Portrait vs snapshot vs candid

The differences between a portrait, a candid, and a snapshot can be confusing to many.  Before I wrote this article I researched to see what others had written about the topic beforehand.  I was somewhat disappointed.  In reading articles written by others, they often missed some keys elements to the differences.


Portraits are planned.  The lighting is planned and managed, the setting is planned and managed.  The pose is planned and managed.  The photograph above was staged with the props of the family.  Dad’s shirt, mom’s throw blanket.  The clothing was selected specifically.  The lighting was done with a specific purpose.  The baby was placed strategically, exposure and aperture were set with intent.


A candid or candid portrait is one where the subject is often unaware of being photographed, but it can also be one where the subject knows they are being photographed but continues with doing their “thing” or action.  As with portraits the photograph is done with intent, thought and to tell a story.

The photograph below is a candid.  I watched the baby, I saw the light I liked, I waited for the moment I wanted and took the photograph.



Snapshots are photographs that are merely I see something and I point my camera at it and without thought or intent, I take a picture.  I could even be, “hey go over there and I’ll take a photograph”.  We controlled the pose and the setting but without regard for the lighting or really work to set up the shot.

The photograph below is a snapshot.  It was, “go stand by Papa”.  While it is “posed” little regard was for the settings, the background the lighting.


More conversation

Each of these types of photographs has their uses and purpose.  Often the spur of the moment snapshot is our best memories of friends, family and life events.  They are unplanned and often just when we are “hanging out” having fun.  Most of these types of photographs won’t get printed in a 16 x 20 to hang on the wall but quite often have a place in our memories scrapbook or family collage frame.  Candid photographs can frequently be printed large.  While we may not have planned the shot we saw a story and executed the photograph with intent.   The line between candid and snapshot can be more easily blurred than the line between portrait and snapshot or portrait and candid.

We can probably all agree that a portrait was done with planning, management of light, management of pose, management of background.  So how do we tell the difference between a candid and a snapshot?  This is a good question, in my mind.  One of the biggest differences is often that candid is done with the intent to tell a story or relate an emotion.  A candid is often where our subject either is not aware of us taking a photograph or is unconcerned with us.  While I may not set up the lighting I still manage the light.  I use the lighting to my advantage to help tell the story.  I have planned my depth of field to include those elements that are important to my subject.  Many of these decisions are quickly set up they are none the less done with intent.  On the other hand, typically little planning go into the snapshot.  Point and shoot.

So how do you go from snapshot to candid portrait?  Learn to manage light, exposure, depth of field.  In other words, learn your camera how to use it, composition, and how to best utilize available light.  Great photographs are more involved than, “hey go stand/sit over there”.  Planning doesn’t have to be a long and drawn out process.


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