How to Shoot from the Hip

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In street photography, one of the popular techniques that photographers employ is “shooting from the hip.” To sum it up, “shooting from the hip” it is holding your camera at wait-level, and shooting upwards without looking through the viewfinder. One of the reasons why this technique is widely popular is because it allows you to take much more candid images of people, as they do not see you shooting them with your eye through your viewfinder, and assume you aren’t taking images. Another thing is that when shooting from the hip, you often get a much more interesting perspective as you shoot from a much lower perspective.

Although there are some individuals who are opposed to shooting from the hip and consider it as the “easy way out,” simply disregard their words. As you will soon find out, framing while shooting from the hip is very difficult when starting off. For every 100 shots you take shooting from the hip, you will probably only get 5-10 or so “decently” framed images.

Although I do not use shooting from the hip as my primary type of street photography, I will try my best to walk you through how you can effectively shoot from the hip and get amazing candid images of people.

1. Use a wide-angle lens

Pushing Along Shooting From the Hip Street Photography

Notice how the wide-angle draws you into the scene

This is where most people mess up when trying to shoot from the hip. Assuming that you have a 1.6x crop DSLR, you are going to have a near-impossible time shooting from the hip with a 50mm. It is simply too close of a focal length to effectively capture images from the hip.

Rather, you should use something along the lines of a 17mm lens on a crop-sensor (24-28mm on a full-frame). First, this will allow you to get a much wider perspective, which gives you a much higher likelihood of capturing your subject in the scene. Not only that, but shooting with a wide-angle allows the viewer to feel as they are “part of the scene,” as wide-angle lenses give that effect.

2. Do not look at your camera while shooting

The man had no idea I took an image of him

When you are shooting from the hip, your primary goal is most-likely to capture candid images of people. Therefore if you walk around and shoot from the hip while looking directly at your camera, naturally people will be drawn much more to your camera.

So when you are walking past people and shooting from the hip, keep your eyes locked forward and also prevent making eye contact with your subjects. This way you will be nearly invisible to those around you.

3. Use a small aperture and fast shutter speed

Capture those beautiful moments of everyday life, candid. Note how the image is well in-focus

When shooting from the hip, you want to use a small aperture and fast shutter speed to make sure your subject is in-focus and not blurry as well. When shooting in bright daylight, I use manual settings and shoot an aperture of f/16 , a shutter speed of around 320ths of a second, and an ISO of 400. If your images are a bit too bright, shoot with a shutter speed of 500ths of a second. If your images are a bit dark, I would boost the ISO to 800 or 1600 (when it starts to get really dark).

I also try to avoid shooting from the hip when it is nighttime. The reason is that often when it is night, it is difficult to get a small enough aperture/fast enough shutter speed.

4. Prefocus your lens

I could have not gotten this image if I had not pre-focused it.

If you are shooting from the hip, the best way to make sure your images are in-focus is to “pre-focus” your lens before shooting. In order to do this, stand in front of a wall and judge how close you want to be to people once you shoot from the hip. Once you have measured that distance you are comfortable with, focus your lens manually on that wall and keep it there. Then once you are walking by people and shooting from the hip, your subjects should be in focus.

Also don’t hesitate to experiment with your focusing ring. If your images turn out out-of-focus, change your focus manually and keep adjusting until your images turn out clear.

5. Take a ton of photos

Keep shooting.

Shooting from the hip takes a ton of practice, so do not feel disheartened when the majority of your images are out of focus, blurry, of just framed incorrectly. I know it is cliché, but practice truly does make perfect. Take hundreds upon hundreds of photos when shooting from the hip, and experiment with different techniques. Try shooting from a lower angle like from your legs, or even higher at your chest. Shoot with your camera dangling by your side in a vertical format, and shoot from your hip when passing people who are sitting down. The possibilities are endless and after much practice, you will master shooting from the hip.

Also watch this quick video I put together about shooting from the hip (sorry for the crappy quality)

So I got a question for yall– what tips do you have to the aspiring street photographer on shooting from the hip?

