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Photographing from the hip is, quite literally, having your camera near or resting on your hip and pressing the shutter button. This photography method is typically used in street photography when the photographer wants to take candid, incognito photos. But, sometimes, trying this as a deliberate photography method is just as fun. It forces you to change your perspective, your vision and your creative eye. You start to look at the scene as a bigger picture rather than as a tunnel vision through your viewfinder. Plus, if your family is anything like mine, where they turn away and run the opposite direction when you bring out the camera, this technique is a great way to get candid pictures of difficult, and uncooperative subjects.
When you put your eye to the viewfinder, often times you lose focus of all the other elements and entities beyond your line of vision. Photographing from the hip gives you, the artist, freedom to shift your perspective and opens up opportunities for alternative compositions for your images. Use it for personal projects or client sessions where you view the scene in front of you quite differently than what you actually capture in your camera. Travel photography is another great place to use this method of photography for an alternative perspective.
There are some tips and tricks you may want to consider to get the best images from this angle of doing photography from the hip.
Since you cannot really change your settings based on what you see through the viewfinder, it is best to preset your exposure ahead of time. If you are a 100% manual shooter, this might be the one time you give yourself the luxury to go into full auto mode of your camera. Additionally, use evaluative metering instead of spot metering to assist with the exposure for this type of photography. In terms of aperture, the general rule of thumb is to have a smaller aperture for photographing from the hip (anywhere from f/8 to f/16). This improves the likelihood that more of the elements will be in focus especially if your subjects are moving. Having a larger aperture is also okay if you want to go for a more artistic image.
Having a higher shutter speed gives you a better probability that your subject will be sharp especially if you are moving or clicking in continuous mode and don’t have the luxury of a steady hand. Try to stay at least 1/250th of a second, or higher. Do not pay too much attention to ISO in this genre of photography, just embrace the noise as part of the creative element of the image. If you had to choose, give more priority to shutter speed. Things like exposure and noise (grain) can always be adjusted in post-processing as long as you have a sharp image.
This is probably the one time where having a back button focus might be inconvenient. Try auto focus and then throw MF switch on the lens so that the focus point is locked. You can also use center focus point and just move your camera slightly as a way to recompose with the focus locked.
If you really want to go incognito, use the silent drive mode in your camera. Some of the newer DSLRs have this feature. It suppress the sound of the shutter being pressed and you can get some really candid images of the scene in front of you.
Prime lenses work better for this type of photography since you really don’t want to recompose with every movement of the scene in front of you. Just move your feet instead. You can also change the angle by holding the camera at a slight upward or downward angle depending on your relative height in relation to the scene in front of you.
Remember to get creative with this type of photography. You may be tempted to bring the camera to your face every once in a while to make sure you are getting some “decent” shots. That’s okay, but resist the urge to chimp every time the shutter is clicked. Try doing this for five to ten minutes at first. Once you get comfortable, take this method out for a spin for longer periods of time. Make a mental note of your settings so that you can reevaluate and reassess what worked, and what did not work, at the end of your shooting exercise.
Remember to have fun and don’t get too hung up on the technicalities. In a worse case scenario, if you take enough shots, there is a chance you will have a few good images that are artistic and technically correct. If nothing else, it gives you the opportunity to view the scene through your eyes rather than your viewfinder. So get out, put the camera around your neck using your camera strap and get clicking.