Capturing candid street moments

Alpha Tutorial :22 - Capturing candid street moments

Henri Cartier-Bresson once said that “there is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.” Street photography is, in essence, the capture of those honest moments.

Unlike shooting a posed photo of friends, street photography is about capturing candid moments of complete strangers. Not only do you have to obey the principles of composition, be alert enough to get the decisive moment, you also have to be bold. But the payoff is unique; you get serendipitous snapshots of life unseen in other kinds of photography.

Travel Light, Camera in Hand

It’s not called ‘street’ photograph for nothing; you’re going to be pounding the pavement pretty hard. So don’t carry heavy gear that’ll wear you down, travel as light as you can, with your lightest camera body and a minimum of one or two lenses. And wear comfortable shoes. The secret to getting those elusive moments is to travel with your camera in hand, switched on, lens cap off, at all times. If you have to fumble through your camera bag to catch something you just saw, chances are that you’ll miss the moment.

Camp & Wait

The complement to capturing moments as they happen is choosing a spot and waiting for your shot. Pick a place with great backgrounds, crowds, interesting people or street performers. Stay there and wait with your camera in hand for a shot to happen. Waiting in one place brings an additional advantage; if you shoot there long enough; the people there might grow bored of you and become less self-conscious around your lens.

Just because you missed one moment doesn’t mean you’ll miss the next one. If you find a great location, it’s worth revisiting it again and again to see what else you can capture. Especially at different times of the day, including the ‘golden hours’ – those short moments before, during and just after sunrise and sunset with great natural lighting.

Photo by Shinya Morimoto.

Photo by Shinya Morimoto.

Blend In

p>You don’t want to call attention to yourself when shooting candid photographs, so try to blend in with your environment. A shorter lens actually helps you achieve that – sure, you’ll have to get closer to your subjects, but a huge telephoto lens draws way more attention to itself than a wide prime. A smaller camera helps you to blend in more than a large DSLR. You may not have a 35mm rangefinder, but you can consider one of the smaller mirrorless system cameras or compacts as a street camera.

Asking for Permission

Just because you’re shooting street photography doesn’t mean that all your shots have to be candid. Asking for permission to shoot a portrait allows you to get closer and get a more intimate photograph. Smile and help people relax around you and your camera – it’ll help you get better shots.

There’s a trick to getting a candid shot even after asking for permission – simply shoot before the pose, during and then continue shooting after the pose, when your subject will usually break out into a more natural expression. If your subject is staying in one place, like a stallholder, simply wait to one side and continue shooting until they ignore you – that’s when the candid moments will happen.

Asking for Permission

To get those elusive moments, sometimes you just have to shoot first and ask permission later. Your heart may thump and your palms may get sweaty at photographing strangers on the street, but unless you take the shot you won’t get the shot. Just do it.


The most important thing is to be respectful to the people whom you photograph. Just as you have the right to photograph people in public spaces, they have the right to ask you not to be photographed. If it’s a pose you wouldn’t want taken of yourself, it’s probably not something others would want to be taken by you. Also be observant of cultural rules – there are places in the world where it is considered grievously disrespectful to photograph without permission.