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Candid Family Photos Take Patience and Practice
Candid family photos can be more than snapshots, and they can delight your family and friends who enjoy the way you captured a moment to preserve their memories. If you have distant relatives or friends, these candid family photos are a way of sharing the moments they’re missing and making them feel included.
So what’s the difference between a snapshot and a candid family photo? Snapshots tend to be random and poorly executed. We’ve all seen shots that were taken without any forethought, and it shows.
Your family and friends will often look past those problems and be happy to see the photos, but you know that you can do more.
Family Moments Are Events
In a sense, capturing candid family photos is like being an event photographer. You’re anticipating moments to capture.
Before those moments arrive, you position yourself to get the best background or lighting that you can have when the special moment arrives.
Make sure you’re ready before someone opens a special gift so you can capture their expression. You don’t want to give directions, since the photos are supposed to be candid and natural. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t position your camera to make the best use of lighting, background and composition.
Remember that candid photos of your family are a gift from the heart. It’s OK if the photos aren’t technically perfect. What’s important is that you’re preserving memories for your family, sharing with those who can’t be there, and giving you a chance to practice event photography with the ones you love.
Candid family photos are event photography of the ones you love.
William: Welcome to the Photo Flunky Show, episode number sixty-two.
On today’s show we’re going to be talking about candid family photography; how to get some of the shots that you always wanted, but they seem just a little bit elusive.
Welcome! My name’s William Beem.
Lee: Hi, my name is Lee Beem.
William: And we’re here to talk to you about candid family photography, but before we get into that let me just let you know that show notes are going to be available at williambeem.com/episode62
And of course you can find a transcript of the show there for free. And you can also find links to subscribe either on that page or you can go to our player at photoflunky.com where you’ll find this episode and many more.
Lee: Yes. Another sixty-one.
William: Another sixty-one and I think there might be a bonus in there somewhere.
Lee: There might be.
William: There might be a bonus. Also I want to mention that I’ve got a free ebook for you. This is about portrait photography and it is yours for free. Once you get it you can share it with others. It is Creative Portraiture and it’s not so much about the technical side of portraiture. It is about the creative and emotional side so you can get your free copy at williambeem.com/freebook Not free ebook; freebook with only two e’s.
Lee: Yes. Like my name.
William: Alright, why don’t we go ahead and get started with our topic for today. We’re talking about candid family photography. I know, Lee, you’ve gone through this quite a bit so tell me what it means to you and how you’ve approached it.
Lee: Of all the categories of photography, this is the one that has collectively, over time, been the most meaningful to me. It probably still is.
They are not showpiece photos, but they have the most value to me.
William: These are the ones that you keep to yourself, not necessarily the ones that you are posting or you might hang them on the wall, but you’re not trying to promote them as your kind of art.
Lee: That’s true. And I mean these, I guess I refer to them as snapshots for want of a better way to describe them to other people, but it’s not just the click and walk away. I do actually put some thought into it and there’s a little bit more that goes into it. It’s just that when I say these are candid photos and not for sharing, they are the type of photos that have a lot of meaning to those who are involved in my life at the time or for the event and really no meaning whatsoever and being of little to no interest to anybody else.
William: When you’re taking family photos and we’re not talking about somewhere you’re taking Tové, our daughter, and just saying “OK stand here. Look pretty. We’re going to take a portrait of you.”
William: These are in the moment.
Lee: These are in the moment. They are specifically unposed shots. They are photos that are taken of something and to use the cliché, I’m literally trying to freeze a moment in time that has some memory to it.
William: So you’re trying to capture a moment when somebody important to you or somebody close to you is doing something. And this could be family; it could be friends. It could be at home. I guess it could be on vacation; it could be anywhere.
Lee: A picnic in the park. You might stop somewhere for a break to stretch your legs and have a picnic on the side of the road somewhere, you know, on a long drive. Christmas and birthdays I think were the typical things. You know, you want those candid photos. Families gathering around, watching your kid or maybe you’re watching your mom opening a gift that you put a lot of thought into and you think she is going to love it and you want to get that moment as she’s unwrapping, as she’s smiling and going through the process. I usually take a few photos in the process of unwrapping and I love having these photos.
William: These are your memories.
Lee: These are my memories!
William: And that’s why they’re so important to you.
Lee: They really are.
William: Alright, so now here’s the question I want to know. How do you strike the balance between being the mom with the camera and enjoying the moment?
Lee: You can do both with this. There is always going to be a trade-off if you have a task to do or if you are trying to achieve something while you’re involved or engaged in some kind of activity. It means that you have less ability or restricted ability to engage to your fullest. But for me it’s always been worth the trade-off.
