The Three Best Focal Lengths For Shooting Candid Photos

Pro Tip: Manual focus lenses make you require the way that your brain tells you to shoot. Instead of just putting a viewfinder to your eye, focusing, and shooting, sometimes you pre-focus, put the viewfinder to your eye and either shoot immediately or touch up just a bit. You can do this using the depth of field scale.

Pro Tip: Manual focus lenses make you require the way that your brain tells you to shoot. Instead of just putting a viewfinder to your eye, focusing, and shooting, sometimes you pre-focus, put the viewfinder to your eye and either shoot immediately or touch up just a bit. You can do this using the depth of field scale.

Modern autofocus is quite good–don’t get us wrong. But when push comes to shove and you need to capture a moment in a split-second, some focal lengths are easier to work with than others. Part of this has to do with depth of field at a specific distance and the other has to do with the specific focal length. For what it’s worth, a telephoto lens and a wide angle lens focused out to 7 feet away and shooting from the same distance will have a varying amount of the scene in focus. The telephoto will have less in focus while more of the scene will be in focus with the wider angle lens.

But at the same time, you may not want to be so close to the scene that you’re within arm’s length of the person or scene being photographed. So to do that, we’re recommending three focal lengths that are best for candid photos.

28mm

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 28mm f2.8 IS review images (2 of 12)ISO 4001-80 sec at f - 4.0

The 28mm focal length is generally the widest that we’d go when it comes to capturing candid images. 28mm allows you to get close to a scene or subject–or at least as close and you’d want to be until you master wider focal lengths and the art of getting up close and personal. In certain lights, it can be seen as being too wide of a lens but it works out in most situations such as tight areas, close encounters when out with friends, and overall wide scenes.

35mm

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon D810 high ISO samples Speakeasy Dollhouse NYC (8 of 9)ISO 128001-60 sec at f - 1.8

The 35mm focal length is arguably the way that most people see the world. Because of this, all you need to do is be very conscious of everything in your field of view, walk up to it and shoot. This lens is also a bit longer than 28mm so you won’t need to be up super close to your subject.

The 35mm focal length absolutely shines at weddings and parties. Modern 35mm lenses have enough distortion control to not make parts of people look overly large as long as you’re not shooting within arm’s length of the person. It will make bridesmaids look great while capturing a close intimacy in the scene that the happy couple will love.

This focal length is also great on the street when used with the zone focusing method because of the fact that you basically just shoot what you see. Simply just walk up to a scene and capture it paying attention to how far away the subject and scene is from you.

50mm

julius motal the phoblographer vsco film 07 Kodak Portra 100T Warm-1

The 50mm lens is great for those of us that see the world in the 50mm field of view. It’s the longest lens on this list and we’d generally recommend not getting any longer. Once you do that, you start increasing your chances of being out of focus due to the way that depth of field works. That is–focus out to seven feet away and you’ll need to stop down to anywhere past f11 to ensure that you get your subject in focus while they’re moving about.

Remember, this is candid shooting, not portrait shooting.

The 50mm field of view has the advantage of being not incredibly close to your subject so as not to possibly alert them if you’re still starting out in taking candids and learning to become a fly on the wall. You’ll learn to love the 50mm lens if you like keeping a bit more distance between you and your subject. In tighter spaces and areas, you’ll find that you’ll need to move back away from your subject to get them in the scene when shooting indoors at wedding halls, party venues, etc.