The Candid Portrait | A Definition

A bride and bridesmaids sipping champagne on their way to the church. Get me to the church, but take your time.

I make very few candid portraits. What I will say is that many great candid portraits are made with the subject aware that they're being photographed. Surprised?

Here's a wedding photo I made a few years back. I'm in the car with the girls and they're aware that I'm there to photograph them. Are they all aware that I'm making a photo at that exact moment. I don't think it matters.

The notion of candid is more an impression of being photographed unawares, rather than the actual reality. And wedding and portrait photographers are very much in the business of impression and illusion. Don't you think?

What Is A Candid Portrait?

I think it’s reasonable to define a candid portrait as a portrait that’s unposed. Your subject may, as a result, display a more natural appearance, but that’s not to say they’ve been photographed completely unawares.

This following photo features three young girls at play in a garden in the grounds of a Hindu Temple complex in Bali, Indonesia. They were being watched over by someone whom I assumed was a parent or guardian, standing off to one side of the frame. I gestured with my camera for permission to make the photo. My request was greeted with a nod and a smile so I proceeded to make several frames as the kids ran around and played on the tree.

Three young girls at play in the grounds of a Hindu Temple complex in Bali, Indonesia.

The Decisive Moment

It’s an image that’s very much dependent upon good timing. I had to anticipate the moment when all three girls were visible and positioned around the frame in such a way to produce a well balanced and interesting image. It’s an example of the notion of the Decisive Moment in photography when all elements that contribute to a good image: exposure, contrast, focus, subject/story/theme/metaphor and composition come together to form a cohesive and harmonious result.

I love this image as I feel it illustrates the joy and adventure of childhood and the simple pleasures associated with play.

Of course, at the end of the day, definitions don’t make you a better photographer. Making photos and reviewing them with an eye to improvement does. As does properly structured one-to-one coaching. But as our photography progresses it’s only natural to clarify information and to better understand terms and meanings within the photographic vocabulary.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru