After chatting to a few photographers about guest shots, I decided to write a little insight into how I handle getting those natural photos. I know that some people can find it tough so I hope it's helpful for anyone who's looking to take better candids at a wedding.
First off, I think it's important to point out that candids are a big part of what I do. Probably the biggest. I literally cannot get enough of them. It might be bordering on a compulsion… so all of this needs to be taken with a pinch of salt because for a lot of photographers it isn't a big part of what they're selling so devoting a lot of time and energy to it just isn't as essential as it is to my business.
1) Candids don't have to be perfect.
One of the big challenges with getting candids can be that you have very little control over what you're shooting. The guests might be stood in blinding sunlight or dappled shade or a room that makes bouncing flash a right 'mare or puts your colour balance out of whack. If I'm faced with that I try not to stress too much: I know my couple will appreciate photos of their guests even if the shots aren't technically perfect. They won't see those flaws or they just won't care. Make the best of challenging conditions and don't stress so much that you stop shooting altogether.
This doesn't mean orchestrating fake candids (because… just… no) but you know that horrible thing when you're shooting people chatting and they look up at the worst moment (bonus points for social awkwardness if they suddenly pop a canapé in their mouth at that very moment) and then they clam up…. don't be afraid to lighten the mood, you want them to be relaxed so you've got a better chance of catching them later rather than them being wary of you and watching out for you. I have been known to joke that I must have left my invisibility cloak in the loo, or just simply smile, chat a little bit about the day, let them know how much you're enjoying it and you're just getting natural photos. Cameras are awkward things, they can make people very nervous, especially guests who don't know you or how you work. Try as you might you'll never be invisible but being friendly and making time to engage with guests can help make them feel at ease and counterbalance awkwardness they might feel if they become aware of your presence.
Shooting candids means standing about a mile away with the world's longest, heaviest lens, right? Hell no. I love shooting certain candids on my 35mm, and getting right into the action. The ideal time for this is when the couple leaves the ceremony and their guests start pouring out and flooding them with bear hugs and grins. I tend to shoot from behind the couple to get those reactions, the guests are focussing on the couple and I'm focussing on the guests. It's the perfect time to get happy shots and just let it happen around you. Another time that getting right in there is ideal is when you're one the dance floor and my top tip for getting natural dancing shots is to do some dancing yourself. Get into it, enjoy it, mime along to the lyrics and generally just have a blast - I hardly look through the viewfinder when I'm shooting the dancefloor, and often shoot from above my head.
As good as it is getting in amongst it, it helps to know when to stand back and get out your spy-lens of choice. For me it's usually 85mm, 100mm or 135mm and I tend to get these out when guests are seated. You can generally get a good view of most seated guests if you stand to the sides so just before or after the meal or, if you're a candid-addict like me, between courses is the perfect time for this. Be patient and wait for the smiles, keep your ears open for people telling jokes or really engaging in conversation. It's the most satisfying thing when you get a great reaction shot or a grin. I tend to include candids so long as the expression is positive or warmly neutral and I try and work my way around tables methodically trying to capture as many guests as possible. Everyone was invited to the wedding for a reason and everyone is important so I try and challenge myself to get everybody, but it isn't always possible.
This ties in with point one about candids not always being perfect. Give yourself the best chance at getting good photos. Speed is vital when you're getting natural shots and when you're in ultra mega ninja mode you might have to change what you're shooting in a split second. If the lighting is constantly fluctuating, careful use of aperture priority can mean that you can just focus on what is happening in front of you rather than what it happening in your hands. For me, it's better to get a rad shot of someone having a proper tight hug with someone they haven't seen in years than waste any time having to reevaluate the light.
6) Take a break
"I love having my photo taken when I'm eating" said nobody ever. I wouldn't write off taking photos during meal times completely (like I said before, between courses can be an awesome time for candids) but this is ideal break time, for you and for guests. People hate photos of people eating and people hate being photographed eating and you need to eat. Nobody loses. I know it can feel like if you take a break you're missing things, but you need to pick your moments.
7. If you think nothing is happening, you're wrong.
There might be a bit of down time but there is always something happening. Their wedding is happening. It happens… you've been busy shooting other stuff, the ceremony was late, the group shots were challenging and then you finally find yourself with time for action shots and there's no action happening, maybe people are waiting for the evening to get started… don't admit defeat. Take a break, have a drink and just people watch. Opportunities for photos will pop up. Don't write off in-between time.
Candids are awesome. They're the unsung heroes, nestled in amongst the big moments, the detail, the group shots. When I get feedback, people often mention how happy they were looking through and seeing natural moments. They might seem a bit incidental at the time but in an era of selfies, how often are the people you love captured as they are? For me, candids are the wedding. It's those people, that atmosphere, that joke, that moment. A fellow photographer who second shoots with me sometimes pointed out that when I take photos at a wedding I am constantly grinning and that's because I absolutely love what we can do with photographs.