Posing People vs. Candid Images


When most people travel, they capture candid images of the people and places they visit.  But when they are in the picture they often pose.  Some people suggest it is unnatural to pose the local people as if the picture would no longer reflect what they saw.  So, when is it better to pose and when is it better to capture a candid image?  Lets look at a few different situations and how to handle them.


1. Festivals and Performances


When people are performing, naturally you want to capture the activity so you should shoot a lot of candid images in order to capture the gesture or facial expression that makes a great photo.  When they are not performing, it is perfectly fine to pose them in their environment where you can control the background.


2. Sporting Events


Sports often involve fast moving subjects and capturing images can be challenging.  You typically need a very fast shutter speed if you want to freeze action or you can pan the action to get interesting blur effects.  The images are candid during the event but people can be posed before or after the event.  They need not be standing still either.  Try taking photos of the athlete performing a move just for you when you know how they will move and can capture the image with just the right background.


3. Markets


Markets where fresh food is sold are always a great place to take pictures of people.  They are busy places though so I recommend capturing images of individual vendors or small groups of people where you can control the background.  It is usually possible to get candid shots in a market but if the person knows you are taking their picture, there is some amount of posing involved.  So, if they are going to pose anyway, take control of the shot and pose them the way you want.  Have them holding produce, weighing fish or handling money in a spot that gives you a better photo.


4. Craftsmen and Craftswomen


When people are making something with their hands, there are often excellent photo opportunities.  You will almost always be happier with a posed photo in this case but not necessarily a still photo.  Watch them for a few minutes to understand what they are doing and how they move.  Then think about your composition and look at the light and the background.  Walk around them, if you can, to find the best angle for your photo.  If necessary, ask them to move.  You can clean up the trash around them but don’t remove items like tools or paint that tell you what is being done.  Once you have them positioned where you want them, tell them to continue working for a more natural photo.


5. Schools


Schools around the world come in all shapes and sizes.  If you have an opportunity to photograph students in school, I highly recommend it.  One way is to offer to answer their questions about you so the teacher can justify the interruption.  This also puts the students at ease for more natural photos.  To capture a classroom scene, have one or more students read or recite something out loud.  Sometimes they like to sing for you.  In any event, have them doing something if you want a group shot.  Otherwise simply pose one or more students for close ups.  A financial contribution to the school is always greatly appreciated too.


6. Churches, Mosques and Temples


 Religious monuments and structures are usually very photogenic by themselves but the picture is even better with people in it.  The tricky part is being respectful while still getting your photo.  These are not the places to take candid photos without permission.  If permission is granted, you can take candid photos but why not get an even better photo by posing a man or woman of the cloth in that perfect spot.  They like to see pictures of themselves just like you and I.  In some cases, you can even pose groups of monks or nuns where the light is better and the background is clean.  Have them hold a candle or incense for an even more dramatic photo.  Again, a financial contribution would be appreciated.


7. Street scenes


I often walk around cities and villages in the early morning or evening to get a glimpse of family life and the activities before and after work and school.  Good street scene photos are a combination of candid and posed images.  Transportation, for example, is almost always a candid shot because they rarely stop for you.  Everything from cars and trucks to tuks tuks and rickshaws can be photogenic in the right circumstance.  When people are walking or standing on the street, however, you should get their permission so a certain amount of posing takes place.  Look for people doing or carrying something.  Unless you are looking for a portrait, their activity will make the photo more interesting.


8. Windows and doorways


A great way to capture people in their environment is to photograph them looking out their window or standing in their doorway.  Windows and doors often portray the architectural style you want to capture and the person adds interest.  In many places you can capture candid images especially in the late afternoon when people are waiting for someone else to come home.  Sometimes, though, you find a window or a doorway scene that would look great with a local person.  In these cases, it is often possible to find someone that can serve as your model.


9. On the water


Oceans, lakes and rivers make great photos when the light is just right.  To make them better, try to put a boat or a fisherman in the picture.  Sometimes this is just waiting for the light to change or the boat to move for a good candid shot.  Even here, though, you can pose people for even better photos.  For example, you can ask a fisherman to throw out a cast net as the sun sets behind him.  Or you can ask a canoe full of kids to make a second pass in front of you.


10. Kids and Old People


I make a special mention of the youngest and oldest because they typically show more emotion in both candid and posed photos.  When you are searching for a person to be the subject of a photo, they make great candidates.  They are more willing to be photographed and care less what they look like so you get a more natural photo.  Kids, in particular, are often willing to perform activities on command just to see themselves in a photo.  They will gladly do a flip off a canoe into the water or ride on the back of water buffalo standing up (if those are things they do anyway).  So, when you have run out of things to photograph, gather up the local kids and start over.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


      Roger Nelson