I often hear reference to "shooting from the hip" in street photography. What technique can I use to get candid, yet sharp and focused photographs?

While I am interested in any general advice, the sort of questions I have at the moment are: How do you not make your photography stick out like a sore thumb? What focal lengths, apertures and shutter speeds are appropriate? Do you use autofocus or manual focus?

I am not interested in whether or when shooting from the hip is appropriate. That ought to be the topic for a separate question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ a SPY LENS could help :-D I'm unaware of its effects on the IQ, though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 16, 2011 at 11:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @koiyu That's hilarious - although shooting that from the hip would be difficult! \$\endgroup\$
    – fmark
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 13:18

5 Answers 5


The idea of "Shooting from the hip" is to be inconspicuous, so as not to change the atmosphere. This allows you to capture the shot as you see it, without interfering with the mood.

  • Manual focus, using a lens that has a distance scale.
  • f/8 allows you to get a much greater depth of field, so even if your focus is slightly off, you should still have a good shot.
  • normal to wide angle, 35mm is a great option.
  • rangefinder cameras are often used with this style, because they tend to be much smaller and favor manual focusing.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure that manual focus is strictly necessary — in ye olde days you'd have needed the distance scale to focus approximately (and f/8) but with a high speed, quiet AF (like USM/HSM) it seems a bit unnecessary to manually focus. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 13, 2011 at 2:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ The biggest problem with autofocus (in this case) is that you aren't actually looking at the image that is being captured, so you can't ensure that you are actually focused on your subject. \$\endgroup\$
    – chills42
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 2:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ And to add to @chills42 comment, autofocus takes time and you will lose the moment. A reason rangefinders are used is because they are much quieter than an SLR. And finally the manual focus is used to pre-focus so you can just grab your shots without hesitation. The old quote "F8 And Be There" is a great indicator of what this type of photography is all about. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 6:06

Wide angle with plenty of DOF makes things easier.

I like low shutter speeds, 1/15 to 1/60, in most cases as it adds some motion and energy to the shots. Depends on the subject matter. If you want sharp you obviously want a bit faster.

You can hang the camera around your neck, but trigger it from a remote in your hand, no one would guess you were taking pictures.

You can also use a cellphone camera, and people will assume you're txting

Practice on parked cars and inanimate objects until you get the hang of aiming and focusing :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ The slow shutter speeds caters to a specific style of street photography, but I like it. Gives more of a feel for what's happening. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 11, 2011 at 22:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you use autofocus or manual focus? \$\endgroup\$
    – fmark
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 11:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ If I have 28mm and can focus on infinity I'd use MF. Otherwise I use AF. It's hit and miss, but I do better with AF than MF if I'm not looking through the viewfinder. Can set the camera up to only fire if focus locked, so as long as it's focused on the right thing! (I'd use single centre focus point) \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting tip on the remote shutter release! Def will try this out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bill
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 14:26

I "shoot from the hip" pretty extensively using my 5DII.

I leave it on Program-Auto most of the time, sometimes Tv, so you can look like you are just gesticulating or waving your arms (with the camera, incidentally) about while taking exposures. Make sure you activate all the autofocus points, and take several shots for each scene. Move the camera slightly and retrigger the AF between each shot, this increases the likelyhood of getting what you want in focus.

You could stop down, but I really like having a shallower depth of field for street photography.

Obviously, there can be some issues if you are in a situation where you have multiple things in the frame, with significant differences in distance from the camera, but for me, at least, it doesn't seem to happen that often.

Also, the distance scale (on most of the good Canon lenses, anyways), is accurate enough that if you do have a challenging composition, you can guestimate the distance to the subject and dither the focus back and forth while taking a few shots, to increase your likelyhood of getting a shot in focus. With the speed of modern cameras, this can all be done in a couple of seconds, so moving scenes can still be shot pretty effectively.

Mostly, experiment, and always take a couple of exposures, rather then just one.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Worth being aware of how your autofocus works too — on most cameras it'll focus on the closest thing in the scene that covers any of the AF sensors, so if there's a lot of clutter in between you and your subject (e.g. shooting through branches, wire fence, or some hole in the wall for framing) then you'll need to use manual focus. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 13, 2011 at 2:10

Try using a camera with a flip out LCD screen such as the Canon 60D. This should help quite a bit, and even allow you to hide most of the camera.


I also like "shooting from the hip". I think this is an extremely great way of taking pictures of people without having the fear of being noticed.

In my opinion, the best DSLR setup is a smaller crop-size camera, preferably a Canon 600D (not the T3i because that's not made in Japan) and for the lens, the Canon 20mm f2.8.

Why that set-up you might ask?

The smaller Canon 600D is less bulky and is preferable when matching with the very wide-angle Canon 20mm lens which is about 32mm full-frame equivalent, perfect for "hip shooting".

The Canon 20mm is the best match because if you look at its focal distance scale, the 3ft mark and the infinity distance is so close to each other that if you set your distance in the middle of those two, all/most of your shots would be in focus. Shoot in "P" mode or Program and you're set!


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