God knows how many million methods and techniques there are that many photographers since the days of dinosaurs have utilized for street photography, and libraries of books discussing on how to properly define what street photography is and how to shoot actual street photographs have been published. Hip shots may not be one of the most popular method to be used in street shooting, rarely would you find many writings in the well sold street photography books recommending this method as the effective tool for street photography. You wont find many great photographers giving advise on shooting from the hip either.
Now you may ask, why do hip shooting? Why not just compose from the viewfinder and attack your subjects directly? Why not go near and seek permission, creating that connection with your subject and then attack them? I believe there are many ways to approach a subject on the street, and it is up to the photographers quick decision to do what he wanted to do, to capture the outcome which he already had in mind. If you do not want eye contact, if you intended to create a completely natural unposed photograph of your subjects being in their natural environment without the polution of your presence in their scene, yet at the same time you want to get so close (we are talking about 1-2 meters away, for your Americans that is less than 6ft), the best solution is doing it with hip shot.
The direct approach makes your subject more self-aware, and they will act differently when they know you are shooting them. They will change their facial expression, and they might even stop doing what they were originally doing. Sometimes, this can break the entire purpose of the photograph: to tell stories. How can you tell a story as it is, when you have stepped in and changed its main character's expressions?
Natural expressions preserved, and no traces of "hesitation" or "worries" in their faces, or wondering "what the hell is that camera pointing at us for?" They just did what they did, and the image was captured as if the camera was never there.
There really is nothing to learn about hip shooting. Once you know how it works, you can do it too. There is no magic trick or any special technicalities involved. You just grab the camera, and shoot from a lower level (usually from waist or hip level, hence the name hip-shot) without even looking through the viewfinder or live view of your camera. Many times, you will end up with nothing, possibly blurry shot, or your subject being entirely out of frame. However, when you get the shot, and you nailed it down, the outcome can be really amazing.
Here is a list of considerations and things I did while I do my hip shooting:
1) Use of wide angle lens. A standard 24mm on full frame would be sufficient, any wider would cause excessive unwanted distortion on your human portraits. I use my 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 lens (such beautiful lens from Olympus), usually shooting at wide 11mm end, and do a little cropping at the end of the day to reduce negative space.
2) Use of continuous focusing mode, and burst mode. While the AF was performed full time, I used the burst continuous shooting (5 frames per second on my camera) to capture at least 3 to 5 frames as I walked by my subject. If your camera has very good face detection AF feature, why not give it a try?
3) DO NOT LOOK INTO YOUR SUBJECTS EYES DIRECTLY. This is extremely important. Once you established eye contact, they knew you have noticed them, hence the success of your hip shot to deliver a completely natural undisturbed scene is compromised. Look straight, walk by your subject as if you did not care about them, and walk by them at a normal pace. Try not to slow down as you take your shots.
4) General camera settings should be done to compensate for motion blur. Since you are moving (if you stop and snap, would not that be obvious?) you need to achieve fast enough shutter speed to freeze your own motion. I usually make sure my shutter speed is faster than 1/200 sec.
5) Maximize depth of field. I use F4 (since Olympus has 2x equivalent field of view, that is effectively F8 on 35mm format), so have more zone in focus.
6) Go near for impact. Do not worry about imperfections like chopping off an arm or leg, or not having a horizontally leveled image. The more you do hip shooting, the more you will get a hang of it, and the higher success rate will be achieved.
Another example of natural expression captured. The man sitting at the back was enjoying a conversation with the man in front. If they were aware of my presence in trying to shoot them, the natural smile would have dried up.
I find hip shooting to work in some situations when direct shooting approach may not be the best approach. The original state of the scene has always been well preserved in images taken by hip shooting, and it is the undisturbed state of photograph that can be very compelling at times.
Do you shoot from your hip? Do share your thoughts and experience !!