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  • http://picsnapr.me/ Mithun

    Awesome. :)
    I do it all the time… Check out some of my street snaps from the hips :P

    I tend to use a fast prime lens (50mm f2.8) so that it focuses fast and is normal focus, so doesn’t look like a wide-angle photo as well… With a normal lens, though you need to be a bit further than the subject when clicking, compared to the wider lens, but from the photos you get, you can almost ‘smell’ the street as it looks like natural eye capture :)

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      The 50mm is an amazing lens :)

  • http://www.RichardHeathPhotography.com Richard (Rick) Heath

    Hi Erik. The sound from you video has a loud deep hum and therefore hard to hear all you say.
    Thanks for doing the video.

    Rick

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Hey Rick,

      Thanks for the heads up! I’ll use a better setup next time :)

  • http://shanghaistreetstories.com Sue Anne

    Eric, I just want to say, I’ve been reading your blog everyday since I came across it via Tiwtter and have thoroughly enjoyed your thoughtful writings on many issues relating to street photography. I enjoy that you speak in a manner that relates to those who indulge in it and those thinking of.

    Shooting from the hip is enormously fun and I’ve sometimes made missions for hours just doing that. I sometimes shoot on auto just to get a good bokeh, but am slowly adjusting to manual which has produced varying results. I use a 35mm prime f1.4 for sp, just because that seems like a good fit.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Hi Sue,

      Glad to have you on the site! I am glad that you really enjoy my writings. Do you have any photos of your work?

  • cindyyrellaa

    you are amazing! keep up the great work, you’re such an inspiration

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      I love you too :)

      • Van C.

        AAAAWwwwwwwww

  • http://www.tomkaszuba.com Tom K.

    Killer article. I love shooting from the hip. Your work here is magnificent. This blog is quickly becoming must-read material for photographers everywhere.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Thank you for the love and support Tom! It really makes my day hearing it from you :)

  • http://simonbuntingphotography.com Simon Bunting

    Interesting post! I have had a go before but they all looked rubbish! I don’t think I have the patience. I like the idea of pre-focusing against a wall I have never heard of that before. Thanks

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Just keep shooting and practicing :)

  • http://www.larissaphotography.com/blog TJ McDowell

    I have a feeling my aim would be off all the time. I’m guessing that people probably also use telephoto zooms so people don’t realize there’s a photographer shooting them.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Hey TJ,

      It definitely takes a TON of work to get it right, but it pays dividends :)

  • Frank Kehren

    wouldn’t it help with the focussing to turn on face recognition?

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      I’m not sure how point and shoots work with facial recognition–maybe someone else out there would know?

  • http://www.jaimiedeephotography.com Jaimie Dee – Atlanta Wedding Photographer

    Great video! Thanks for posting!! Hahaa. It was very entertaining to watch. I’ll have to try that sometime.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Hey Jaimie,

      Thanks for the comment! You definitely gotta try, and keep me posted!

  • http://supahcute.com supahcute

    Nice post. Uhm….I love your shirt in the video. Where’d you get it?

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      It was actually the club shirt for the Photography Club that I started at UCLA. Do you like it? ;)

      • supahcute

        yea, i love it!

  • http://pavandaxini17.blogspot.com Pavan Daxini

    Didn’t know about this one!
    Thanks for sharing all the insight…:-)

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Hope that you use it well! :)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/exi87/ Jaap Barnhoorn

    I still haven’t made one hip-shot worth sharing, but I’ll keep trying.
    Thanks for the tips man!

    (I’ve got to get me a hand strap. A neck strap just doesn’t work!)

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Hey Jaap,

      Glad to hear you got the hand strap! How has it been working for you? ;)

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/exi87/ Jaap Barnhoorn

        Hey Eric,
        I don’t have it yet, but it should be delivered today or tomorrow.

        Today I finally had some succes shooting from the hip. I just got home so I still have to view them in large on my computer and process them. I hope they’ll be flickr-worthy ;)

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/exi87/ Jaap Barnhoorn

        Hey Eric,
        I don’t have it yet, but it should be delivered today or tomorrow.

