back to top

13 Candid Street Photography Tips for Natural Photos

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 13 min read
ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little money. Need more info? See how it all works here.
Subscribe Below to Download the Article Immediately

You can also select your interests for free access to our premium training:

Your privacy is safe! We will never share your information.

Candid street photography captures unique and authentic moments in time. This street photography sub-genre can be challenging if you’re new to it. You need to have the right kind of gear. You need sharp camera skills. And shooting good candid street photography takes confidence.

Don’t let any of that discourage you. Candid street photography is also incredibly rewarding. It can help you develop skills for other niches, like documentary photography and photojournalism.

Street photography shot of woman doing makeup in reflection of a glass wall
Shot with a Fujifilm X100V. Photo by Bennett Tobias (Unsplash)

What Is Candid Street Photography?

Candid street photography is the art of taking pictures of people in the street without their knowledge. This may sound a bit creepy. But you’re not taking pictures of a person without their knowledge. You’re taking pictures of people more generally.

You probably won’t know the identities of your subjects. In fact, the beauty of this type of photography lies in its mystery.

The photographer’s aim should be to capture the world around them. This might sound obvious. But the fact it’s candid means you can’t interfere with that world. You are merely an observer, not an actor.

You can’t manipulate your surroundings to get what you want. You can only react and flow with it.

A good street photographer knows how to blend in. If you impact your environment too much, people will become too aware of you and self-conscious, and the images will be less candid.

One could categorize candid street photography as wildlife photography for people. You’re taking photographs of people in their natural habitat. As with animals, if you spook them, they’ll scamper off, and the opportunity is missed.

While the concept is simple, mastering candid street photography can take time. But don’t be disheartened. The following tips will give you a head start in this field. After reading them, you’ll be ready to hit the pavement with your camera.

Six women sitting in the window of a hamburger store
© Robert Frank (renowned street photographer)

13 Tips for Candid Street Photography

These tips will help you develop the right mindset for capturing candid street shots. They will also improve your composition and technique to make your street photography more powerful and unique.

Don’t worry if you’re not feeling confident right now. We’re here to help you build that confidence step by step.

1. Dress Down and Blend In

Standing out in the crowd is the last thing you want to do when creating a candid street photo. Blending in with your surroundings is essential.

Wear plain clothing that reflects your environment to avoid attention and maintain anonymity. My standard outfit is jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers for comfort. High fashion is not my priority when taking candid street photography! It’s also about comfort and keeping a low profile.

Man in plain clothes bending down to take a picture in the street
Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino (Unsplash)

2. Get Close-Up With Candid Street Portraits

The best way to capture a candid moment is to get close to your subject. This can be daunting when you’re new to street photography. To get comfortable with the concept, use a zoom lens and photograph inanimate objects first.

Candid street portraits don’t have to be made from the front. You can capture emotions and vulnerability by photographing people from the side or back.

In portraiture, body language tells strong stories. Look for hunched shoulders, people holding hands, or interesting head angles.

Man leaning out of a window waving to people out of shot
Photo by Juniper Photon (Unsplash)

3. Create Street Portrait Photos With Patience

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in candid street photography is the importance of patience. I trust my intuition and sense when something is about to make a good candid street photo. Then I wait.

Sometimes, this involves waiting a long time, but it’s worth it! Slowing down and being patient is useful in many ways.

Take the time to practice your manual settings and observe the changing light. Look at how the pedestrian and vehicular traffic is flowing. Try out different lenses and test different compositions.

The longer you wait, the more likely you are to see the connections between people. This is how you catch intriguing interactions, facial expressions, or beautiful movements.

candid street photo of two little girls holding festival objects
© Heather Milne

4. Know Your Rights and Remain Friendly

Be clear about your photograph’s purpose so you can respond honestly to any queries. Be prepared to show people photos of them if they ask.

My code of ethics dictates that I delete a photograph of a stranger if they ask me to. Taking sneaky photos from behind trees and hidden corners looks dodgy. But you also don’t want to be too obvious in the middle of a scene.