So I try and ... I don’t direct people. I don’t try and get someone’s attention. I don’t tell people to stand here or stand there. I will actually get up and reposition myself. I will move things that might be distractions in the background to the best of my ability, but the whole idea is not to upset the flow of things that are happening at the time.
William: If you’re directing someone it’s really not candid anymore at that point.
Lee: Exactly. I want to see things as they happen. I want to capture it as it really is; not the way I’ve staged it.
William: Are you anticipating moments or are you setting things up to where you can expect a moment is going to come? Or is it a combination maybe?
Lee: It’s a combination. And sometimes you are expecting a moment. For example, somebody about to get a surprise or get a gift or about to see something ... you can anticipate that and you just have to be ready for it.
There are other times for example, with my little nephew when he was little, taking photos of kids are on the move the whole time. I would just get myself a position on the ground somewhere with the camera and I’d leave him to play. I wouldn’t do anything. Eventually he would turn in the right direction or he would have an expression on his face or do something with his hands and that’s when you hit the shutter.
This is a game of patience. This is something where you just sit back and observe and I think the beauty of it was with a camera, I got to soak in the experience of the moments by sitting and waiting patiently.
I wasn’t getting frustrated. I just waited and you know, if the moment was right, I’d hit the shutter.
William: We were talking a couple of days ago about something that you did on a family vacation with Tové at Walt Disney World and I know we talk about Disney World almost every show.
Lee: Well that’s where my vacations were.
William: That’s where your vacations were and we live close by now so it makes sense. And it was a really hot time when you were on vacation. And Tové was complaining. It’s hot!
Lee: Yes. There was one week that was just particularly hot and humid. I mean I was dealing with a fogging up lenses where it would just take about an hour for the camera to acclimate to the temperature outside. There was nothing you could do.
William: Tové did something and she did a few things that you kind of almost made it a theme for that trip.
Lee: I did. I think there was one particular week where the weather was just extremely hot and she was fanning herself and she kept ... she was complaining about the heat and saying, “It’s too hot! Mom, it’s too hot!” Like I was supposed to fix it or something.
So I figured, well I’ll fix it in a photo album. I started making a point of capturing those moments. Now these were not the typical family vacation photos where somebody is posing in front of a sign or an icon or on an attraction or a rollercoaster ... This was where she was trying to lean in towards the fan to cool off.
I watched her. I had the camera in my hand and I was scrolling through some pictures to see what I got for the day and she had drained her soda and I just watched her in a matter of a second she lifted the cup and I thought, what is she doing? And there was ice left in the cup and she just stuck it on top of her head and stood there with ice melting down her head. So I got a photo of that. I mean that was just how she was handling it. She would be fanning herself; she would be doing all kinds of things and anything that sort of captured the feeling of “this is hot” was something that I snapped. I had some separate pages in a photo book that I made for a family member that was called Hot Hot Hot. And all those photos worked together as a group. There was definitely a theme.
William: So you got a theme out of it. This is something that was spur of the moment. You couldn’t have planned for it. Well I guess in Florida you can plan for it being hot.
Lee: Yes, but this was ... I mean we were used to the Florida heat. This was something different.
William: Her reaction to it surprised you. And it wasn’t just a one off thing. It was enough to give you a theme to work with for the week.
Lee: Yeah, it was just where the weather did that for the week and I think the humidity was so intense that it made it feel unbearable to her.
William: Alright, that’s a stand-out example to me, but one of the other things that I’ve noticed that I try to do when I’m doing candid is I will find a place and then wait for people to come and interact.
It’s not necessarily always families that do this. I mean in my case I spent a lot of time living alone so I would go out taking pictures of strangers. But do you do the same thing with your family members or do you go to an event – like you said it could be a picnic in a park or it could be a birthday or something like that – do you look around and find your background first and wait for people to come or do you go where the action is?
Lee: With the family thing I would go where the action is. And that has tended to be what I would do. It would be in somebody’s home or living room or in their back yard. Or we would go somewhere for the day and pack a picnic. My family was big on picnics. I was maybe not so much, but happy to tag along for some family photos.
For me these candid shots were all about me positioning myself so that I didn’t have to direct other people.
William: Let me break in on that a little bit. So you position yourself. That’s going to be your angle of view. But also, how do you prepare yourself with your camera as far as, are you taking test shots to make sure you know it’s going to work when the time comes or how do you get in the right spot and prepare yourself so that you get the shot when the moment comes?
Lee: I did take test shots. I took test shots for my exposure. Manual exposure for this is going to be hit or miss so I tended to go with Aperture Priority or if there were kids running around I’d go with Shutter Priority and just swing it with that and take the best I could.