        Today I finally had some success shooting from the hip. I just got home so I still have to view them in large on my computer and process them. I hope they’ll be flickr-worthy ;)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyberemo Guillermo

    Really good article

    hanxs for the tips =D

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      No problem G! Glad to hear you liked them :)

  • http://whirljack.net/jeremybrooks Jeremy Brooks

    Thanks for the article — all good tips, and fantastic images!

    Practice is key. I once used a Lumix FX3 and was so familiar with it that I could easily shoot a scene from just about any angle. In fact, when the screen broke while on vacation, I just continued using it.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      You definitely sound like a hip-shooting master. What cam do you shoot with now?

  • http://www.mueses.com Eduardo Mueses

    Can’t wait to try it! Now, if only I had the wide-angle lens that I covet so much!!!

    Great tips. Awesome Article!

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Which wide-angle lens are you looking to get Eduardo?

  • http://www.billselak.com Bill

    Great tips. I will definitely try the pre-focus trick. Most of my from-the-hip shots don’t work out because the camera can’t pull focus in time. Pre-focusing should fix that.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Pre-focusing is def the way to go :)

  • http://www.blork.org Blork

    I spent about a year doing a “from the hip” project in Montreal, during which I figured out all these tips on my own. You really got it right in this post.

    In my project I had a double challenge; first was simply shooting from the hip, and second was to get good street shots that did not show identifiable faces. (Street photos without faces? WTF?) Reasons for that second challenge are complicated.

    Anyway, I think I managed to get some interesting stuff. It doesn’t appeal to everyone due to the lack of faces and the tilted and somewhat jarring perspectives, but that’s what I was going for. I used a tiny Lumix LX3, which helped me be very discreet.

    I compiled the best images into a small album, here: http://www.blork.org/albums/hip/

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Hey Blork,

      I think your project on street photography without photos is quite interesting. Sometimes it tells a very different story which is fascinating as well. Thanks for sharing the images too!

    • Alan

      sounds like an interesting project. I’m just wondering why they were all ‘from the hip’. Surely if the subjects have their backs to the camera it makes much more sense to frame the image with the viewfinder? ‘From the hip’ is chiefly used for candid shots – but several of yours could still have been candid if taken conventionally, with a far higher success rate. Perhaps it was purely to satisfy the requirements of the project? I like the high contrast b/w which seems to be de rigueur for street photography..

  • http://www.tanya-n.com Tanya N

    Excellent website and a great insight into hip-shooting; something that is definitely a challenge but which brings fab images once mastered.

    Keep up the good stuff.

  • http://www.andrewgouldphotography.com/ Andrew Gould

    Hi there, Eric. I’ve just tweeted this post of yours, and I say there how nice it was to see you “live”! As said above, though, it would be great if you could get clearer sound next time.

    In street work, my way is to seek out locations where there’s a lot going on around me, such as fairly crowded streets and markets, for example. In these situations, I can just raise the camera quickly to my eye. But as you say, shooting from the hip is a very useful technique when you have no “cover” whatsoever. For street shooting, I use my Canon 500D with it’s supersharp 18-55 mm stabilizer kit lens, almost always at widest zoom setting, equalling about 29 mm in 35 mm format.

    While I do agree with you that prefocusing the lens and using a small aperture can be an excellent practice, I find I can almost always get away with having the camera set to all points autofocus. In good to reasonable light I use f5.6, as this is its sharpest aperture, according to tests I read before buying this camera/lens combination. I also use auto ISO, which ranges from 200 (with highlight tone priority set) to 1600. In lower light, I may use up to 3200 ISO (Lightroom 3 noise reduction takes care of this) and max aperture of f.3.5.

    Someone asked about using face recognition for focusing. I found this to work really well when I was using a Canon G10 compact, but gave up on that for street shots, as shutter lag was too frustrating. Also, the problem with ISO settings above 200 being too noisy was a huge problem. That was before I was using Lightroom, though, and writing this has given me the idea of getting the old G10 out, and seeing what Lightroom 3 with it’s incredibly good noise reduction feature can do with it at 800 ISO or higher. I’ll let you know about this later on, then.

