Shooting from the Hip by Mohamed Hakem

Shooting from the Hip

By Mohammed Hakem

My website:
my FB page:

In conservative cultures street photography is an absurd dream. It’s very hard for people who haven’t seen enough tourists to accept being captured. The reason behind this is not related to privacy issues, but a stereotype that everybody with a camera is a journalist who will fake some news and speak badly about them. It actually happens a lot that people take random pictures of poor people and insert them into articles related to drugs and crimes. These people might be poor but they all have dignity that matters more than their lives, that’s the main reason why they become so aggressive.

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To take pictures of these amazing people you either have to build a relationship and let them trust you, or have the balls to shoot candidly. With a DSLR it is impossible to do the second, but with a mirrorless it can be done.




I am a travel photographer and taking pictures of people naturally is part of what I do. I prefer not to let people notice I am there, I know I may be violating a copyright or bypassing privacy space but this is ART and I am not doing anything with the picture afterwards other than revealing lovely places and people to others. Every once in a while a photographer should get out of his comfort zone and shoot something different to what he is used to. Landscapers should go for streets, Fashion and portrait should go for travel photography and so on, it helps you a lot understanding other aspects.



The technique here is to shoot from below. I use the tilting screen of my Fuji XT-1, disable the eye-senor and put the camera on top of my shoulder bag in front of me. People see me as a tourist and they are not frightened but still I don’t know their reaction if I pointed the camera directly towards them, especially that I am not the personality who can talk to strangers fluently so I won’t find a way out if someone yelled what are you doing. I adjust the Aperture for the depth of field and let the camera do the rest. I point to the target and quickly compose the picture from the screen.





To be Honest I am amazed by Fuji’s V.4 auto focus system, it’s like a totally new camera. To those who don’t know, firmware upgrades in the mirrorless world is a real Firmware! not just solving bug issues that will affect 0.01% of your shooting the firmware introduces exciting features and upgrades the autofocus as if it’s a new camera!. Most of the pictures are shot with the 56 F1.2 lens on F1.2 in Egypt, the country I’m proud to be born in its culture. please make sure to like my FB page and take a look on the website 🙂


  1. Great street photog images, Can you take a pix of your setup and how you mount your camera so we can get an idea of your method as Im still not sure what you mean. I also love to shoot stealty steet shots but havent been able to get any good ones when Im just shooting “from the hip”. thanks/

  2. Mohammed,

    you have some outstanding images here. There is a subtlety about them, that in no way implies an invasion of privacy. I agree with many here who understand that a candid shot provides a different perspective (some may say, a more natural one), than a posed shot. As a case in point, I was taking some photos of my wife recently, to which she happily consented. It was only after we stopped the “photo shoot” and she just lay on the bed, looking down at her iPad that her whole demeanour looked so natural, relaxed and beautiful. I took 2 or 3 quick shots and was happier with those than with all the rest I had taken that morning.

    My view is that, rather than being sneaky, I would rather not disturb the scene by intruding and asking for a photograph, especially as the scene may evolve and change slightly and new compositions emerge, in real time. You would never see those new possibilities if you intervened and asked permission.

    But each photographer must do what they feel comfortable doing and always respect the local laws.

    • This is indeed very correct, David! Most people are not able to pose beatifully. That’s why being a model is a profession. One can make people look better on a picture, when they are not aware that they are being photographed. Unless you work with a trained model, you get very stereotype, and most of the time even dull portraits. In no way of any intrest. Not doing any credit to photography, and certainty not to the person in the picture, who in many cases will dislike the result. I have taken quite some candid shots of people, who were so very pleased with it afterwards, that they used it as profile picture on their Facebook page.

  3. truly amazing compositions, very good! About candid or not; I personally hate to look at someone’s travel journal build from 300 pictures of locals smiling at the photographer. Candid makes it real! Also I think this is less harassing then confronting all your subjects upfront. Of course you can always make contact after taking the shot and offer them a copy.

  4. You know you violate their privacy and stiil you shoot on. And as if this is not enough you go on to publish the photos for the world to see on the internet. This is in many ways trespassing and ruining the milieus, cultures, spaces and people you admire and have an otherwise very good eye for. Street photography should always have respect for its subject in my view.

      • Intrusion is never justified by being “respectful”. And why not make the effort to establish trust?

      • I guess most of the shots are done in open common space and as such can be more or less justified, but as the shooter brought up the topic I find it reasonable to discuss. At least the photo in the mosque is certainly not done with the photographed persons permission. A milieu like this is exactly defined by it being closed of and therefore carrying a certain value, spirit and religious sentiment. Nothing justifies trespassing this space in my view.

      • “How is different then any other street photograph that would give you this opinion?” The only thing that is separating him is that he chose to write about his experience and explain his thought process.

    • @Michael: up to that photographer as Daido Moriyama or Bruce Gilden shall be hosted in public jail 🙂 . What is published does not violate the intimacy or is not respecting the people in the picture IMHO and I think the introduction of Mohammed was just to better identify the environment where he is shooting. Over all in many place of Europe if you take picture of people their reaction can be very rude even being in a “culture” where the concept of privacy is not so clear anymore.

