The Invisible Photographer


Anticipating actions helps you shoot the decisive moment. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Anticipating actions helps you shoot the decisive moment. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Supriya Joshi reveals some simple methods with which you can capture perfectly timed candid moments, without being noticed!

Life would have been so much simpler if we all had a magician’s invisibility cloak. We would all be able to capture perfectly-timed candid moments with absolute ease and without being noticed at all. Though an invisibility cloak might just be a distant dream, it does not mean that you cannot capture stunning candid photographs without drawing any attention to yourself. Precise timing and an acute awareness of your surroundings can surely help you master the art of candid photography!

Be Camera Ready
The golden rule of photography is that you must always be prepared. Most of us have experienced the instant where we see a perfect picture, but then we thump our heads and ruefully exclaim, “I wish I had my camera!” So remember to always carry your equipment wherever you go—you will never know when a perfect moment comes along. This rule is most significant if you want to master the art of candid photography. When you are capturing a candid moment, you do not want to worry about which aperture or shutterspeed will work best for that particular setting. All you need to do is simply set your camera’s dial to either the Aperture or Shutter Priority modes. This way, not only are you saving time, but you are also being discreet.

Know Your Location
Before you begin to shoot, it is always important to know your surroundings. You should know the lay of the land, so that even if you are noticed, you can proceed to some other place. You should also reach the location an hour or two prior to the shoot and explore the surroundings thoroughly. During this exploration, you might discover areas that can be useful vantage points from which you can shoot without being noticed. Knowing the location will also help you pre-visualise the frames and moments you would like to capture.

The Art of Concealment
DSLR cameras and telephoto lenses look bulky and end up drawing unwanted attention from onlookers and passers-by. Using a telephoto lens or a superzoom compact can prove to be very useful when you want to be discreet. This way, you can capture candid moments successfully despite being some distance away from the actual scene.

Another simple means of keeping the camera out of view is to keep it in a shopping bag. Whenever you are not shooting, you can conceal your camera in the bag. Alternatively, you can sling the camera around your shoulder and shoot from your hip. It does take a bit of practice to get good frames, but is particularly effective for capturing striking and unusual candid portraits. You can use similar techniques if your camera has a tilt and swivel LCD screen. By following these methods, you will not stick out like a sore thumb and will easily be able to conceal the camera when not shooting.

One way to blend into the surroundings is to find a spot where you can stay and get a good view of the scene. After some time, people will stop paying attention to you—you will become just another element in the scene.

While this happens, you can spend time observing the interaction between various people and the other elements in the scene, so that you can shoot them properly, later. Also, you can observe repetitive movements and patterns of behaviour. Once you have become a part of the scene, you can start shooting.

…And Anticipate
When you practice candid photography for a long period of time, you can anticipate people’s actions and movements. You must be constantly observing your surroundings, and anticipating movements. There are so many events that can occur in a span of seconds that waiting long enough just might make you lose the important moments. It is, therefore, important to always be on guard as it will help you predict the actions that will transpire.

In Public Spaces
Also, public transport vehicles like trains and buses can be storehouses of candid moments. You will often find that most people are completely lost in their own world while travelling and may not even notice you shooting.

Shooting from the comfort of your own taxi, rickshaw or car can give you some great candid shots of passers-by. Not just this, even observing the facial expressions and emotions of the people sitting inside a café or a restaurant can yield evocative candid images. Marketplaces, playgrounds, railway stations, malls, schools, offices, colleges and even wedding pandals are a few locations where you can capture some quirky moments.

Employ Unusual Vantage Points
Different areas can have varying moods and a range of interactions. An office can give you a busy, formal feel; a carnival will be full of revellers in a joyful mood; a park where people jog and exercise will have a charged-up, energetic feel; while a playground or a fair can have an aura of gaiety and fun. Mirrors or reflections can also be used innovatively to capture people without drawing attention to yourself.

When You Are Seen
There will always be instances when people will object to you photographing them. What do you do then? You can try engaging them in conversation and explain your motivation behind taking their photographs. Sometimes, this can give you riveting images of people looking directly at the camera and interacting with you. However, if the people around you still object, then do not aggravate the situation and make a quiet exit. Remember that there will always be plenty of other photographic opportunities.

Always bear in mind that there is a fine line between photography and voyeurism. The purpose of candid photography is not to make people uncomfortable or angry. Your main aim is to capture a fleeting moment, an effort to photograph the essence of human nature—not to be obtrusive and annoying. Respect the privacy of the people in the surroundings and you will be rewarded with some stunning candid captures!

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: Better Pictures, Composition, Supriya Joshi, December 2010, Street Photography