Look, you are going to win some and lose some. I got some horrible shots but I always do. That’s the line of stepping stones to getting the nice ones to keep.
William: Oh, that’s true. If I look at my photos I’ve got tens of thousands of photos, but most of them are ones I never want to show anybody.
Lee: This is true and these are ones that I shared with my family and they would get so excited and to them, this was absolutely wonderful. I could have staged it and had the lighting perfect and done everything correctly in terms of photography. My family don’t care about the technical side. They want to recognize the people in the photo and go, “I remember that! Look how she was smiling! I remember that!”
William: Well that kind of brings me to the end of it. So you’ve prepared for it and you’ve captured the moment. What’s the delivery from this?
Lee: Right, these photos were never shared outside the family; not because I was hiding them but because they had no relevance. They were always shared to everybody within the family or within the group.
I went to put them together and I would use some sort of quick post processing. These are not things where you are sitting trying to create a masterpiece, but you kind of fix up what you could and do your basic adjustments.
I would usually upload them either into a Flickr album or I would burn them onto a CD – this was going back some time for my parents who struggled a little bit with links and figuring out the internet – they loved that. Because they could take the disk or the flash drive into a photo printing service, plug it in and do prints while you wait. They loved that. They are from a different generation. They wanted to have prints in their hands; they wanted their photo albums. And this way they could carry them around in their little brag book and show off to their friends.
So it kind of suited the family members who were more digitally ....
Lee: The competent and the digitally challenged. It was kind of for everybody. I did sometimes make some photo books. I did that a lot for my sister and brother-in-law when they had their baby because they were only taking photos with their phones. And they were very good at it. They aimed to take at least one photo every day of the baby, which was wonderful. I wish I had thought of doing that. There were no smart phones with cameras when I had mine. They loved the photo books. And I think for my brother-in-law’s parents as well. they live far away from them so they only get to see their grandson maybe once every eighteen months or even longer in between and I would make photo books and send them to my sister and her husband. They were able to mail them over or ship them over when they were sending other things. And these are things that really mean the world to somebody. It seems like such a simple thing. They are not the greatest photos. But man, this just made people so excited.
William: I think when you’re a photographer and you’re trying to make candid family photos like this, you do it the best you can in the environment that you have. And you are probably going to come up with photos that are going to be better than what anybody else is going to be doing that maybe isn’t giving as much thought to photography.
Lee: Maybe. But you know, when it comes to something family related, if you sit back and look at it, having a photo or no photo? You don’t care. I tried my best to make them as nice as possible, but I also knew that nobody was going to be criticizing. These people were not criticizing as a photographer. They were looking in as family saying “You’ve just given us a connection to something that we really want to be a part of and you’ve made a bridge for us.”
William: And that’s an important thing. I can say that because in my family growing up, we didn’t have photos like that. I mean I think in the early 60’s – I was born in ’63 – my parents might have had an instamatic or something like that and they had a few shots. I’ve got some old photos but mostly the only time I got a photo was at school portraits and when I got into photography later on and that was in high school, I started taking some around the family and I got the same reaction. People were thrilled!
And my photos were horrible then. I didn’t have any idea of what I was doing, but so long as the family was there and we could capture the moment where we had some memories with it, it was really cherished.
Lee: That’s something to keep in mind as well. As we learn more about the technical and creative aspects of photography we become very critical of our own work because we want to grow, but we also notice flaws in other people’s photos. Regular people who aren’t into photography as such don’t see it.
William: I think that’s a very good point; probably the one that we are going to end on. Like you said, you’ve got a choice of having no photos or candid photos and those candid photos are your memories. It doesn’t have to be based on work of art. It’s nice if everything works out. I mean obviously you want to pay attention to your composition and your light as best you can, but it’s better to get the shot than not to have one.
Lee: An act of kindness has never killed me.
Thank you so much for listening to the Photo Flunky Show. As I said at the beginning, the show notes are going to be available at williambeem.com/episode62 and of course you can find a transcript of the show there for free. We are on iTunes, Google Play Music, Blubrry, Stitcher Radio .... links are going to be available on this episode and on photoflunky.com. We would really encourage you to subscribe, get the show delivered to you for free every time. And finally, don’t forget to claim your free copy of Creative Portraiture at williambeem.com/freebook
Thank you so much! We’ll see you next week.
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Love it, great tips! Also love Lee’s saying “An act of kindness has never killed me”
Thank you, Niki!
For everyone else, those two little boys are Niki’s sons – from a few years ago. I went over to Niki’s house to take some portraits of her. Her oldest son was having some fun with poses. Suddenly, her younger son came up and gave his brother a great big hug. It was a wonderful moment between the two of them. I was happy to have a camera at the ready when they hugged.
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