Posing vs. Candid: What's True Street & Travel Photography?

By Geoff Harris

Are Posed Images True Street Photography Or Are Candid Images The Only Ones That Count?

Street Photography: How to Photograph people at Home or Abroad

I recently got involved in an interesting debate on the Facebook page of the APF Magazine Street Photography Group about 'staged versus candid' when it comes to portraits in street and travel photography.

One of the senior members of the group seemed to criticise an image of an Indian saddhu for being staged, and came up with this equation. "Guys – it's really not so difficult is it? Posed/staged = not candid.

Walking up to someone without any communication = not staged.” The inference being that any shot that appears posed or staged didn't really belong in this street photography group. I can see where he is coming from but I think it's a fine line, and the equation seems a bit reductive.

Some of Don McCullin's finest street portraits involved some posing – one thinks of the street performer with the mouse in his mouth, who only did it because a photographer was there. Also, as soon as somebody sees you aiming a camera at them, there is some communication established, however tentative.

Regardless of how fast you work, once people are aware of you taking their photograph, they inevitably become self conscious. This is a big question that won't get settled in a short blog, but here are some suggestions to help you take better street and travel photos.

1) Candid v Eye Contact

Street Photography: How to Photograph people at Home or Abroad
While candid images can be very powerful – just look at some of the best documentary and reportage work from war zones – there is no doubt that strong eye contact can also really make an image.

Few would argue that Steve McCurry is the greatest travel photographer of the last 40 years and much of his greatest work involves direct eye contact. Imagine if the Afghan Girl was looking away!

Street Photography: How to Photograph people at Home or Abroad

The other advantage of eye contact is there is some evidence of engagement and communication between you and the person. There is no easy choice here, as it's about the subject and your intention.

I'd suggest you strive to tell stories in your street and travel work, in which case, a mixture of both approaches make sense.

2) Preventing posing

Street Photography: How to Photograph people at Home or Abroad
If you decide on eye contact, how do you prevent your subject from posing and grinning? If you get the shot very quickly, they probably don't have much time to react. If you ask to take their photograph it's a different story.

Returning to Steve McCurry, he told me that it was about being prepared to spend time with the subject, but also asking them not to grin or pose (though an interpreter or fixer if necessary).

If you hang around, chances are they will shrug and get on with their day, which is often when you get the better shots.

Also, if you look serious and professional, rather than grinning and gesticulating like a tourist snapper, your subject will often mirror this. Somehow, portraits look more 'professional' when your subject isn't smiling.

3) Avoiding being noticed

Street Photography: How to Photograph people at Home or Abroad
For a strictly candid approach, I'd argue that it's important your subject doesn't notice you for the image to be truly candid. In which case there are a range of strategies.

Wearing anonymous looking clothes that don't stand out certainly helps, as does using a smaller camera with a swivel screen so you can frame and shoot your subject without them noticing.

Ironically it's often easier to get truly candid images in the middle of a big city or tourist spot, as there are lots of other people there with cameras, so you won't stand out so much...

Further Study


Travel Photography Course
A 4 week online photography course with international travel and Stock photographer Nigel Hicks

City Break & Travel Photography Course

A 4 week online photography course with international travel photographer and magazine editor Keith Wilson

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

Stay updated

Receive free updates by email including special offers and new courses.

You can unsubscribe at any time


Related posts

Our best selling courses

Awards & Accreditations

  • Good Web Guide
  • Red Herring Winner
  • Royal Horticultural Society
  • Education Investor Awards 2021 - Finalist
  • CPD Accredited (provider 50276)