In the street photography world, there is a big debate that while seemingly frivolous, is worth talking about for ethical reasons. It involves photographers shooting from the hip: which many have done for years and produced incredible images while doing it. Their case: it helps them to get the images they need with a different perspective and while not disrupting what happens in front of them.
The other photographers need to bring the camera to their eyes to shoot. Their case: it helps them to get a better idea of what they’re shooting and also helps them develop a bit of a rapport with the subject. It also in some ways, makes them look less creepy to the general public.
And then there are some that say to use the viewfinder simply because of some unknown standard of being better than one another.
What any accomplished and successful photographer in the eyes of the art community will tell you is that getting the shot is the most paramount thing for your portfolio of work. It won’t necessarily matter how you get it; but at the same time don’t be a jerk about it. That statement is highly interpretive to each individual person. If you upset someone, it’s understandable to say “I’m sorry” or something along the lines of telling them exactly what you’re doing. Some photographers can simply disarm someone’s anger with just their smile and demeanor.
It has two sides of the argument: street photography is about capturing candid moments while street portraiture requires actual interaction with the photographer and the subject. At times, you don’t want to disturb a moment as it is happening.
So then what’s so wrong about shooting from the hip?
Like all street photography, I believe that the main purpose here is intent. If your intent is to take creepy photos of people for your own sick fetishes, then your intent is harmful. If you’re photographing a scene because you’re trying to satiate your artistic hunger, then that’s different. The way that you do it is all about what’s best for you. If you shoot from the hip though, you’re more likely to be called a pervert in public. If you shoot with the camera to your eye, you’re likely to just be yelled at by someone.
It’s always a great idea to bring some sort of portfolio with you: printed work is nice but Instagram or EyeEm are great alternatives to show someone that you’re really not intending anything malicious. In street photography, it’s absolutely true that since it’s in public that no one really has a right to privacy; but they also have a right to ask you to please not take their picture or to ask you to delete it. In a situation like that, it’s always a good idea for you to talk to them, show them the photo, and with today’s cameras all having WiFi being built in, even send it to them.
See where I’m getting at here?
Whether or not you shoot from the hip really doesn’t matter as a street photographer as long as you keep in mind these three things:
- Did you get the shot? If you did, then awesome. If you didn’t, then how could you have done it?
- Is your intent with the photo ill or did you find a genuinely beautiful moment? This is the difference between taking a picture of a woman’s butt vs noticing something genuinely artistic in the scene that can then be manipulated by you to match that creative vision.
- If you get into trouble with someone, what can you do to fix that? Can you talk to them, convince them that your intentions are good? Can you convince yourself that your intentions are good? As long as you’re in public too, you don’t necessarily need a model release.
If you can answer all of these and shoot from the hip to get the shot, then consider the fact that no one years on will sit there and question you about it vs just admiring how amazing of a photo you took. No one that wants to potentially buy a print will care either.