It’s a slightly controversial approach, and one that will have some purists up in arms, but I think hip shooting has an important role to play in street photography when deployed as part of your wider street photography shooting technique arsenal. With that mind, I thought I’d put together a short little of my top tips for the best results using the hip shot technique for street photography, plus an extra tidbit of advice that will come in handy for hip-level LCD shooting too. So dive into our guide to hip shooting in street photography and head on out to the streets! And if you want to see some examples of the hip shot street photography technique in action, don’t forget to check out a video of Spyros Papaspyropoulos on the streets of Rethymno, Crete in our Street Talk Episode 6 – The Hip Shot Technique in Street Photography.
What is hip shooting in street photography?
Hip shooting most often describes a shooting technique where you will fire the shutter on your camera without composing through your viewfinder, and often without consulting your rear LCD screen (if you have one!). Conventionally, your camera would be located around hip height (hence the name) around where it would dangle from the camera strap around your neck. Obviously the advent of digital compact cameras has led to a ‘relaxing’ of the general agreed terms on what defines hip shooting – so a ‘hip shot’ will now sometimes include a street photo composed a little through the rear LCD – but one thing is for certain – this is a fast, extra subtle form of street photography that does NOT involve the photographer raising the camera (and viewfinder) up to their eye.
Use a Wide Angle Lens
First things first, you’ll find your hip shooting street photography experience will go much more smoothly if you use a wide angle lens. Probably something in the range from 24mm to around 35mm focal length. This is because hip shooting by its very nature requires you to get fairly close to your subjects – and will mostly reward you if you do! Another benefit of your wide angle lens is the further freedom it affords you with your composition. As you won’t always be able to compose accurately, you may well welcome the extra flexibility that a wide angle lens will provide you in terms of cropping, and not cutting off your subjects in the frame!
Use a Prime Lens that you know
Arguably the most important piece of equipment in your hip shooting experience will be your prime lens. You need to be shooting with a lens that you know like the back of your hand. Because you probably won’t be able to compose conventionally, you will need to be able to compose your scene instinctively based on your understanding of your surroundings. This will obviously be markedly easier if you shoot with a prime lens over a zoom lens. I’ve used a 28mm focal length prime lens for long enough now that I can roughly estimate the field of view it will provide without needing to look through my viewfinder, and likewise how close I need to be to my subjects without them either appearing as tiny dots or cutting off parts of their features! But even after all my practice I still get it wrong a lot, so to make your life as easy as possible, I’d definitely recommend using a prime lens!
Use Zone Focusing
The zone focusing technique will be of great benefit to you during hip level shooting. Without being able to check your viewfinder, it’s going to be very difficult for you to estimate exactly where the autofocus point of your camera is facing. By contrast, if you use zone focusing and a small aperture, you can be confident that everything within say the 1.5 metre and onwards will be in focus of your camera. Plus, your camera shutter will respond quickly to your touch too! To see this technique in action for yourself, make sure you check out our zone focusing & hyperfocal distance street talk video.
Use Your Electronic Shutter (if you have one)
A great advantage of the hip shot technique is that you can make street photos surreptitiously, and this approach can allow you to catch shots that you wouldn’t be able to achieve in other circumstances. It’s also a technique that can suit street photographers who are not so bold and want to fly under the radar a bit. Of course, all this subtlety is undone if your camera shutter makes a loud noise during your hip shooting, and of course can even potentially lead to an awkward situation if your shutter sound draws attention to you, and you’re already doing something covert by not using your viewfinder! So it can be a good idea to use your electronic shutter (if you have one) and make your camera completely silent. Of course, if you go down this path you need to bear a couple of things in mind – most notably any increased shutter lag you may get, and also that you will need to keep your camera steady and take care in certain lighting conditions and when dealing with movement to avoid the ‘rolling shutter’ effect.
Keep the Camera Straight
One of my main problems when hip shooting is keeping the camera straight! Without holding the camera in a conventional way, and not being able to frame using my viewfinder I often end up with some very wacky wonky horizon lines! So I have to be very careful to discipline myself to hold the camera very level to avoid having a load of post processing problems with straightening lines later!
Learn your camera – shutter response & lag
Just like the need to use a prime lens to really get the most out of your hip shooting, having a true ‘feel’ for your camera will hugely improve your photos, and improve other aspects of your street photography too! If you’ve got a good reading of your shutter response and lag, you can counter any negative effects of not being able to plan your composition through your viewfinder, and catch a shot at just the right moment.
Use a Fast Shutter Speed
Similarly keeping the camera straight, I often find with my hip level street photography that my resultant photos can be prone to suffering from camera shake. This is mostly because the hip shot technique requires me to hold a camera differently and not cradle it in the same ‘braced’ position as I would when shooting conventionally. Instead, I’m often holding the camera out and away from myself so things get shaky. To overcome this, I try to keep my shutter speed nice and high (at least 1/500) and make a special effort to hold the camera nice and still.
One of the awesome things about the hip shooting technique is that you can get really close to your subjects when you wouldn’t normally be able to. So take full advantage of it! The closer you are to your subject the more immersed the viewer will feel in your shot and the more powerful your composition – just as Capa always maintained!
Get Surreal – Vary the Height & Position of your Camera
Hip shooting gives you the freedom to nail street photos that would otherwise be simply impossible. Looking through your viewfinder you’re limited to having to hold your camera to your eye, but with hip shooting you can totally mix up your angles and positions and give your viewers a completely different point of view. We don’t normally see photos from hip height or lower (like rat’s eye) – so make the most of it and grab your viewer’s attention! Or use a weird and wonderful shooting position to go really abstract and surreal with cropping.
Bonus Tip – Flip out your LCD screen and act like you’re shooting video (if you have one)
Of course lots of tips for great hip shooting apply to shooting with the rear LCD on your camera too, so you can put those into practice if you’re the sort of photographer who likes to compose and shoot with your rear LCD from around hip level. But another tip I can offer for LCD shooters is try moving in the opposite direction to what you’d usually go for in hip shooting, and go really conspicuous with your photography! When I’m shooting with a camera with a flip out rear LCD like the Fuji X-70 or X-T10, I like to pop out the rear LCD and hold the camera out and away from me, which makes it look like I’m shooting video! If I look like I’m recording all the time I can get really close to subjects and snap street photos without acting like a super in-your-face street photographer!
Hip Shooting & Its Role in Street Photography
I must admit I sometimes find the hip shooting technique quite a challenging one in street photography – it can simply be a little too covert at times. It is certainly a technique I would struggle to rely on entirely for my photography. That said, there are numerous occasions when I find hip shooting nails me shots that I really couldn’t get any other way – the shirtless gentleman you see above being a prime example! So, while it is a technique I think needs to be used sparingly and with great sensitivity (after all, you are heavily disguising your intentions), when used correctly it can produce really powerful results. What are your thoughts? Does hip shooting in street photography rock or is it sacrilege? Let us know in the comments below!