Sunday, May 8, 2011

From the hip

As I started with the 99 strangers challenge, one of the techniques that I wanted to try was photographing from the hip. You take your camera in your hand, leave your arm hanging along your body, so that the camera is somewhere at your hip level, and take pictures from there. There is of course no looking through the viewfinder.

FTH photography(*) is a very challenging exercise, because there is a lot of randomness going on, and can be quite frustrating as well: be prepared to shoot more than 250 pictures and end up, with luck, getting 5 or 6 usable pictures. But, although luck is random in nature, it tends to be on the side of those that go looking for it and are prepared to embrace it.

I have made two FTH photo walks and I would like to share my experience and my thoughts with you. All pictures in this post have been taken from the hip.

selfie fth
(EOS 40D, EF 24mm f/2.8, 1/125, f/11, ISO 400)

Holding your camera
  • wrap the neck strap around your wrist in a way you feel comfortable letting go of your camera so that it hangs safely; you may need to roll the neck strap up to three times around your wrist (at least that worked for me!)
  • the camera feels more natural in a portrait (vertical) orientation, that's why most of the pictures in these sessions have portrait orientation
  • press the shutter very slightly, looking for the minimum pressure that would fire; this helps minimizing camera shake
  • try to keep your arm as still as possible when shooting, do not swing it too much when walking

flare fth
(EOS 40D, EF 24mm f/2.8, 1/250, f/11, ISO 400)

  • I prefer using aperture priority mode with a fairly high f-number, to ensure enough depth of field
  • use a moderately high ISO (400 or more, depending on lighting conditions) to ensure fast enough shutter speeds not to blur the shots: we want to achieve 1/250 or faster, to be on the safe side

flare fth
(EOS 350D, EF 24mm f/2.8, 1/2000, f/11, ISO 400)

Focal length
  • I used a wide angle lens (24mm, meaning 38mm on my cropped sensors) because the angle of view allows shooting from a closer distance and gives a better chance of not missing your intended targets
  • wide angle lenses also tend to have huge depths of field, which is good for the next point

letting the hours go by (fth)
(EOS 350D, EF 24mm f/2.8, 1/400, f/11, ISO 400)

  • I used hyperfocal distance with a deep depth of field
  • I would not use autofocus, it is too risky: set your lens on manual focus and be aware of the limits of your depth of field and try to shoot only when you are sure that your subjects are within this range

hyperfocal dog fth
(EOS 40D, EF 24mm f/2.8, 1/800, f/11, ISO 400)

  • this is the most difficult and frustrating point!
  • do some test shots first, to get the feeling of the slight wrist movements you can do and its effect on the direction your camera is pointing to
  • get close to your subjects, but be aware of your depth of field limits, or your hyperfocal distance!
  • in order to photograph walking subjects it is better to outwalk them and walk in front of them, as this leaves your hand in a relatively comfortable and natural-looking position and can provide an interesting frontal low-angle point of view

couple fth
(EOS 40D, EF 24mm f/2.8, 1/250, f/11, ISO 400)

  • maintain a surreptitious attitude, you don't want to be noticed
  • do not make eye contact with your subjects, especially as you are taking the picture
  • do not look at your camera after shooting, never ever check the display on your camera just after you took a picture, this will draw attention to your camera and will give yourself away as a photographer, and this is exactly what you do not want
  • act as a lost tourist
  • stand still at a busy corner, as if you were waiting to meet someone
  • ignore your camera at all times; act as if you were carrying a briefcase, not a camera
  • better go alone: you are going to be acting a little weird, stopping, walking faster, suddenly changing directions, and you want to blend into the background

vespa fth
(EOS 40D, EF 24mm f/2.8, 1/320, f/11, ISO 400)

FTH photography is not easy, but it can be very rewarding, and with patience and practice, you are going to get more and more good shots and you will definitely grow as a photographer. The technique should just be a means of achieving an artistic expression. FTH photography is quite challenging because of the technique, but do never forget about the art! :)

(*) from-the-hip photography :)


  1. Pero qué buenas. Particularmente, la de los dos tipos en el banco y la pareja de ancianos.

    Tienes razón en que puede ser una actividad muy frustrante. Aunque, cuando sale bien, es un subidón.

    Por cierto, ayer vi en un mercadillo una cámara como la de tu post anterior. Y además, barata (el puesto era de Caritas). Investiga porque igual en el Castillo de la Sal puedes encontrar cosas apañadas por la misma vía.

    Un abrazo

  2. Paco, ¡muchas gracias! la de los dos tipos en el banco es también mi favorita, aunque el subidón que comentas lo tuve especialmente con la de la vespa...

    Mmmm... puestos de Caritas, buena idea... aunque si sigo a este paso creo que voy a tener que hacerles una habitación sólo para ellas :D

    Un abrazote,