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Great Candid Photographers

By: J.A.J Aaronson - Updated: 2 Apr 2012 | comments*Discuss
Candid Photographers Photography Great

Without doubt one of the best ways to learn about the practice of photography is to investigate the methods used by great photographers before you. Indeed, when looking for both inspiration and instruction, there can be no better teacher than the work of some of the best photographers in the relevant field, in combination with an urge for experimentation. This article will look at some of the great candid photographers, and some lessons that can be drawn from their work.


When one thinks about candid photographers, the name Henri Cartier-Bresson comes immediately to mind. Cartier-Bresson was a pioneer, establishing many of the photographic paradigms which are so abundantly evident in almost all candid work since. The photographer’s definition of the instant at which the shutter should be pressed, calling it the Decisive Moment, has been one of the most fundamentally influential ideas in photography since. You should attempt to capture this decisive moment in your own candid photography; the moment at which the viewer is presented with all of the definitive elements of the scene which you are observing is the moment that should be captured by the photographer. In the instances in which this is possible, images which truly tell a story are created. In attempting to capture this decisive moment, it is unlikely that you will have more than one chance to click the shutter at the right time. As a result, you should try to shoot instinctively. Have your shutter speed and aperture settings in order in advance (if you are using a manual camera) so that you need worry about nothing other than composing your image.

Blending In

The capturing of the decisive moment generally relies on the photographer being as unobtrusive as possible; it is necessary to allow the action to pan out naturally if you are to get a natural photograph. As a result, many photographers choose to use small, unnoticeable cameras. Photographers such as Weegee (actually called Arthur Fellig, and given his nickname as a result of his uncanny ability to arrive at the scenes of crimes moments after they had been committed), however, use large pieces of machinery - Weegee himself used a big view camera. He saw that part of the skill of candid photography is to blend into the surroundings. This may require you to interact with the subjects of your photograph, but it forbids any action which might result in the capturing of a scene which would not have occurred where it not for the presence of the camera.

Lessons on candid photography need not be drawn solely from older practitioners; there are plenty of valuable tips to be learnt from contemporary ‘street’ photographers. Many candid photographers place a considerable importance on their medium; 35mm is the format of choice for most, while black and white is synonymous with candid shots. However, there is no reason why you should be constricted by your choice of format. Photographers like Jesse Marlow use different mediums to suit their environment; on occasion he uses black and white for dramatic effect, while elsewhere he may use vibrant colour film. Try experimenting with different combinations of equipment and circumstance to find the best match for you.

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