As much as we all agree that the advent of digital photography made everything much easier when it came to capturing the epic images of your travels, the one lost element of the old film days that I occasionally lament remains the element of surprise. In the days of film speeds and a max of 36 exposures, you never really knew what you'd get until you had the film developed. Patience became a necessity. And when you picked up the pictures and negatives, flipping through the photos was like revisiting the trip days after you returned. The only rule of thumb: if you got two or three usable photos out of a roll, you did good.
Now, of course, travel photography has become another facet in a world defined by instant gratification. Even $100 point and clicks can produce stellar images. Better still, you see the photo instantly. Don't like it? Delete, adjust, reshoot, and repeat. Or fix it via easy-to-use in-camera editing tools.
But I do miss that sense of spontaneous curiosity, and occasionally fall back on an easy technique that re-introduced a bit of surprise. Known as shooting from the hip, basically you reject the logic of looking through the lens (or at the back display) and just aim the camera at something that might be interesting, and start clicking. Position the camera at hip level (hence the term), or just sit it on a chair or table, or leave it dangling from the shoulder strap. So long as the lens isn't obscured and you can trigger the shutter, you're good. Some of the industry's more sophisticated candid photographers attach a cable shuttle release and thread the cable through their jacket, so as to conceal that they're snapping a photograph.
I recently fell back into this practice while wandering the streets of Glasgow's shopping districts, aiming where I thought the frame might align nicely and just snapping away.
Out of about 50, there are perhaps six that offered a window into something I likely would've missed had I been more interested in framing the photo in the conventional way. You also typically get more surreal images, with fun bits of blurring, sun flares in unexpected places, and occasionally subjects that look down at your camera just as you hit the shutter. Even a casual lens, it seems, can attract attention.
To try it yourself, find a place with good foot traffic (urban shopping arcades, intersections with high pedestrian traffic) or places where people remain static (like on the subway or riding the bus). Rely on the auto focus, and zoom out for wide-angle shots (you can always crop in later). Those with manual controls can also play with additional blurring and depth of field by making the necessary adjustments. Then just start clicking away at things that might seem interesting—bright objects, moments of levity, or chaos that might produce some fun or interesting juxtaposition. Aim, but don't cheat by looking through the view finder—and try to hold off looking at the results for at least ten frames. Then, quickly adjust as needed to produce a usable exposure, and get back to it. There will be plenty of time to discover what you got after the lights or the crowd or the moment has gone—and the dozens of photos won't cost you more than the time to review 'em when you're done.
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