5 Tips for Doing Photography from the Hip


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.

Photographing From The Hip Sheep Herder Walking With Flock of Sheep By Memorable Jaunts

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.

Photographing From The Hip Chilly Morning In India By Memorable Jaunts

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.

#1 Preset your settings like exposure and aperture

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.


#2 Increase shutter speed

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.

#3 Preset focal point

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.

Photographing From The Hip Ganga Aarti In Rishikesh By Memorable Jaunts

#4 Use your camera’s silent mode if you have one

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.

#5 Use a fixed focal length lens

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.

Photographing From The Hip Water Buffalo in India By Memorable Jaunts

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.

Photographing From The Hip Local Tea Shop in India By Memorable Jaunts


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Karthika Gupta is a lifestyle, wedding, and travel photographer based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images. She also has a Free Travel Photography Demystified E-Course a 5-Day video series to help you improve your travel photography.

  • What about hyperfocal?

  • It is definitely something to keep in mind. Often times though just moving your feet and hence changing the distance fixes the min focal distance issue based on your lens – very similar to if you were looking through the viewfinder for the shoot. Hope that helps.

  • Mike Vande Ven Jr.

    Overall good article, but I disagree n the manual focus piece. I switch my camera to servo focusing when hip shooting, and use the back button to try to get my subject in focus. I also use a wide aperture to send the background out of focus.

  • arbitoot

    I am not comfortable to the idea of hip photography (without even looking at the viewfinder) It is possible to take a photograph with greater chances of getting a good photo on your given situations.

    I use different techniques that enables me with my eyes on the viewfinder or at least on the live view mode to achieve of what you think you expect to get on hip photography.

    Here’s an example of what i do that you think you can get on hip photography…but mine has better results.

    Candid photos:
    I can get candid photos that still enables me to look at the viewfinder at the same time by releasing the shutter from just the start of the countdown or the end of it.
    I will take few shots just after i mention “1” on a 1-3 countdown and several after the countdown instead of taking photos on the expected mark of the shot. (this woprks on group photos, etc)
    If people are shy, you can activate live view and try shooting while sitting down and the camera on top of your lap (having your lap as stablizer and still being able to preview the subject’s composition and focus)
    You can even do a hip photography but with live view on but not your method to go blind totally. This methods still enables me to survey the scene, look for other composition bla bla bla…

    Silent mode is given if the feature is available but live view shooting with reduced brightness of lcd is a good way to go. Why blind hip shooting if there is a practical and possible way?

    I see no art in hip shooting’s chances of bad composition. An unsuspecting viewer of a bad photo taken on using your method won’t recognize it as hip photography but a plain badly composed photo. And if i see your successful pictures without reading the title, i will see it as a regular photo. We can’t put a caption on my photos “sorry for bad composition because this is taken from my hip” everytime.

    Hip shooting is like a russian roulette of photography. Instead of taking a good photo, you loses a chance by trying to waste the chances of a good one. If the situation prevents you from making photographs, live view shooting is still a go to option. At least you can take photographs on your hip level with the live view on.

    Your techniques may apply to analog SLRs but DSLRs are capable of helping you take good photographs.

    I cannot think of significant ways that your blind hip shooting is practical when live view is available. If there is a situation that really prevents you from taking photos, simply bringing a camera on your hip is of the same level of risk as hip shooting with live view on or not. So why go blind hip shooting?

    Your article creates a challenge of taking chances but when the situation needs it, this is very impractical. My methods work for me and i believe to you as well.

    If your camera has no live view or an analog SLR, then i have no objections. 🙂

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  • There are always multiple ways of doing things :). This is just another creative exercise in photography. The whole point of this is that you don’t put your eye to the viewfinder. Yes, there are chances of missed photos but then again its just a way to try something new. Thanks for your comment.

  • Mark Prebonich

    You mention that those who shoot in manual may wish to consider going full auto. What about staying in manual and setting the speed (1/250 or 1/320) and the aperture at around f/8 and leaving the ISO on auto. That way the image should be properly exposed. I’ve been using these settings more lately and the images seem to be turning out looking good. Is this reasonable or do you see any drawbacks to using this technique?

  • Mark – those are definitely reasonable. Auto ISO should help with exposure. Automating one or more of the exposure triangle elements is an option if going fully automatic is not something one wants to do.

  • Debbie Langer Borato

    Im confused, first you say go into full auto mode for this, then you say set SS, Aperature. Doesnt full Auto Mode let the camera decide completely?

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