Position yourself somewhere in between—which is easier said than done! Keep an open mind and calm presence, and trust your instincts if you’re uncertain whether to squeeze the shutter.

It’s important to know your rights as a street photographer. The laws are different in every country. So, always research before taking candid street photos anywhere new.

Knowing your rights gives you more confidence when shooting in the street. You have nothing to fear if you know and work within the laws.

Group of old fellas playing a board game in a public park
© Christopher Bryan-Smith

5. Be Smart With Camera Settings

Candid street photography is often long waiting periods interrupted by fast and sudden action. When you squeeze the shutter, it pays to know exactly what settings you need. If you have the wrong ones, you need to change them quickly.

If a person moves out of the shade into the sun, you might need to quickly increase your shutter speed for proper exposure. If something interesting happens in the background, the depth of field might need to change to bring it into focus. Practice makes perfect.

You can start by using Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority modes. But work with manual settings as much as possible until the process becomes automatic for your hands and brain. It’s important to make adjustments on the fly.

It’s easy to stick to auto settings. But over time, if you master manual controls, you create quality candid photographs that auto settings can’t produce. You’ll be able to develop a street photography style that’s all your own.

In the photo below, there were quickly shifting clouds overhead. This meant I had to repeatedly change my settings while trying to capture the scene before me.

candid street photo of a group of children drumming outdoors
© Heather Milne

6. Increase ISO and Embrace the Grain

It took me a long time to change my mind and increase my ISO for street photography. I was a stickler for ISO 100 and was reluctant to change it regardless of the light conditions.

A few results were dull street photographs made under shop awnings on cloudy days. They required extra post-production work. But advances in tech mean you can increase the ISO setting without compromising the quality of the photos.

When I tweaked the ISO between 200 and 400, a new world of candid street photography opened up. I was able to better capture candid facial expressions and keep the shutter speed fast to ensure sharp images.

I also like the slight grain higher ISO produces in street photography. But I avoid increasing it beyond ISO 640.

In the photo below, the light was fading as media from around the world reported on a terrorist attack in my city. I increased my ISO to keep the shutter speed fast, making the images sharp.

candid street photo of a group of journalists and news reporters speaking outdoors
© Heather Milne

7. Build Familiarity With a Street Scene

One way to focus on your subject for the perfect candid shot is to be familiar with your environment. We can learn about our hometowns’ light and weather patterns and know where interesting people hang out.

Use this knowledge to your advantage. You’ll then be more likely to know the camera settings and composition to use in a familiar setting.

This means you can concentrate on observing people. Capture their expressions, behavior, and body language for fantastic candid photos. Below is an image of a very familiar scene in my hometown.

candid street photo of people playing chess outdoors
© Heather Milne

8. Develop a Tourist Mindset

Taking pictures in places we know well can be more nerve-wracking than taking pictures on holiday. Street photographers often feel like they’re being judged or they might cause trouble.

But pretending to be a tourist from out of town is a great way to gain a new perspective. The sense of detachment that comes with being a tourist lets you feel more relaxed. It helps you to confidently take candid pictures and see old things in a new light.

You’ll look at your hometown with new eyes. Things you’re so accustomed to will become points of interest again. It’s also a useful technique to observe your environment and the people with a fresh approach.

Man drinking a coffee in the street outside Superdrug in Oswestry town centre
© Christopher Bryan-Smith

9. Create a Narrative

A powerful tool when making candid street portraits is to have a clear narrative in your head. This takes practice because the moments are often fleeting. But take in more details about what is happening around you.

What are you observing and sensing? What can you smell? What are people saying or singing? If you recognize an underlying story, you become an expert at capturing those decisive, candid moments.

This helps you communicate what you’re experiencing with those who will look at your candid street photos. It’s also useful if you want to put together a series of photographs.

