How to Make Staged Shots Feel Candid

Candid shots tell a story through still images. They capture not only time and place, but moments—a natural expression of emotion and personality. For this reason, candid shots present a welcome alternative to stiff, staged shots in a digital age where authenticity and honesty rule above all else. Read on for how to turn your staged shots into high quality, engaging snaps.

8 ways to make staged shots feel candid


Consider Intent

Though candid shots are spontaneous, that doesn’t mean they’re entirely unplanned. Before shooting anything, ask yourself: Why are you taking this photo, and what is the story you want it to tell? Keeping these answers in mind will not only help focus your shoot, but give your photos a sense of purpose—something that’s essential for any photographer.

Do What Feels Natural

When it comes to candid photography, don’t overcomplicate the angle, pose, or scene. Truly candid snaps have a certain untouched, spontaneous quality to them, as if you stumbled onto the scene rather than arranged it. If you’re photographing people, think of how one might pose in real life or in your particular surroundings. If you’re in a café, have the subject wrap their hands around a steaming mug of coffee, lean back in their chair, or chat with a friend. Mimicking real life actions and experiences not only helps your subject feel at ease, but has the added benefit of making your photo appear more authentic as well.

Use Your Surroundings as a Guide

Take note of your surroundings, paying special attention to colors, sights, and sounds. What type of people are there, and what are they doing? Once you’ve established this, set up your subject in a similar style and start shooting.

Look for Moments

Candid shots are so eye catching because of the moment they convey. It’s these moments (and not necessarily the skills of the photographer, the perfect lighting, or creative framing) that make a candid shot. While you probably won’t be able to recreate emotion, think of how you could position your subjects to suggest their involvement in a scene.


Don’t Overstyle

A laughing woman. A street vendor peddling his wares. The tender expression on a mother’s face. Candid shots are eye catching because of their spontaneity and simplicity. Take a cue from these unstaged snaps and leave the heavy styling and posing for the studio. Instead, aim to capture your subjects in the most natural way possible.


Don’t Make Eye Contact

Truly candid shots are often those where the subject isn’t looking directly at the camera. To make a staged portrait appear more candid, have your subject look away from the camera rather than directly into it. Focus their attention out the nearest window, into the eyes of their companion, toward the sky or down to the floor—anywhere but your lens. The goal here is to make the shot feel as though you just happened upon your subject, sitting perfectly lit and ready for their close up.


So natural.

Kill the Flash

Besides having the potential to blind your subjects, flash often makes photos appear overly bright or staged. For best results, master your camera settings, brush up on your composition, and get to snapping using only natural light.

Shoot First, Edit Later

When it comes to shooting candid photos, holding onto the shutter for a second too long could mean missing your shot. Similarly, in any style of photography, holding out for the “perfect picture” every time is a surefire way to consistently miss it. You never know when “the moment” might happen, but it pays to be prepared. Move around while shooting, capturing various angles and moods, and worry about making your selects in post-production. This may mean you take hundreds of photos and only end up with one good shot, but that one? That’s the moment you were waiting for.

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