The term, “shoot from the hip” can mean a lot of things in different contexts, from guns, to writing, to politics. In photography circles, it generally means taking a photo without looking through the viewfinder or otherwise giving away the fact that you're shooting. In street photography, this can be a very valuable skill, allowing you to capture people in a more candid, natural way. It takes a little bit of planning and practice and this article will help you learn to do it effectively.
Don't Take it Literally
While you may actually want to have the camera at your hip for a particular shot, don't get too wrapped up in the idea that it needs to be particularly low. Most of the people that notice you will notice your camera, too, and carrying it awkwardly isn't going to help you use it covertly. Slinging your strap over one shoulder and across to the other side is a good way to make it look a little more casual, but there's no reason you can't carry it more conventionally around your neck. It's more about how you shoot than where the camera is.
Walk on the Wide Side
Alright, that was a terrible pun and I apologize. What I mean to say is, one of the first rules in shooting this way is to use a wide-angle lens. Your “nifty fifty” may be your favorite, and yes, it's fast, but it's going to miss too much when you're not looking at the scene. Don't worry about a little bit of distortion, either; it may actually enhance the results.
You're going to want a narrow aperture, because you'll need good depth of field to be sure your subject is in focus. Keep it at f/11 or higher if you can. That may mean pushing the ISO setting up a little, but a little noise is better than an out-of-focus shot.
This takes some practice, but switch your focus to manual and set it at a comfortable shooting distance, say, 5 or 6 feet. (If you don't have a scale on the lens, focus on something at the right distance ahead of time and lock it there.) Once you've got the focus set, try to keep all your subjects at approximately that distance when you shoot.
Don't Look at the Camera
It may be tempting to pretend to be checking camera settings or chimping, but looking at the camera is going to draw people's attention to it no matter what you're doing. Get used to handling it without having to look and let your gaze wander. Remember, you're just part of the crowd.
Keep your Hand on the Camera
Protecting your camera is something people will expect you to do in public. Reaching for your camera repeatedly isn't. Keep at least one hand on the camera all the time, both to protect it and to grab the shot when you see it.
Own Up when You're Caught
No matter how well you perfect your “stealth technique”, someone is eventually going to ask, “Did you just take my picture?” When it happens, turn it into an opportunity. Introduce yourself as a professional. Tell them what prompted you to take the shot, give them your KeepSnap card and let them know they can see your work, including that shot, in your online gallery. You may make a sale, and at the very worst, they may ask you to delete the photo. If so, respect their wishes.
By the way, if you don't have a KeepSnap account yet, you really should check it out. The account is free and the system makes it incredibly easy to sell your photos of people anywhere. Do yourself a favor and give it a look here.