Hip Shots

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 !!


  1. Seems like the story is developing: Olympus's Ex-Chairman and two former execs arrested over accounting issues:


  2. Bartosz,
    Someone will have to be blamed and obviously, arrested for the whole drama.
    Nonetheless, why worry? They were ex-employees.

  3. Robin:

    You wrote:

    Maximize depth of field. I use F4 (since Olympus has 2x equivalent field of view, that is effectively F8 on 35mm format)

    I have to disagree with you, F4 is F4, irregardless of the "crop factor". Since in this case we are interested in DOF, why would your DOF change if you are in-effect cropping the image? Does DOF change when you crop a photo in post-processing? No, so cropping "in camera" makes no difference either.

    Of course, effective FOCAL LENGTH is another story, that doubles,as we all know.

    And please know that I make dozens of factual mistakes per day, so I do NOT mean to criticize, just educate in my very small way.

    Best Regards,


  4. Hello Tom,

    You may have misinterpreted my "suggestion" on using hip shots.
    I was merely recommending anyone using hip shooting to at least utilize more DOF so that they have more zone in focus, to minimize errors in focusing.
    Your choice of F number is dependent on what you want to achieve. I was using an 11-22mm lens. I found that shooting wide end of 11mm, with F4 (whatever argument you want to put forth in the equivalence) provides me sufficient DOF, as I have demonstrated in the photographs above. Did you see anyone out of focus? Even if they were, the faces were still acceptably clear.

    I Did NOT say cropping will improve DOF. I was saying, shoot WIDE, and then crop later. The cropping was elaborated in the suggestion to shoot wide, which was the first suggestion, I did NOT say it has anything to do with maximizing DOF.

    Whether it was technically right or wrong, I still believe in the two points: Shoot wide to crop later, to avoid accidentally missing out what you still want to include in your composition, AND maximize your DOF to avoid focusing inadequacy.

  5. Am I correct when I say that you need quite a lot of light to do successful hip shooting? F4 and rather short exposure time suggests that, or very high ISO.

    Do you have the camera hanging around your neck and just touch the shutter when you want to shoot or do you carry it without the neck strap?

    Personally, I usually play coward and do most of my street shooting with a telephoto lens if I can, but often the best moments happen in quite low light situations. How do you handle that? I try do do it by getting fast lenses, but then you have very little DOF, and often I come home with even shots taken with the 45mm/1.8 and the Nokton being underexposed or so blurry that I can't get away with calling it "bokeh". :)

    Anyway, I'm very anxious to see how the upcoming 75mm/1.8 will work for evening street shooting, but I haven't yet decided if I really want that lens. A 150/1.8 or 200/1.8 would probably be more fun, too bad it would weigh a ton and cost a fortune.

    Best Regards,


  6. Hello Rasmus,
    My favourite lens for street photography is 50mm F2, and I do not do hip shot with that lens. At F2, I can handle low light rather well, and rarely have to push beyond ISO400 even in challenging lighting situation.

    The F4 recommendation is only for hip shooting. And yes, under unfavourable lighting condition you do need to boost the ISO to increase the shutter speed. And I agree it does not really work very well in very low light shooting. Nonetheless, there are many examples of street shooting that works better when you use wide angle lens. I myself use telephoto lenses too from time to time.

  7. Thank you for your direct approach to the subject. I am a bit more old school in that I use the 17/2.8 at f/8 when shooting from the hip and rely on Auto ISO, no burst.

    Possibly I have not much room to crop, if I get to 1-2m from the subject, so I must have a v. clear representation of the frame and DOF of the lens. But after the first weeks of my shooting in Rome, it became natural.

    Not look in your subject's eyes, good advice! Learn the proxemics in a particular place too- how close can you get to another body? - that might vary from place to place.

  8. Thanks for bringing up the subject of Face Detect and CAF. I have my habits and I find normally, I pump my trigger on SAF for most work. But this is from the hip so there is no human control of choosing the object so Face Detect is a good idea. Will give it a try. Does the DSLR need Liveview mode for Face Detect - PEN is not a problem. My PL1 burst sequence is slow even with Extreme card because I shoot RAW+JPEG - I need to remember to go JPEG only for burst sequence.

  9. Jason Martini - from the hip:


  10. @Tom - Irregardless is not a word! Get rid of it and just use regardless! I still appreciate your comment irrespective of its' poor word choice.

    Zone focusing is a must. But with wide angle lenses the DOF is so great you don't have to worry too much about the F stop. Those are my two bits.