Capturing Candid, Natural Portraits

When I ask my clients why they chose me as their photographer, I would say that about 75% of them respond with some variant of the following statement: "Your photos just seem so candid". Sometimes they use other words like natural, unposed, real, etc... Since I've been giving away all of my secrets in these blog posts, I figured I'd write a post on getting that candid feel.  

While some lifestyle photographers spend the whole day with their clients and capture truly candid moments, I don't.  My shoots are usually between 1-2 hours.  The whole idea behind a photo shoot is that we're gathered to take photos, which is the exact opposite of capturing candid photos.  So, it's always a challenge to at least make the photos feel candid while still directing the session.  Here are some tricks I use to get that feel:

Interaction

This one is probably the most obvious, but it's important.  I simply have the clients interact with each other.  Laugh at each other, tickle each other, piggy back rides, picking each other up, etc...  Give them a little direction on what to do, and let them try it on their own.  For example, I might tell both parents to tickle and look at the child.  While the post is a little staged, the photo still looks natural because of the interaction.  

Laughing

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One of the easiest tricks to use is to tell my clients to laugh.  Not a fake little chuckle, but a real belly laugh.  Usually, it's a bit awkward at first, but once they get into it then it's pretty easy.  I find that in most cases, I find I end up capturing the best photos right after the laugh is finished but they still have a genuine smile.    

Motion

Give them a little direction to do something that puts them in action.  For example, have them walk down a path and look at each other (perhaps laughing), or maybe have kids hold hands and jump.  

Downtime

Don't stop shooting during breaks.  While you might not always end up with a gem, we're using digital cameras these days, so we can just delete the bad ones.  

Give Less Direction

Sometimes I find that the best option is to just keep my mouth shut.  Let the clients get into a pose that feels comfortable to them, let them interact with each other, and of course, let them be themselves.  

Play Games

With kids (and sometimes adults), it's fun to get them to play games with each other.  Perhaps have the child "sneak up" on the parents to surprise them.  Or maybe have children tell secrets to each other.  Usually, the best part of these shots is the reaction right afterward.