    Anyway, to sum up, I think all of you who read this post of Eric’s should certainly be trying the shoot from the hip technique, if you’re not already familiar with it. Cheers to you, Eric, for giving us a whole lot of inspiration and help here!

  • jabber

    Good stuff, Eric. Do you ever set the camera for continuous shooting (from the hip)?

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Good question Josh,

      Actually I do. When shooting from the hip, I try to snap 2-3 shots in quick succession. However I try hard to resist “spraying and praying.”

  • http://divyasom.wordpress.com Divyasom

    Hi Eric,

    Very nice video and info on this article. I just want to share two things with related to hip shooting. If someone decides on using auto-focusing instead of manual just because they are getting a lot of blurred photographs. (‘Auto’ can actually work good on apertures between f/16 and f/22 coz these apertures provide good DOF)

    So if someone is shooting auto make sure that you do the following:

    1. Turn off the auto focus ‘Beep’
    2. Turn off the auto focus assist lamp.

    Eric where can I get a good hand strap?

    Thanks once again. I just want you to know that you are doing a superb job and giving a lot to the photog community!

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Thanks for all of the awesome tips Divya! Well noted :)

  • Rick Lumpas

    Thanks for the article. But I only have a 50mm prime which is not a wide angle. But I will give it a try shooting from the hip.

    • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

      Hey Rick,

      Shooting from the hip with a 50mm is definitely “doable” but difficult. If you have a wider lens, I’d try it out!

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  • http://blog.amckinnell.com Anne McKinnell

    Hi Eric,

    First time on your blog today and wanted to say thanks for the great tips. I haven’t done street photography for a very long time, but I am definitely going to try out shooting from the hip!

    Anne.

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  • Randall

    When using a dSLR, what do you do about the mechanical shutter noise? Does anyone ever notice it, especially when you get close for a nice wide-angle shot?

    I have a Canon T1i, and I can’t imagine being able to sneak off a shot with how loud it is….

  • http://www.suetofu.com Sue

    Awesome, this guide is exactly what I needed. Thanks for redirecting me here, Eric! :D

  • http://www.erickimphotography.com Eric Kim

    Thank you for the love! Visit often Andy :)

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  • Hans Orht

    Great website really informative, and inspiring , just thought I would share a technique that I use to shoot discreetly from the hip ,pretend you are chatting on your mobile and blat away with the shutter, not a sole realises wahats going on and you get some great shots , sit, stand ,walk whatever no one pays you the slightest attention. Thanks again for the great site

  • KoonYik

    Crazy or not, I just came across your article whilst googling….

    I have been commented that hip shooting is cowardly and eye level shooting is the proper way like the old masters.

    Well, hip shooting do allow me to be more daring in my shooting especially at close quarters but my hit rate is quite low at the moment though the occasional keepers are spirit lifting.

    I am happy to hear that hip shooting is an acceptable form. I do use all of your points in the article and am new at this since switching from P&S to an E-P2 last year and I rely on my 17mm f2.8 and was advised to hyperfocus 10ft at f8.0. ISO is auto-set between 200 and 800 and metered center weighted.

  • http://thegrabble.com King Pui Leong

    This is exciting! I’m going to try this. I shoot with a t1i (not full frame, but it’ll have to do). Another question, do you do critiques of submitted photos? I think that will help me improve.

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  • http://thegrabble.com King

    Hopefully I sent some readers your way. I posted some photos from my first street photography outing at this link below.

  • Xenostifa

    Excellent!
    I will send readers to your website

  • Xenostifa

    Excellent!
    I’m glad I found your website

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  • http://www.arovingvision.com Kit Taylor

    Good points.

    One I would add — because it is a bit counterintuitive — is that camera weight helps when shooting from the hip — a little more inertia, but lens weight makes balance more difficult. My preferred shoot from the hip configuration is my D300 with the added grip/battery and Nikon’s lovely little 7 ounce 35mm f/1.8. I wrap the strap around my hand a couple of times. With the added grip I get a great handhold fro shooting horizontals with the camera upside down — although I still find horizontals more difficult to get reasonably straight than verticals.

