Should You Go Candid or Posed?

I'm currently in India participating in a FAM, or familiarization, trip sponsored by the Indian government and Globus Travel, the company I use to coordinate many of the trips that I lead.  We've had the incredible opportunity of visiting the Golden Triangle, a popular tourist route that takes in Delhi, Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur.  I hope to be posting quite a few more articles over the next few months with some really incredible photo opportunities I was able to take advantage of, especially here in Old Delhi.  If you've never been to India, I highly recommend it, although it's not for the faint of heart!

Should You Go Candid or Posed?

When shooting in the field, I’m always on the look out to photograph interesting locals dressed in distinctive and traditional clothing.  Here in India, at the Amber Palace just outside of Jaipur, it was no different.

Rajasthan, an area of India renown for its wide range of colors, even has nicknames for a number of cities.  For instance, there's the Red City (Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan) and the Blue City (Jodhpur).  This region is also known for having beautiful women dressed in vibrant and bangled “sharees.” 

Having taken an elephant ride up the long hill that leads to the Amber Palace, in the city of Amber (this is not a reference to color), there were a number of women sweeping the vast palace grounds in the early morning when we arrived.  This particular woman was diligently doing her job up against the wonderful backdrop of the public audience space known as Diwan-I-Aam, so I immediately took notice and went to work trying to capture the scene.

Girl in Blue at Amber Palace © 2011 Ralph Velasco
Girl in Blue at Amber Palace © 2011 Ralph Velasco

At first, the idea was to photograph her as an otherwise faceless and anonymous figure, hidden behind the veil of her sharee.  As you can imagine, she was constantly moving as she brushed the ground around her with a “zarhu” (a type of broom that's hand constructed of thin strips of bamboo), so catching her in an interesting position was going to be a bit of a challenge and required a number of shots.  Eventually I caught her peeking out of one side of her veil, and this made for a rather unique expression, which of course I welcomed.

Girl in Blue Peeking Out Behind Veil © 2011 Ralph Velasco
Girl in Blue Peeking Out Behind Veil © 2011 Ralph Velasco

Even though I always turn off all the sounds on my camera in order to be as discreet as possible, she eventually caught on to the fact that I was interested in her as a subject, and so just for a moment - as if her boss might have been looking on - she stood up, pulled the veil away from her face and gave me a brief smile, kindly letting me make a few more images before she continued with her tasks.

Girl in Blue Posing at Amber Palace © 2011 Ralph Velasco
Girl in Blue Posing at Amber Palace © 2011 Ralph Velasco

The point of all of this is to be sure you take advantage of the candid moments that present themselves first, then go for the more posed shots.  It’s difficult to go the other way, from having a subject pose for you to then getting the candid shots.  A good way to do this is to be sure you make use of a telephoto lens to get in on the subject without being noticed, which would in all likelihood completely change the photo opportunity.  You can certainly use the zoom capability of your point-and-shoot camera, as well, but I always suggest staying within the optical, not digital, range of the camera’s zoom capability.

What's your preference, a candid shot of a person involved in EDL (Everyday Life), or a more posed and planned portrait?

About the Author

Ralph Velasco is an award-winning travel photography instructor and international tour guide who has photographed in more than forty countries on six continents. He has just released his first app for iPhone and iPod touch. Called My Shot Lists for Travel, it is designed to help photographers of all skill levels to organize and track their photography. He is also the author of “Ralph Velasco On Travel Photography: 101 Tips for Developing Your Photographic Eye & More."

Ralph has led cultural photo tours to Egypt, Eastern Europe, and throughout the United States, and has participated in two humanitarian trips to Cuba. For the past two years Ralph was awarded “Open Photographer of the Year” by the Professional Photographers of Orange County, and he belongs to the Circumnavigators Club, an exclusive group of travelers whose charter requires that its members have traveled around the world, in a single journey, having crossed every one of earth’s meridians. You can follow his blog at

by Ralph Velasco

Location-independent travel photography instructor, small group tour organizer and international guide. Public speaker, author, app creator and award-winning travel blogger.

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To me, candid shots are more preferred although they are so difficult to get!! Great to know you are getting an opportunity to see the Golden Triangle of India, but please do not miss Golden Temple in Amritsar, not too far away from Delhi. That would give you amazing opportunities to photo-shoot. All the best !

Hi Ralph, great article and I am envious of your lifestyle and all the opportunities that you are making for yourself. It is terrific for us on TPN to have access to the insights and talents of someone in the travel photography field who has achieved what you have.

I'm with Namrata in preferring the EDL candids, but that is probably a matter of the personality of the photographer. I think the two types of portrait you describe are equally challenging in different ways. Posing exactly what you want is never a sure thing, but with candids it's always a crapshoot and there is also the small matter of whether the subject is willing (or even cognizant of you).

I look forward to more of your notes from the field, and especially your photography. I have never been to the parts of India where you are now and of course I would love to see more.

Meanwhile, congrats on the terrific work you have shared here!

Hi Ralph,

To me the answer to the question 'posed or candid' is a rather obvious one: whichever gets me the best result (and could be either option, depending on the subject and circumstances.) With a posed portrait the photographer can exert much more control and has the time to think about the choices that are presented by the subject and circumstances (pose, DOF, background, close-up or full length, etc.) Consequently the end result has a better chance of being successful from a technical point of view. The candid, on the other hand, offers other advantages. The spontanaity that can be found in candid portraits is often very appealing. It can reveal emotions that normally stay hidden (the flip side of this is that it can be too intrusive and violate the privacy of the subject, but that's a whole other discussion!)

The two kinds of portraits are so different that it they appeal for different reasons and it is difficult to compare them. Anyway, I don't think of photography as a competetive sport. Fortunately, everyone has their own emotional response to a portrait and these responses are all equally valuable.