Forgive me...I am not one for baseball analogies, but the title of this article is just so accurate. Where candid portraiture is concerned, timing really is "everything" and you do have to keep your proverbial eye on that proverbial ball.
What do we mean? Just consider that a good candid portrait is one in which the subject has no idea that you are taking the shot, is in a good position for the photograph, and is photographed with the camera using the best (or almost the best) settings. This is exactly like learning how to line up a hit over the plate, and it usually takes just as much practice to get it right. You swing and you miss, you swing and you miss...and then wham! A home run! See, you knew we would come back around to baseball!
Fortunately, the technologies available with modern digital photography allow even a beginner to enjoy a lot of advantages where candid portraits are concerned.
So, what does a camera need to help you make good candid shots? Obviously, the first thing that has to happen is that you have to be a bit out of your subject's line of site. How is that possible if you are trying to take their picture? A zoom lens, of course, and today's camera's have good ones built right into their little digital bodies. The thing to know is that there is a huge difference between an optical zoom and a digital zoom.
What is the difference? The quality of the shot is the key difference. When you zoom in with the optical lens it is actually using the glass lenses to shorten the distance between the subject and the camera's sensor (the part that replaces old-fashioned film). When you use the digital zoom, it uses a sample of the digital image to make an enlargement of the scene in front of the lens. This is why digitally zoomed photos can be so blurry. So beware of the digital zoom on your point and shoot camera.
The good news is that most digital photography is done with cameras that have both an optical zoom and a digital one. Once the optical is maxed out, the digital kicks in to do the job. You, as the homerun hitting photographer, can take a position at a distance that allows you to rely mostly on that optical zoom.
The "burst mode" is also the candid photographer's best friend. It is a setting on the camera that triggers the shutter to open and close repeatedly until the finger is lifted from the shutter button. This means you can fire up to ten or more images of your subject at any given time, and this is a tremendous advantage. You are not waiting to take one swing at that ball, but can now take dozens at one time. The only glitch with the use of that burst is that it can take a few seconds for the camera to put the images into the memory and to refresh for a new series of shots. This all depends on the quality of the memory card you are using.
Turn off the Red-Eye Reduction flash. I am sure you have been in the position of capturing that fleeting moment and you are holding down the button to take the photo and 10 seconds later and after 10 mini flashes the camera finally takes the picture and the moment has long since passed. Or your subjects were made acutely aware that you were taking a photo of them. By turning off your red-eye reduction on your camera you will be able to be a little quicker on the draw. Some point and shoot cameras still have a long lag between pushing the button and the flash firing. This can be frustrating. Our advice is the next time you are camera shopping is to test the flash out and see if it fires as soon as you click.
Finally, digital photography often means that you can trigger a camera to fire without anyone even knowing that you did it. For example, your camera may have the option of shooting three exposures in a row, and at the end of a countdown. This is the "self timer" mode, and you can simply put the camera in the ideal place to capture your subject, focus in and get the angle you want, and then hit the self timer to take three images in ten seconds or more from when you hit the button.
This means you can line up the shot, trigger the shutter and walk away from the camera. This makes the subject totally unaware of the shots being made, and that is the essence of candid work.
Hey...do you hear that? The crack of the bat...and "its high, it's far...that ball is outta here!"
Below are some examples of some candid portraits that Eric Von Lehmden has taken of his family.