- Step in front of your subject, in a calm manner, like you are walking past them, stop and shoot.
- Be brave.
You will notice that I haven’t mentioned burst mode at any point in my tips. The reason for this is that I do not believe in burst mode shooting. I think that it is up to the Street Photographer to capture the moment, not the camera. I know that many Street Photographers follow this tactic. They shoot at 10fps and hope to get the expression they are looking for. I strongly disagree with this. This is just like taking your camera and shooting 1000 photos on one photo walk in hope of keeping 2-3 photos. I think that we should all think, prepare, compose and shoot the shot that we as Street Photographers see. Burst mode is like taking steroids and running for the 100m sprint. It is cheating.
No matter what you like to shoot, Posed or Candid Street Portraits, both are interesting and can produce some amazing results. I like doing both, depending mostly on my feelings at the time I go out. I have dedicated photo walks to Posed Street Portraiture as I have dedicated walks to Candid Street Portraiture, it all depends on the mood that I am in. If you haven’t done this, grab your camera, head out and shoot some faces. Many say that Posed Street Photography is easier than Candid Street Photography, so you might want to try that first.
If you haven’t done this before and would like to ask any kind of question, it would be great to do so! If you have any type of feedback, it is most welcome, please comment away! If you are an experienced Street Photographer that has done this many times, please, share your thoughts with us and our readers! We would love to hear your opinion and learn from you.
Awesome article and very interesting one too ! thanks for the tips !
Hello Zuhair and thank you for your comment. Glad you found the post interesting.
Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!
great article, very interesting. I like street portraits very much and have been doing many “posed” and some “candid” ones in the past. At the moment I am shooting a series of “posed bearded men street portraits” Some you can find here https://www.flickr.com/photos/lohmannfotografie/albums but I am adding some more 🙂
Hello Hendrik! Thank you for commenting. I am happy you found the post interesting. I like the series of “posed bearded men street portraits” you have published on your Flickr. It is consistent, the theme is apparent and you have shot the portraits using good composition techniques. Hey, one day if our paths cross, you can make my portrait too 🙂
Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!
Great article Spyros. I will point some people towards it as I am teaching a class on Street Photography soon.
Hi Al, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Glad you found the post useful and many thanks for referring your students to it.
Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!
Hi Spyros, thank you for your great tips, they are very practical. What I struggle with is not being seen before I take a candid shot. Most of the time my subjects notice me before I want to take the shot and the moment is lost. It would be great if you shared your tips of how to be “invisible” until the right moment.
That is a great idea for a post! I will keep it in mind and create a list of recommendations on “Staying Invisible” in Street Photography.
Stay tuned for further updates 🙂
Wow thanks for the article, have been a street photographer for many years and your yips are excellent. For Alexandra, i have found what Spyros says true, you have to see and shoot quickly for candid shots, we as sentient beings can “feel” when eyes are focused on us, if you stare at your subject for a few seconds they will feel you and especially if you have a camera and you lose that unexpected moment. Be quick, is my advice.
Spyros, i have never heard or read the term “Bokeh” i believe i iknow what you mean, but would like to have you give me a further explanation. thanks again
Hello Phil and thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts and experiences with the rest of the Streethunters.net Readers!
As for the Bokeh, the exact definition is the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens. Take a look at this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lve34j9MZn4 to see what I mean. Cheers!
I enjoyed reading your article. Do you think that street portraits should be black and white, color, or both? Do you think that color will make the shot to be different?
Hello Jose. I think that there isn’t a rule about what portraits should be. I mean, that a portrait can be colour or B&W. It depends on the vision of the street photographers and how he feels and sees the scene.
I hope this reply helps, even though I know it can also be considered diplomatically vague 🙂 . But that is how I feel.
I would like to thank you for replying my posting. Take care.
You are most welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read the post and comment. Have a good day!
I do candid street portraiture almost exclusively here in Costa Rica. I find that when I try to make a capture there are three distinctly different possibilities.
Usually but not always the best is when I catch people before they see me. The second is when they see me and spontaneously react. While this is not preferred, the reactions that people show the camera are always very different and tell the viewer a lot about who that person was at least at the moment of capture. The third is when people see me and decide to pose. I personally find these shots as interesting as birthday party pictures with the family dog and are almost always deleted. But that is me. I have probably deleted a lot of photos that others would have found interesting.
I should also point out that I almost exclusively shoot with telephotos, (typically between 80mm- 125mm but I can go longer). Not because I do not have testicles, but because when I see something interesting it is usually at a distance and a telephoto will give me the chance of capturing what for me is the decisive moment, a particular facial expression and/ or a form of body language. If I start to walk close to the subject they typically notice me and my moment is lost. And if I try and circle around so that they may not notice me, by the time I am close enough to them again the moment is lost.
It is important that everyone discover the style of photography that fits their vision. In the end it is all about the photos.
Simple and informative, I love the article! I guess candid photos are the only ones that actually show the real emotions of the people being photographed. If you can nail the shot then you’re actually getting a photo full of emotions.
Yes exactly Emily! Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.
Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!
Posed street photos take more bravery. Candid takes none. Most photographers are too scared to go up to someone one the street and talk to the people, ask them if they can take their shot, get them into a better light to show the viewer about the subject in a better way. Most photographers are scared of this so take candid shots so they don’t have to interact. Then they berate the person who does have the nuts to do that by saying it isn’t really street photography. I call bullshit. If Vivian Maier or Henri Cartier-Bresson could take posed street photos, then they are still street photos and by definition candid photos are a sub-genre not what defines it. For example his image of the Mexican Prostitutes or the image of “Plasterers in the 15th arrondissement. Paris, France. 1932. ” on the Magnum Photography page.
Some people think that that Cartier-Bresson’s street photography was candid in nature. In fact, while he took candid photos for sure, much of his street photography was posed. And he is still considered an originator of the genre and many of his posed photos are given as examples of it. For example his image of the Mexican Prostitutes or the image of “Plasterers in the 15th arrondissement. Paris, France. 1932.” on the Magnum Photography page. In fact as sort of pointed out, the term Decisive Moment wasn’t even his and he really meant getting the right time to take the shot. And in further point of fact, many of the photographs he put in that book are posed and/or are certainly not candid.
I wish people would stop this annoying habit of having to put street photography into a box with a distinct (decisive???) label.