Learn From the Masters: Lesson #3 Don’t Shoot From the Hip

Copyright: Estate of Garry Winogrand
Copyright: Estate of Garry Winogrand

“I never shoot without using the viewfinder.” – Garry Winogrand

Another common mistake that aspiring street photographers make is that they try to overcome their fear of shooting street photography by shooting from the hip (photographing with your camera at waist-level and not looking through the viewfinder).

Personally when I started shooting street photography, I was dependent on “shooting from the hip.” I was too scared to bring my camera’s viewfinder up to my eye, because I was afraid of getting “caught” of taking candid photos of strangers.

Garry Winogrand was one of the most prolific street photographers in history. He shot with a Leica M4, 28mm lens, and was known for creating layered, edgy, and head-on shots.

If you go on YouTube, you can see how close he is to his subjects when shooting, and he always quickly looks through his viewfinder while shooting. This allowed him to frame properly, and capture the moments he found interesting.

Why not shoot from the hip?

“[Don’t shoot from the hip], you’ll lose control over your framing.” – Garry Winogrand

In my experience, I found that shooting from the hip was a huge crutch. The more I shot from the hip, the less confident I was as a street photographer.

Not only that, but as Garry Winogrand said, I lost control over my framing. My shots would be poorly framed, skewed, and any shot that I got that looked half-decent was because of luck.

Remember as a street photographer, you aren’t doing anything wrong. You are trying to make images that people can empathize with. If it weren’t for street photographers, historians would have no idea what people did in public spaces in the past. All of the iconic street photography done by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, Robert Doisenau, and Vivian Maier wouldn’t exist.

Be confident. Have faith in yourself. By not shooting from the hip, you’re signaling to the world that you’re not doing anything wrong.

Also by using your viewfinder (or LCD screen), you can have better control over your framing and composition.

Getting “caught in the act” 

So what happens when you’re shooting street photography (with your viewfinder), and you get “caught in the act?”

My suggestion: Look at your subject, smile, say ‘thank you’ and move on.

The benefit of having your subjects see you while shooting them5993173792_382b5d5f53_z

Sometimes it is good to have your subjects notice that you are about to take a photograph of them.

For example in this photo I shot in Hollywood, I saw this hip older lady with these great sunglasses and hat. I crouched down, and took a photograph with my Canon 5D and 24mm lens. The second I was about to take a photograph of her, she looked at me and posed with her hands (giving me the “jazz hands”).

Now if I shot from the hip, she might have not noticed me about to take a photograph. Therefore she would have never posed for me, and this photo would never had been created.

But does that ruin the photograph, the fact that your subject noticed you?

Absolutely not. William Klein famously engaged with his subjects a lot when he shot street photography, and his presence made his photographs more vibrant, dynamic, and edgy.

Hungry to learn more? Check out the full series here: “Learn from the Masters of Street Photography.”