Shooting from the hip

This exercise was to test my ability of shooting pictures quickly. I had combines this with ‘A journey’ which I shall both re-do and write about another time.

Underlying these images is a fundamental technical flaw, that of underdevelopment. That any image came out is fortuitous – so I may redo this exercise again. Notwithstanding that shortcoming my intent was to try and ‘see’ an image and capture it as close to the moment as possible. I am aware of the notion of the pre-visualised or compositional nature of photography, how a good deal of images today are ‘set-up’, the only construction here is the one in my mind. Looking for interesting compositional images that ‘speak’ of something.

I took a lot more than is shown here and part of the edit was enabled by the poor technical quality and so limited the choice somewhat. The under development has emphasised the grainy structure which for some photographers is sought after. I do admire quite a few photographers who use that device in their work, Michael Ackerman, Duane Michals and others – however, and to emphasise, this wasn’t my intent. All of the images bar one are full frame i.e. non-cropped – the image that is cropped, and heavily so is the one that has deliberate movement across the frame – three up from the bottom. My process was to ‘see’ the image and move the camera to the eye and take the picture. I had decided on very fast film Fuji Neopan 1600 as I knew the light was going to be variable at this time of year and a lot of images would be taken inside where the light would be reduced. I wanted to get as close to people as possible and test my nerve with capturing people in the environment.

If these images work well it has as much to with the intimacy of them, the closeness to the people –  I think the images have a certain dynamism, apart from the ‘Open’ picture, which is probably out of kilter with the rest of the images, but I like it.

The exercise asks if I think the images are honest and whether I edited the truth in any way. Well, first of all I’m not sure what the question means. I have been honest to say that the negatives were underdeveloped, the majority of the images are full frame, they are in black and white – which is of course at artifice in itself (but one that is generally and acceptable one (in my view)). So, yes, I think they are honest – I haven’t ‘moved’ the truth in these shots. The difficulties in this photography are twofold, firstly the photographer needs to hone the ‘viewing skill’, I think that this is a learnable skill and one which is likely to be improved by practise. The other difficulty is about how close the photographer can get to his subject – I used a 90mm fixed focus manual lens, the camera did have an integral light meter and motor wind, but other than that was completely manual, so dexterity and experience with the ‘tool’ is important – changing cameras on a regular basis would militate against that familiarity and therefore make things more problematic.


18 thoughts on “Shooting from the hip

  1. I can see with the man on the bridge, re his posture and also the skating but it’s not clear to me exactly what moment you were wanting to capture. What I mean is – was there something about those particular moments that you wanted to capture in terms of something specific happening, e;g; a fleeting kiss or frown?

  2. I suppose it is in the nature of exercises, it is to do with working out what the requirement is and fulfilling it. I wanted to capture moments – no pretension to capture the ‘decisive’ one, but moments either between two or more people or singular moments (which is clearly why the ‘open’ image is out of kilter here), even if one of those people was me, as in the case of the chap looking at the lens on the bridge, the blurred figure looking towards the lens in the Underground. I think I agree that some of them may be ‘stretches’ to meet the point.

  3. I was especially interested in your Somerset House skating pictures as I took some there myself last month and found it difficult. There wasn’t the movement I’d expected – people were going round in circles and not apparently enjoying themselves very much. I think I got one of someone who had fallen over, but felt bad about photographing the moment! I love the posture of the runner on the bridge, he looks as though he’s run a marathon.

    Is there a requirement to use film on this course? I’m thinking about doing it next, but want to stick with digital.

    • There’s absolutely no requirement to use film at all, so do not be put off at all by my use of it. The course covers a wide range of topics and I have found it very stimulating. Are you coming to the end of level one then? Thanks for the comment.

      • Hard work, it has to be said! But I was told it would be better to do all three at once than work through them individually and faster. I don’t have a blog – too much to learn about on top of the coursework. But maybe for level 2 . . .

      • Let me know what you choose – I’ve also started the new Documentary, which looks quite challenging as well. Both these new courses are a step up from the old level two courses – Landscape’s update is imminent.

      • I’m 99% sure I’ll go for both G&M and Documentary. It would be good to talk to you about both – are you going to the tate on saturday?

      • That should give us a lot to talk about. Unfortunately I didn’t make the cut for the Tate show. Are you in the Thames Valley area, as the TV group are planning a meeting on Feb 23rd, if not perhaps we could plan to have a chat another time?

      • No, I’m in Leicester. Maybe I could phone you some time? Or possibly even Skype – I’m trying to get that sorted today so I can have a job interview that way – very scary!

      • Happy for either a call or Skype (though it’s been a while since I’ve used it). Sometime next week? I’m off to an exhibition shortly and have an appointment tomorrow – just don;’t know exactly when so can’t schedule anything at the moment! I’m just north of Oxford – so not too far away.

      • OK for Jill, I’ll look forward to it. Can you let me know that you have my number and I’ll erase the posts with the tel numbers on them.

  4. Hi John, I’m about to do this exercise for the same module. I reckon shooting from the hip is different from decisive moment. You could shoot from the hip to capture a scene before it changes, but it wouldn’t look like decisive moment.

    As far as honesty goes, I read that as asking if the image honestly shows the scene as it was, in other words did the timing, angle or composition etc. give a false impression in your resulting picture, or does it show it as it was.


    • Hello Les, good to hear from you and have noticed that you’ve dived in now on the course. As regards honesty/truth I was unsure about the terminology in as much as; do the course notes mean have I been truthful to the scene – as you rightly say – but still have either edited in pp or constructed the scene in some way as to portray some narrative that I was exploring, rather than deliberately depict a falsehood. This is a really interesting subject and I wrote about it length here which was in response to another students question on truth – and incidentally for G&M students discusses Walker Evans.
      I think I agree with you about the “moment”, although if we are lucky it might turn decisively 🙂 I’ll watch out for your post on the subject.

      • Thanks for that john, I read it when you posted it, but hadn’t done the studying, so it was good to see it in a new light. I left a comment for Shaun which I’ll post here for convenience, I’d be interested in others opinions. –

        Hi Shaun, A quick observation though. Maybe Evans thought in rearranging the scene he was simply revealing the truth. The truth which couldn’t be captured or revealed by shooting the scene unaltered. It’s even conceivable his subjects were wearing their best clothes to be photographed, but he asked them to change into their usual clothes for the sake of shooting the scene the way it would normally be. It could be argued that had he photographed them in non typical clothing, he would be complicit in a lie. I see this situation as being the same as a journalist writing a report for a paper. The journalist must interpret and report what he thinks is important and tells the proper story (unless it’s a tabloid!) I don’t think you can single out photography as just pictures, not history, unless you do the same for writing.

        So I reckon Evans changing of the scene makes the pictures more journalistic than documentary, not necessarily a lie. In practice of course, it depends on exactly what he did.


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