As photographers, we know that the best people pictures convey personality, character, mood, design, and a sense of place, all with a minimum of “say cheese” artificiality. To help you make such pictures of friends and relatives, we asked eight photojournalists who professionally shoot people in family and social situations how they do it.
Candids vs. Posed
Everyone we interviewed agreed: The best family photos are candid and unposed. Posed portraits can be stiff, strained, and artificial, lacking in spontaneity and life. Unposed candids, on the other hand, can move your viewers with colorful action, facial expressions that reveal mood and personality, and interaction suggesting relationships, subtexts, even hints of a narrative angle or story line.
Joshua Drake, a photojournalist living in Charleston, SC, sums it up: “The pleasure in candid photography is capturing those fleeting, honest moments that happen in everyday life. Candid photography is about observing and anticipating, not stopping and posing.”
The downside to candids? You have to shoot a lot more frames to find a keeper compared with posed portraits. But what’s wrong with that? Usually, the more you shoot, the more relaxed and natural friends and family will become, and the more likely you will capture expressive moments.
Where and when to photograph candids? “Parties and social events,” suggests pro photographer Jonathan Hanson of Baltimore, MD. “Your friends are engaged and distracted, making it easier for you to work unnoticed. People expect photographers at weddings, concerts, and parties, so they’re more relaxed in the presence of cameras. The more activity there is, the easier it is to blend in.”
And blending in is important. “Settling into a situation can be the best thing for candids,” says Carmel Zucker, a Boulder, CO, freelancer whose work has appeared in Marie Claire, Country Living, and the New York Times. “I never shoot and run,” she says. “I wait until people relax around me, then shoot only when the moment is right.”
Adds Brent Clark, an award-winning photojournalist from Carrboro, NC, “Your own home is a great place for candids. Since family and friends are already at ease around you, it’s much easier to capture intimate moments.”
Home is probably where you’re most relaxed. And when you’re comfortable, your subjects will be, too. You’ve scoped out the best lighting and backgrounds in and around your home, right?