Culture Magazine

The Anatomy of a Candid Photograph

By Jpbrandanophoto @JPBrandanophoto
In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definitions of candid is; relating to or being the photography of subjects acting naturally or spontaneously without being posed. Wikipedia describes candid photography as unposed and unplanned, immediate and unobtrusive. 

This past weekend, Phyllis and I spent a day on the Florida Keys. The Keys really excited me as a Floridian and a photographer. I can see us going back there many times. With its blue skies, white sand, great sunsets and shallow beaches, it is a great place for a photographer. This was not a planned visit. We found ourselves within a few hours of the it and decided to scout out the area. This is something we will do when we have not visited an area previously. We were there only a few hours and knew we would be coming back. The Keys are different than other areas of Florida. If you're expecting expansive picture postcard beaches for sunbathing, swimming and shelling, you'll find those on the 'mainland' but not on the Keys. But there are special tucked away places, little coves where sand has collected; easily missed spots of sand hidden among mangroves, not so long stretches of beach, small, man made, man enhanced, or by geological fluke, natural.Why are there no 'real beaches'? The Keys have a spectacular coral reef, the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. running parallel along it lengths. The reef acts as a barrier to the waves coming in from the Atlantic Ocean preventing waves from pounding against the shoreline rocks, thereby inhibiting sand being made and its buildup. As a matter of fact many of the Keys' beaches are really tidal flats where sand has piled up and you may have to wade out quite a way to reach deep water.As we were driving along we spotted one of these tucked away spots. Pulling into a small parking area, enough for maybe a dozen cars, we were lucky to find one empty spot to park. This is what we saw as we drove in and parked.THE ANATOMY OF A CANDID PHOTOGRAPHWe saw a wonderful view of blue skies, turquoise waters, white coral sands and people para gliding.  When we are out like this 'hunting', Phyllis and I will usually have two different focal lengths on our cameras. This time Phyllis had her 18-200 zoom and I had my 17-55 zoom. We also do this when photographing an event like a wedding. This allows us to cover an event or area from both a wider angle and close up. Phyllis started concentrating on the para gliders and I started looking for landscapes and people images. I took a few images like the above one, getting my initial settings and trying to 'see' an image that intrigued me. Off to my right I saw this tree.THE ANATOMY OF A CANDID PHOTOGRAPH  I thought maybe I could work with this tree; the blue skies, white sand and green/yellow leaves would help me create something.That white that you see in the background is the coral sand/ rocks that are under the water. You can see the turquoise water farther out. I was figuring out what I could do; maybe a wide angle  showing the single lonely tree out on this beach? I was sure that it might work but I wasn't that excited yet.Then a young man walked into my shot and sat down. Many times this would be a problem but not this time. As he sat looking out at the ocean and the para sailers, I thought this is getting me excited. Here we go; the lonely young man looking out at the sea, contemplating his life, where has he come from and where is he going; a man in the prime of his life sitting alone under lonely tree! Maybe just a silhouette, making him the every man!!THE ANATOMY OF A CANDID PHOTOGRAPHBut then, there was a change in my story line.THE ANATOMY OF A CANDID PHOTOGRAPHHere comes his family into the scene. Alright, this is good; not the lonely man but a couple and their child looking out at the ocean, maybe thinking about what the world has in store for their son.But the story changed once more. The young child's real father called him back to where his family was sitting away from this young couple. Poof, there goes my family storyline.So now we have two attractive young people on a white sand beach in Florida sitting under a tree looking out at the ocean. Okay, this is not bad, as long as she sits down next to him. Please walk over and sit down next to him Happily, that is what she did.THE ANATOMY OF A CANDID PHOTOGRAPH Okay, now I wanted to catch a candid moment; an unplanned, unposed, unobtrusive moment in this young couple's life/day.I always feel that a candid does not need to be a 'catch as you can' image. Sometimes you do only get that one shot before you're noticed or before something happens to take the scene away; a young women standing at a bus stop then the bus pulls up and she's gone. You had time for maybe one shot. Exposure might be okay, composition might be okay.But sometimes you can stay in the shadows so to speak. Your subject is not aware of you at all or not aware that you're photographing them.  Okay I know this sounds a little creepy but I always do approach them and let them know what I was doing and offer them a few free copies. But only after I am finished. Here was a little of both I think. I had a pretty good distance between us and if they did see me, it would look like I was photographing the ocean and para sailers. I could take my time and get my exposure right where I wanted it and also try different compositions. Which is what I started doing. What about a view from behind them? Seeing what they are seeing as a point of view. It was not bad; a certain look but not what I wanted.THE ANATOMY OF A CANDID PHOTOGRAPH 
As more people came into their view, I took another shot. Again alright but not what I wanted. If you look at their body language, they are sitting together but leaning away from each other; taking away from the intimacy of the moment I wanted to capture.


So I moved back to their left, looking to capture a moment! On this next one I love how he is resting his head on his hand and with this composition they look closer more intimate. They really could be two young people looking out at into the sea, wondering about what life has in shore for them.

When the sailboat came into the image, I thought it was a welcome addition. Its presence helped build an island atmosphere. The breeze picked up and billowed her dress and I think it added to the feel of a warm tropical day, cooled by a gentle breeze.


I kept moving slightly, waiting to capture a moment, a memory.

Whenever I photograph moments like this I cannot help but add a possible storyline to it. In my mind I see a young couple in love on a beautiful beach together. But there seems to be something on their minds. Did they just meet and fall in love but now need to get back to their real worlds, maybe far apart from each other?

Did they just have an argument? Is he thinking of asking her some important question that will shape both of their futures? Or are they just trying to figure out where to eat tonight? I will never know and for my purposes it really does not matter. 
I spent a few minutes observing their lives and documenting that time to the best of my ability. I created a story hopefully in each image. If you look at these images and feel something or add your own storyline to it then I have accomplished what I wanted with my photography.
The next three images are my favorites of the two of them together.

What is she pointing at? I have no idea but as soon as I saw her point, I took the image. It could represent her pointing to the rest of their lives together or a red boat. It really is up to what the person seeing this image, you, feels!
After awhile the young man got up and walked away. I actually spoke to him and told him I had taken some images and that I would have them on my blog where they could see them if they wished. I would send them a copy of the images if they liked them.Now, I had this very attractive young women sitting alone and I started shooting.



Until this last image, I know they did not see me. I think she might have realized I was photographing her after this image was taken.  This was the last image I made.

By the way, this beach was not that empty as you can see in the images I shot from behind the couple. Those people did not move throughout this whole sequence but I did choose to remove them in post production. It worked better for the story I was trying to convey with these images.

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