Candid street photography is important in storytelling, photojournalism, and documentary photography. The responsibility to get it right is significant.

candid street photo of two women comforting each other by a memorial
© Heather Milne

10. Photograph Ground-Level Candid Photos

The best thing about taking candid street photos at ground level is that you get to sit down on the job! Of course, don’t sit down in the middle of a busy thoroughfare.

Find a comfortable dry spot to sit with three or four viewpoints, or crouch down low. This is a good way to be unobtrusive and capture interesting expressions.

The biggest challenge with ground-level street photography is the movement of legs walking past. These can get in the way of the perfect shot. But you can use this challenge to your advantage by incorporating moving bodies as a frame for your subject.

Low-angle shot of a wet city street
Photo by Matthew Henry (Unsplash)

11. Accept Mistakes In Candid Photos

Are you making a lot of mistakes? Embrace your photographic faux pas with candid street photography. The decisive moment doesn’t always happen in the perfect light with the perfect background.

Learn how to incorporate movement and problematic lighting in your photographs so that they work to your advantage. And don’t be afraid to break the rules of photography sometimes.

Learn to convert photographs to black and white if you have color or light issues. And experiment with cropping to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject.

I took the photograph below in the middle of the day in the bright sun. A car drove past at the “wrong” time. But after I converted it into black and white, it became a happy mistake.

candid street photography of a car driving by an old building
© Heather Milne

12. Carry Minimal Gear to Stay Nimble

Keep your camera bag light for your candid street photoshoot. Your impulse might be to take as much gear as possible to prepare you for any eventuality. But a minimalist approach to gear has several advantages.

First, this increases comfort. Carrying a heavy backpack all day takes a toll on your shoulders and back. A light backpack is more comfortable and lets you shoot longer without fatigue.

A smaller bag also keeps your shape smaller. It helps you blend into your surroundings. You don’t want to make it obvious that you’re a photographer.

Restricting your gear means making fewer decisions. In candid street photography, a quick reaction time is crucial. You’ll miss the perfect shot if you spend too long fiddling with gear. A minimalist setup has fewer distractions, so you’re always ready with your camera.

candid street photo of a father and son playing connect four outdoors
© Heather Milne

13. Select Appropriate Gear

While you should only carry the essentials, appropriate gear is still important for candid street photos. In theory, you can use any camera. So, if you already have a camera you’re happy with, you are welcome to use that.

But if you want to buy a new camera for street photography, there are a few that photographers love. First is the Fujifilm X100V. It’s a stylish compact camera with a powerful 26 MP sensor. It also has a lovely fixed 23mm f/1.2 lens, perfect for street photography.

Some street shooters rave about the Leica M11. It’s a stunning camera, but you need a big budget. The Nikon Z fc is a fantastic option for beginners. And now you have the Nikon Z f, a full-frame version of the Z fc. It’s more advanced but hasn’t lost any points in the style department.

When it comes to lenses, you can use primes or zooms for candid street photography. The classic “nifty-fifty” (50mm) is a great starting point for any street shooter. But you can also go for a wider angle, like a 35mm lens. Read our full article on all the best street photography lenses.

Every street photographer needs a top-quality camera backpack. And only one recommendation comes to mind—the Wandrd Duo Daypack. Check out our full Wandrd Duo Daypack review.

It’s a durable backpack that’s completely weather-resistant. It has plenty of protective storage space for your gear. And the infinity zip design gives you quick and easy access to your camera. You can read our article on the best street photography accessories.

Young man using side access of Wandrd Duo Daypack to retrieve camera
Wandrd Duo Daypack easy side access

Conclusion: Candid Street Photography

Candid street photography is the perfect genre to create unique photos that grab people’s attention. You avoid the hassles of artificial lighting, fancy lenses, or self-conscious models.

Plus, you experience freedom of movement and diverse themes by observing the urban environment around you. Candid street photography is all about spontaneity. You must watch carefully as the world unfolds around you. And you also have to be ready with your camera at any moment.

Mastering the art of candid street photography takes skill, practice, and confidence. But it’s also one of the most rewarding types of photography.