  5. Really great pictures, Mohamed. I personally believe that this kind of shots are at the heart of photography. They document people in a way, only photography can do.
    Indeed, those has to be candid shots, because it’s the only way to register people in their natural behavior. I hope everybody can understand that their is no wrong intention what so ever, when a photographer takes these shots, since they are used to furhter enridge the documentation on humanity, so on ourselves – all of us. Of course it would be a problem when sneaking on people in their private environment. But on public places, everybody knows that he/she is exposed to everybody around.
    I consider all kinds of posed pictures as – showing only “one color” of the human spectrum. As much as I like “green” and as much as there are different nuances in green, it’s still only one color. Unposed portraits (= candid shooting) is the only way to show the whole human spectrum. IMO it would be a big impoverishment to forbid portraiture of natural human behavior, an injustice towards humanity.
    Well, I guess I’m a big proponent of candid shooting, if it’s done by responsable photographers.
    BTW, wonderful people indeed, Mohammed. I like picture #4 the most, since it’s all about the most powerful human feature: communication.

  6. Most excellent in every aspect of your photography. Really enjoyed “the ride”.

    “I prefer not to let people notice I am there, I know I may be violating a copyright or bypassing privacy space” Mohammed H.

    I agree, why trouble them? In fact, I feel that the legal adage (used mainly by the police): “The eyes can’t trespass”, should comfort most of the guilt one may feel and is based in/on Common Sense.
    If the subject is in public view, then the lens like our eyes, can’t trespass…

  7. Great photos!

    But the whole hip shooting idea I never bought 🙂 If you are confident and know that you doing nothing wrong (legally) even with D4s and 24-70mm zoom you can take great candid photos. Its all in the technique IMO. The weight OTOH is a real issue. Another thing that bothers me about hip shooting is that to me its just a touch too sneaky. I feel funny sharing photos of people that they did not really have a chance to know were taken. In SP I believe if a person wants to object to their being photographed, they should have that opportunity.

    In any case, we are lucky to be able to chose the gear we want to get the results we are seeking.
    Thanks for sharing the photos.

  8. Lovely images. I too love travel photography and I sold my Canon gear and first started with the Fuji X100 and then purchased the XT1 with a few primes and have also added a Sony A7 Mk2, thanks to Steve’s reviews.

    I agree with your sentiments on shooting from the hip. However I tend to make friends with the locals, eat with them, get to know them and then just shoot from looking through the view finder. I feel in this way I get to know the culture and people. I made so many friends when I travelled through Nepal last year.

    Brilliant shots by the way, and I love your blog as well!



  9. Nice colors and shots that capture life.. I often shoot from the hip, lap, near ground level, or overhead without using screen or viewfinder because I want the angle, the moment, and only have time to frame intuitively not visually. This allows me to get shots I could never get if I framed more conventionally and it works most of the time. Of course, if the situation permits, I prefer to frame using the viewfinder and good shot discipline. Thanks for sharing these street images.

  10. Hello,

    nice shots and your blog is awesome. These night skies especially.
    And you are right, it’s hard to take street portraits, even in Paris; So, in Egypt…
    But it’s amazing that you manage to have so precise compositions with your shoulder bag !

  11. It’s amazing that you can shoot from the hip using a narrow lens such as the 56mm. I also own an X-T1 but for street photography (I am just starting to do this), I prefer to use my X100S because it is more discreet (smaller), especially when I set it to silent mode. Also, the wider FOV (35mm equivalent) allows me to have a wider FOV so I won’t miss the shot when I am not looking thru the viewfinder. If I use the X-T1, I would put it in electronic shutter mode (for silence) and use the 18mm (27mm equivalent) for wider FOV.

    I am having problem with setting the hyperfocal distance. I read that if I choose a small aperture (F16) and manually focus at about 5 feet ahead, then everything from a little in front of 5ft to infinity is sharp. But I can never get that. The depth-of-field indicator in the viewfinder (the white bar) only shows DOF of a few feet. Does anyone know what I am doing wrong?

  12. Wow, Mohammed, these are such beautiful pictures. I love the colours / toning.

    I was wondering about the pop / object isolation, but 56 1.2 does explain it all. Just wonderful!

    Also, thank you for telling about how you shot, clever idea and thank you for taking us for a short walk through these streets ,-)

  13. I’ve used this technique extensively mostly because I love the perspective it gives. Sometimes kids with a camera take the most amazing photos and it’s usually because they have a unique perspective of the world from 3 or 4 feet up. Shooting from the hip replicates that same view. William Eggleston doesn’t say much about his photos, or rather he says its just a photo and nothing more in terms of meaning. One of the exceptions was his famous photo of tricycle in the drive way where he wanted to approach it from the view of a child. I shot from the hip a lot in Japan where it was hard for me to go unnoticed because of my many tattoos, at the same time they are the ultimate camera culture and that allowed me to catch both guarded and unguarded moments. I did a Leica blog on the subject below.

    You have some great moments, beautiful photographs and I agree you’d probably never would have captured them any other way. Here in the U.S. we are lucky to be protected by laws that allow s to shoot anywhere, anytime as long as it’s public property and not next to a federal building. Many other countries don’t have those same freedoms. They will probably say it’s to protect people’s privacy but more likely it’s to protect their own interests and give them the ability to censor photographers and videographers whenrver they want to control a situation. Thanks for sharing, really enjoyed the piece.

  14. Gorgeous photos. I love the intricate detail in the shop image and the seated man in the black leather jacket. Those are wonderful! However I have to ask, most of these photos are of men. Are women on the streets of Egypt too?

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