    Kit Taylor
    http://www.arovingvision.com
    kst@arovingvision.com

  • Rachael

    Thanks for this fantastic guide, Eric, and the helpful video!

  • Alper Cino

    I read somewhere else round these parts that 99% of street photography is crap. Part of the reason is hip shooting.

    You can’t frame “properly” what you can’t see. The waitress snapshot and the old ladies are good examples. These are not good photographs. They are snapshots. If you get lucky you can crop and save a composition. Most of the time you can’t.

    I’m afraid what you are saying is what people want to hear – that you can do good work without effort or courage.

    None of the best shooters would ever contemplate shooting blind.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/minneapolispics/ Tom

      “Those that say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it” Chinese Proverb

  • Gene

    The lengths we have to go to because people are weird about having a stranger take their picture! Someone should just announce to everyone once and for all that they don’t own the light that reflects off of them.

    • Kevin

      Totally!!!

  • http://www.joehigham.com Joesh

    Hi Erick (and all the other photographers here),

    I’m not a ‘real’ photographer so my question may seem a little naive. I imagine that many people rely on auto-focus, but what about the light problems etc (and colour balance – I suppose). Could you possibly add in a few comments about ISO settings and speeds etc when your ‘SFtH’?

    Thanks – Joe

    p.s. Enjoying reading the posts and will certainly be checking back in from time to time.

  • http://www.nevervoid.com Antony Pratap

    These are some amazing points to get started. I usually don’t like when people look into the camera cos the emotion/expression changes. So I’m going to try the hip shot, but not sure how many I would get right, but a brilliant idea though.

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  • Ecce

    Thanks for all your posts on street photography. I’ve worked as a model but never as a photographer and it’s exciting (but challenging) to be on the other side of the camera. I’m getting myself a Ricoh GRIII for a trip to Mexico; I’m planning on documenting Day of the Dead in Oaxaca.

    I’ve had limited success before with street photography because I have a clunky old DSLR with a slow shutter speed. Since I’m a tall blonde American chick with boobs I’m almost always noticed in a foreign city. Unlike most people, I am confronted when taking photos. I’ve had a group of young men in Paris demand if I was a CIA agent and screamed at me asking “what I knew about their operation.” Scary. Although, I was accepted into a smokey male dominated bar with ancient men. They gladly allowed me to document them eating, drinking and telling war stories (and gave me free foie gras!)–so it can go both ways. Hopefully the Ricoh GRIII will keep me truly undercover.

  • Shaynealexander

    Great Article and Video…..

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  • http://www.welive2care.com/ Call Center Philippines

    I would definitely try this. This is quite interesting and fun. It is indeed a creative way of taking of photos. Aside from that, strangers won’t notice that I’m taking photos of them, so I don’t have to worry.

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  • SteveR

    One of the problems with holding your camera at hip level is getting it square and level so I use one of those tiny $2 hot shoe spirit levels to get it about right – you can experiment with your gear to see the best spot for the bubble – and then try to keep the camera in the same spot. Still stacks of wasted shots (digital only I think!) but I do get twice as many in the zone than I did!

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  • Sean

    Many thanks Eric. I won a local competition after reading this post! http://www.flickr.com/photos/68621902@N04/9601882230/

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  • http://www.LeslieDeanBrown.com/ Leslie Dean Brown

    Yeah I often hold the camera at my chest. This tends to work well in a city with lots of people around as it looks like you are just holding your camera in close.

    Another technique for getting vertical [portait] shots is first to zone focus, then let both arms swing naturally while you walk (as they would normally) but then to time it *just* right so that you press the button as your hand is at the lowest bit of the arc (or where you want it to be)… you do this as you are walking right past someone. You need a higher shutter speed to do this, like maybe 1/250sec or more, a small aperture and a fairly high ISO too. So you need a lot of light to pull this trick off.

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