Candid portrait photography

Candid portrait photography is ideal for amateur photographers (like me) who do not have many opportunities to do formal portraits in the studio and work with expensive portrait lighting for photography.

Portraits -- black & white or color -- are the most important of all photographs, whether they be for the family album, newspapers, magazines, corporate communications or advertising. That's why portraits are mostly taken by professionals.

It is hard for the non-professional to match the standards of the best professional portrait photographers. We tend to lack not only the expertise, equipment and experience, but, more importantly, also the luxury of spending time with the subject.

However, it is not hard for the amateur to do well in candid portrait photography, as I hope the photographs presented in this section of Art Photograph Gallery will show.

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portraits black & white - flower girl
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MY 'BEST' IMAGES
PRAYER IMAGES
thaipusam 2008

THAIPUSAM
THAIPUSAM 2007
THAIPUSAM 2008

CATHOLIC CROSS

VESAK
VESAK 2005
VESAK 2008

PHOTOGRAPHS OF HANDS
art photograph of hands

PHOTOS OF HANDS
PRAYING HANDS
BALI BESSINGS

4 FEET

NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
ABSTRACTS
fine art photograph - abstract

ABSTRACT
ABSTRACT II

SURREAL
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ABSTRACT WATER REFLECTIONS

B/W ABSTRACT

THE NATURAL WORLD
PEOPLE
STILL LIFE
buddha image

PICTURE OF BUDDHA

OLD MEDICINE BOTTLES

JOKER MASKS

CANDID STILL LIFE

VEGETABLES
CORN
CARROTS

WALKABOUTS
BLACK & WHITE
black and white photography

BLACK & WHITE

B/W ABSTRACT

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CHOOSING A DSLR

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WHY FUJI?

PROS & CONS I

PROS & CONS II

FUJI SUPER CCD

DYNAMIC RANGE

S5 PRO REVIEWS

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SONY DSC R-1

HP 8750 PRINTER

It only recently dawned on me that I have a good number of portrait photographs -- as candid portrait photography.

I used to think of portraits only as formal portraits, shot in the studio with proper protrait lighting for photography and with the subject posed.

Thus, many of my portraits were, on mty previous website, boringly called “People”, “Children” or classified under some other heading.

portraits black & white - monk

portraits black & white - burma beggarI have now decided to classify then under “Candid portrait photography” -- because that is what they are.

More importantly, I would like to encourage fellow art photographers and non-professionals to explore candid portrait photography as an art form in its own right.

Candid portraits differ from studio portraits in one very important aspect -- control.

In the studio, the photographer has (well, almost) total control -- over lighting, the pose, backdrop, camera, lenses and film, and especially the subject.

Of course, this is not to say that professional photographers are not open to spontaneous inspiration, or that they do not sometimes appreciate “happy accidents” when something unplanned turned out to be exceptional.

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candid portrait photography musicianBy and large, however, they have control and the photograph is created.

This is both easy and difficult. It is easy in that in the studio -- including the outdoor ”studio” -- the photographer can set things up to create the desired effect. Yet the set up can be extremely complex and therefore very challenging.

In candid portrait photography, the photographer has practically zero control. The subject, lighting conditions, pose, background… everything is given.

Again, this is both easy and difficult. There is nothing to set up, so that's the easy part which makes candid portrait photography accessible to all. Anyone with a camera can take candid portraits.

The difficult part is making the best of given elements that are often far from ideal -- poor or ever changing lighting, distracting background, and so on. Even the camera, lens and film may not be ideal. You may be photographing something else when an opportunity for a candid portrait arises. You will need to act fast and make the best of that given situation.

portraits black & white eyes

The photograph is thus not created, but captured. The skills required in candid portrait photography are those of seeing and observing, of adaptiveness and flexibility, of instant response rather than careful planning. In that brief moment, you need to capture the essence of your subject, or at least the mood that he or she is in. This is a challenge indeed.

The fact that a portrat is candid does not mean that it is not posed, but for me, any posing is minimal. Even when the subject is aware that he or she is being photographed, I prefer to just let the person be -- and make the best of the situation. I rather not tell the person to stand or sit or smile in any particular way.

candid portrait photography - trombone girlAdmittedly, unposed candid portrait photography has an element of voyeurism which some people frown upon. Also, many protrait photographers say that their best portraits are taken when they have established a good rapport with the subject and there is certainly truth in this.

In the candid situation, however, alerting a person to the fact that he or she is being photographed will almost certainly disrupt the mood.

The main picture on this page, for example, captures an Indian girl in a pensive moment.

So does this picture of the band girl with the trombones. The mood would have been totally lost if they smiled for the camera, or purposedly looked away.

However, both the Buddhist monk (above) and this girl with her child were aware of me photographing them. Though I was a stranger in their land (Burma / Myanmar) and we could not speak a common language, we did establish some kind of connection. The girl smiled for me, the monk just looked. I think both portraits worked well.


candid portrait


This old lady -- holding an opium pipe -- was quite a pro at posing. The picture was taken at a hilltribe village in North Thailand and she must have been used to tourists. She happily pretended to do her own thing while I clicked away.

portraits black & white - opium lady

candid portrait photography cigarette boyThe one time someone did not take kindly to being photographed was when I took pictures of this boy on the right, also in a Northern Thailand hilltribe (called Black Lahu) village.

He was about five years old and had four cigarettes on him, the three shown in the picture plus another on his other ear.

Actually he did not mind being photographed. But then he gestured to ask me for money and I gestured back to indicate that I did not have any, for I had run out of small change. He got angry, threw stones at me and wanted to beat me with a stick!

One of my friends liked this picture so much, he bought an enlargement to hang in his office. Babies and children do make excellent subjects for candid portrait photography and I will be putting up a separate gallery of baby and children portraits shortly.

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There is another form of candid portrait photography that I like to discuss here. Thiis is what I call the “anonymous portrait”. This is where you do not see the person's face and do no know what the person looks like. Yet the picture says something significant about that person.

Examples would include my Photographs of Hands as well as some of the “Prayer Images -- Thaipusam” where the face of the person is not shown.

Another example is this photograph of a cripple, taken in the vicinity of the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. As if coincidentally, he sits outside a series of concentric circles, reinforcing his position outside the mainstream of society. This is a sad picture of loneliness.

Yet (to me at least) it is also an art photograph -- not the usual nice looking sort of art, but the sort that stirs thought and draws out emotions.

candid portrait photography - loneliness

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To view a larger image, plus additional commentary about this picture, click here or on the image.

candid portrait photography - abandoned photoI like to end this section of Art Photograph Gallery with a somewhat unusual form of candid portrait photography -- a portrait of a portrait.

This, unfortunately, is another sad picture. I found it -- abandoned -- in some old buildings that were about to be demolished at Clarke Quay, Singapore.

The room was dark and, despite my f1.4 lens at its widest aperture, I had to take this picture at 1/4 of a second.

It might have been a better picture without the camera shake. But then, maybe the slight blurring adds to the sadness...

Sorry to have to end off on a sad note.

But once again, I hope you enjoy this gallery of candid portrait photography. Do drop by for a visit every now and then, as new galleries will always be added.

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For another, more cheery example of candid portrait photography, check out this pretty smile :-)