candid wedding photographyWedding photography has a formal side and a wild side. On the formal side, there are the traditional posed shots of the bride and groom in various locations, with the wedding party, and with various family members. Yes, it’s generally a bunch of guys looking uncomfortable in tuxedoes pulling at their ties and some ladies who you can tell can’t wait to get their uncomfortable shoes off.

On the looser side, you have the candid shots. These might capture less “staged” moments like the proud face of a father walking his daughter down the aisle, the joyous exultation of the bride and groom’s emergence from the church, or the ebullience of the dancing and revelry at the reception.

While there’s no question that the formal, posed shots are going to be distributed to relatives and dutifully placed on refrigerators or framed for the living room wall, it is the candid shots that are memorable, because they don’t so much capture events as feelings.

Taking candid wedding photographs is an art unto itself, requiring much more of the photographer than simply knowing how to use the equipment. Today, we’ll explore this world, and get a glimpse inside the mind (and the eye) or the best candid wedding photographers.

Are you a photographer or an aspiring one? Do you take, in the words of your friends, “great pictures?” Have you ever been told, by a well-meaning friend or relative, “You know, you should take wedding pictures—you could make a lot of money doing that, I bet?”

Well, it’s true that wedding photographers make pretty good money, but they work hard, and nowhere do they work harder than in the area of candid photography. A wedding is a party, but it’s a time of intense concentration and effort on the part of the photographer. Capturing candid images is in itself, not a candid act. If you are just getting interested in digital photography, you might benefit from this online collection of “Eight Exciting Photography Classes.”

If you’re interested in wedding photography, there are some great online courses to help you get started and find out what kind of equipment, skills, and practices you should follow. One is called “Wedding Photography,” and another good one is “Learn Professional Wedding Photography.” You might, while you’re at it, want to take a look at Kasia Mikoluk’s blog entry full of “Wedding Photography Tips.”

What is a Candid Photograph?

Candid photographs, as such, are images captured without the prior knowledge of the subject. The subject of the photograph should not know that you are planning to take pictures, and should not be disturbed by the act of taking the photo. The key is that candid photographs are not posed.

Why should or would anyone take candid photos? Well, that should be obvious. A candid photo is “natural,” without the fake smiles, stilted body language, and the “trying to look good” that happen when a subject knows that he or she is being photographed. A candid photograph captures people at ease, having fun, and most importantly, being themselves.

Think about it for a moment. Can any “smile for the camera,” “say cheese” kind of smile ever compare to a genuine smile or laugh? How many times have you seen forced, absolutely horrible smiles in yearbook photos, family albums, or in posed wedding shots? There is nothing worse, is there? Renee Zellweger’s infamous pursed-lips, semi-duckface pout is most likely an attempt to avoid having to smile when she doesn’t feel like smiling for the paparazzi.

While you contemplate the horror of that image, we’ll move on.

Candid Photographs at Weddings

Weddings are very “planned” events, but they are full of unplanned moments. This works to the photographer’s advantage when he or she is looking for candid photos, but it also creates added responsibility. In addition to all of the planned moments and posed shots, wedding photographers must be at the ready at all times for the sort of photo opportunities that do not announce themselves ahead of time. For every item on the wedding planner’s list, there are probably ten or twenty spontaneous opportunities for the alert and quick-thinking photographer.

Be Ready

The first rule of candid photography is “be ready.” If you’re camera’s not in your hand and ready to shoot, you won’t get the shot. Keep your camera in your hand, and always have an extra storage card or two in your pocket for a quick change. If a moment happens and you’re fiddling with things or trying to change a card, you’ll miss that moment. Learn how many shots a given size of memory card will contain, and change cards whenever you hit a certain range, near eighty five percent of the capacity. That way, you won’t be surprised by a full card.

Another good strategy is to have a long zoom at the ready, in case something happens when you’re not right next to it. And it bears mentioning that the farther away you can be while getting the shot, the less likely you are to alert your subjects to your presence.

Along the same lines, it’s probably smart to avoid using a flash unless you absolutely have to. Even at an indoor wedding, there should be enough light to get the shots you want. Open up your aperture, or perhaps increase your ISO setting so that you can get candid shots unobtrusively. There is nothing like a flash going off to sound the “photographer” siren off, and then you won’t really be getting candid shots.

If you hold the camera down low (some call it “shooting from the hip”), you also stand less of a chance of alerting people to your presence. If you want the guests to be natural, you should learn how to shoot without looking through the viewfinder. Widen your lens, and set the exposure ahead of time or use automatic. Once you master the art of taking pictures without looking through the lens, it will become second nature.

Another good tip is to plan ahead a bit. Check out the location ahead of time (if you can) to find the best locations. You should speak to the wedding planner to find out how and where everyone will move and in what order. If you know ahead of time where you stand the best chance of capturing a candid shot, you can then proceed with the business of capturing it.

Another important thing to remember is to shoot constantly. Yes, it seems silly to say, but you simply need to take a lot of pictures. You may find that you get one usable image for every twenty you capture, if you are lucky. This may seem like a waste of space, but candid photo opportunities are so fleeting that it pays to take more pictures so that you don’t miss a single one.

Subject Matter

Of course, you’re interested in people as your subjects. You’re going to find that the best situations come from people engaged in activities, especially with other people. Sure, you can get a great candid shot when a given guest has a particularly expressive face or becomes especially emotional or excited (some of the best candid shots, in fact, come from the groom’s reactions to the best man’s speech, if the speech is funny), but for the most part, it’s when people are interacting with each other or engaged in something unusual. The bride’s facial expression when she cuts the cake is always a good opportunity, as is the look on the face of the young man chosen for the garter toss, or the young lady who catches the bouquet. Wait until people are fully engaged in what they are doing for the best chances.

Another good trick is to frame your shots in such a way that it seems like the camera is a person who has just peeked in on the action. Take shots over people’s shoulders or through doorways to emphasize a kind of “Hey! There’s a wedding going on here!” quality.

Another great way to get the most candid shots of all is to have an assistant help the subjects line up or gather for posed group shots. Usually, people horse around during that time, since they know they’ll be posing in a moment. While they’re still “natural,” take some candid shots from the hip as you stroll around, pretending to check the light or adjust some equipment. Once you’ve gotten used to the techniques and ideas here, you’re ready to roll! Of course, you’ll still have to set up your website, and this online class, “Wordpress for Wedding Photographers,” can help you do just that.

The Take-Away

In general, there are a few simple golden rules for getting great candid wedding photos. Try to follow the laughter—go where people are having a good time. Keep your eyes and ears open all the time, always looking for an opportunity. You’re working, so work!

And be considerate of all in attendance. If there are any guests who do not wish to be photographed, accept it and move on. There are those who simply hate cameras in their faces, and they aren’t all in the witness protection program. And while we’re on the subject, be sure to give the couple some space after the ceremony and during the reception. They are on display for so long that being allowed a moment or two to relax a bit is quite a treasure.

Ultimately, weddings are excellent opportunities for the aspiring photographer, and the candid shots can be even more impressive than the posed ones. Certainly, the best candid pictures will enrich your portfolio far more than posed shots, and will have more lasting impact on those you are helping to celebrate their special day.

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