Formal vs Pose vs Cheese vs Candid

When photographing people, there are about four different kinds of images an average photographer is likely to attempt. The easiest is the “cheese” picture, since it only requires a cue word such as “cheese” or “smile” or “party pic!”, which is met with obedient posing from the subject. Since most people are trained practically from birth to suspend all activity and grin like apes at a camera when given these cue words, the result is not only easy and predictable, it’s boring and unoriginal. As a rule, you will find very few images like this in my portfolio, although in the newspaper business, I sometimes have no choice but to make images like this due to expectations from readers.

I made this image two Monday nights ago at the Pontotoc Technology Center; it falls mostly into the "pose" category of people pictures, with elements of "cheese" and "candid" thrown in.
I made this image two Monday nights ago at the Pontotoc Technology Center; it falls mostly into the "pose" category of people pictures, with elements of "cheese" and "candid" thrown in.

Another class of people pictures that fill out a very small percentage of my portfolio is the “formal” portrait. This is because I find carefully lit, classically posed studio images of people nearly as boring as party pics. To me, it’s like a photocopy or a legal document. It describes to the viewer how the subject looked at a certain point in history, but fails to express to us anything about their character or life.

There are many more “pose” type photos in my portfolio because I find this type of image shares more about the subject with the reader than the previous two. In the news business, we sometimes call this type of picture an “environmental portrait” because we take pains to place the subject into some kind of relevant setting. We might pose a man who repairs bicycles in the middle of his shop with dozens of bikes, or we might photograph a welder with his torch and mask. It gives the viewer a sense of context with which to begin to understand who the person being photographed might be. 95% of my favorite images of my wife and me fall into this category.

Lastly is the people picture most commonly seen in my portfolio, the “candid.” This kind of picture is capable of conveying an enormous amount of useful information to the viewer, from the setting and character of those being photographed to the emotions at play in the moment. These are achieved by the photographer when he/she remains as invisible as possible, so that the action of the moment goes on before his camera as naturally as possible. This is, of course, the most difficult type of image to make of people because these moments are complex and fleeting, and the presence of the photographer and his/her camera has the potential to interfere with the moment. Still, this type of image can be seen as something of a goal to which to aspire, since in the longest term, very few people will be moved by the formal portrait or the deer-in-the-headlights cheese photo (except possibly those few very close to the subject), but dozens, or hundreds, or occasionally thousands or millions of people could be moved by a candid photo.

Although they were aware they were being photographed, this group of photographers at the vo-tech two weeks ago were relaxed and having fun taking pictures, and were thus ripe for this candid moment.
Although they were aware they were being photographed, this group of photographers at the vo-tech two weeks ago were relaxed and having fun taking pictures, and were thus ripe for this candid moment.
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2 Comments

  1. You’ve done a very nice breakdown of these four types, and my feelings are very similar to yours on the subject.

    My editor at the newspaper gave me some decent advice once, after I’d expressed my dislike for the posed / cheese type photo and complained that it’s all the subjects wanted.

    She said: “Go ahead and take that picture. It’s what they want. Then look for the candid shot.”

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  2. Absolutely, LOVED your photography classes, both beginner’s and the advanced. I learned more than I ever dreamed possible in the 18 hrs offered. I will most certainly recommend your class to others who may be interested in photography or just wanting to learn more about their camera. Your a great teacher and an excellent photographer!!! ~Thanks, Laurie

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