Lazy Tips: Getting sharp shots from the hip

17mm | F11 | 1/250th | ISO 400 ( I didn’t even stop when I shot this from the hip)

Yesterday was a very looong day. Unless you know Toronto, this won’t mean much, but here’s my route: I parked in Leslieville and hit a couple of small cafes first for yummy cappuccinos. Leslieville’s in Toronto’s east end. I then walked to the Distillery District and hung out there a bit. Then I headed over to St. Lawrence Market, which is the south end of downtown. I then walked to Dundas Square, where I met up with my friend Vicki for lunch. We then walked to Yorkville, which is uptown Toronto. From there we headed west and south to Queens Park (our Provincial Parliament where they flush much of our tax dollars down the drain). Finally I headed down to Queen St. & Yonge St. and caught a streetcar back to Leslieville to my car. Probably walked 10 miles.

Funny thing happened on the streetcar. I had no idea how much it cost to ride, so I was digging through my change at the curb while he waited with the doors open watching me. When I finally decided I had enough loose change to make the fare, I hopped on and asked him how much. He said, “Three bucks,” then asked how far I was going. I said only a few blocks, even though it was much further. To my surprise, he said, “Don’t worry about it.” Being a principled guy and all, I thanked him and told him it was alright. I paid anyway. I suspect he thought I was a tourist, seeing as I didn’t know the cost of the fare. I suppose yesterday I was.

As you know, every now and then I post a shooting tip. Today I thought I might title the post after the tip I’m going to share.

Lazy Tips: Getting sharp shots from the hip

I usually like to shoot at F5.6, because that’s the aperture at which my lens is sharpest. On sunny days like yesterday I will set my ISO to 100 to avoid any digital noise. Now, if I’m aiming and locking focus and taking my time, it’s all good. But, when I’m shooting from the hip, these settings introduce some unnecessary risk.

Aperture: At a wide aperture, such as F5.6, the depth of field (amount of the scene in focus) is relatively narrow.  This isn’t a problem when you’re looking through the viewfinder and have locked focus on exactly what you wish to be in focus, but when you’re simply shooting from the hip blindly and hoping for the best, your camera may miss the subject entirely and focus on the wall or another person behind the subject. The result is that your subject may be slightly out of focus while the wall behind him/her is in focus. That sucks. The solution is to narrow your aperture to F11 (the lower the F-stop number, the wider the aperture, the higher the number, the narrower the aperture). Shooting at F11 or higher narrows the aperture and widens your depth of field (the amount in focus). The benefit of having more of the scene in focus is that even if you miss your subject when shooting from the hip, chances are your subject will still be in focus.

Shutter Speed: I shoot in aperture priority. This means I set the aperture and let the camera select the appropriate shutter speed to ensure proper exposure. I find that shooting at F5.6 on a sunny day with my ISO set to 100, my camera will select a shutter speed anywhere from 1/60th of a second to 1/250th, depending on the available light. If I shoot into the shade, my shutter speed will be slower, as the camera tries to bring in enough light. Obviously if my subject is in a bright, sunny area, the shutter speed will increase, due to the copious amount of available light.

This is all fine when I’m aiming at a subject and have locked focus and am holding the camera still. The problem is, when shooting from the hip, I’m often shooting a subject in movement. As well, I’m often in movement, too, since I don’t want to stop to aim. I don’t want my subject to be aware I’m taking his/her photo and suddenly stopping might bring attention to myself. If the shutter speed is too slow, the end result is a blurred photo.

Increase your ISO: To combat this, I need to increase my shutter speed by a lot. The easiest way to do this is to increase the ISO. Simply put, the ISO adjusts the sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive it is to the light. The camera counteracts this increased sensitivity by increasing the shutter speed, to let in less light. For each ISO stop you go up (ISO Stops: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200…) your camera will double the shutter speed.

For hip shots on a sunny day I’ll set my ISO to 400 or maybe 800. Yesterday, I found that an ISO of 400 bumped my shutter speed to anywhere between 1/250th of a second to 1/1000th of a second. This almost guarantees a sharp shot, even when both my subject and I am in movement. Get me? One downside to increasing your ISO is that you’ll introduce more noise into your shot. But noise can be managed in Lightroom or Phoptoshop, whereas you can’t fix a blurry photo.

Recap: So, if you want to try out shooting from the hip, increase your ISO to 400 (or 800 on cloudy days) in order to get a really fast shutter speed. Then increase your F-stop to F11 or F16 to get more stuff in focus. Check out how sharp the photo above is. I shot this while walking by, without stopping.

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12 Responses to Lazy Tips: Getting sharp shots from the hip

  1. what a great shot. I am always amazed that you get these shots without ever raising the camera to your eye. stunning!

    • Thanks TW. This was a pretty luck catch. I didn’t see him until I was practically upon him. Had but a moment to react and snap. Thankfully I’d set my camera up the way I did or the shot would have been blurry for sure.

  2. katti says:

    I love this picture! Light color composition,…

  3. Fototype says:

    Great tips. Thanks!

  4. Inga says:

    Thanks so much for that tip! This is something I have struggled a bit with, so I’m glad I read this. 🙂

  5. astrawally says:

    Thank you for the hints and tips. I know these will come in useful for me but can I ask (maybe a stupid question!?!) do you shoot a small series, say two or three shots or are you just shooting one as and when you feel is right??Thanks

    • I used to shoot in multiple shot mode back in the day. I’d read somewhere that if you hold the shutter down and snap off three shots, you greatly reduce the risk of camera shake and are sure to get a sharp shot. The downside — and this is why I quite doing it — is you fill your memory card (and hard drive) with duplicate/triplicate shots and it really doesn’t help. Better off to simply learn to be careful.

      There’s definitely a strong case to be made for rapid fire shooting when trying to catch moving subjects. I should be doing that when shooting protests but I always seem to forget to change my settings. Same with when doing those “pan and blur” shots.

      For hip shots, multiple shot shooting wouldn’t really work because of the limited time you have before your subject catches on. Plus, it’s pretty difficult to hold the camera still for more than a single shot when you’re shooting one-handed from the hip. I’ll often just stop and snap and continue walking. By the time they notice I’ve stopped, I’m moving again. And typically, they look at my face to see what I’m up to and by the time they notice or hear the camera, I’m off again. A second or third shot would really give me away.

      If you really want to get good at hip shots, you can practice at home. Simply find a target online and print it out on a piece of paper. Then tape the target to a wall at face height. Now just walk past the target and shoot from the hip and see what you get. My problem is I tend to shoot lower than I think I am, so I have to always remember to point my camera up higher than I think it needs to be. Takes practice but in time you really won’t have to worry about getting the framing right. It’ll just become natural.

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