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Chance as a photographer's tool: 'Shooting from the hip' in Chicago

Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune

Shooting from the Hip street photography in Chicago, IL. Photograph taken with Hipstamatic on an iPhone.

A combination of chance, timing and an unobtrusive way of documenting communities.

 Chicago Tribune staff photographer Scott Strazzante’s “Shooting from the Hip” blog features street-photography from the neighborhoods of Chicago with unpredictable compositions that offer a genuinely candid look at the people and their lifestyles.

Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

Shooting from the Hip street photography in Chicago, IL. Photograph taken with Hipstamatic on an iPhone.

Key to Strazzante’s aesthetic is a method of shooting without always looking through the viewfinder.  Despite the uncertainty that it can bring Strazzante says, “chance became one of the tools in my arsenal.”

 Getting the shot while literally shooting from the hip is actually a well-honed skill. Scott began years ago with film cameras that had removable prisms which allowed him to compose while positioning the camera at high or low angles to get unique views. Not bringing the viewfinder up to his eye enables him to capture natural moments without his subjects reacting to his camera and also expands his field of vision.

 “If I shot from the eye, I might be walking down the street and see a moment but as I’m lifting the camera to my eyes it might be gone.  So now it’s almost just part of my thought process where I see it and I shoot it.”

Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune

Bus stop. Photograph taken with Hipstamatic on an iPhone.

Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

Shooting from the Hip street photography in Chicago, IL. Photograph taken with Hipstamatic on an iPhone..

“One of the other byproducts for shooting from the hip is that I have a wider range of vision to see moments coming together.  I can see the guy with the big Afro coming down the street while there’s a woman with a crutch coming in from this way and then there’s a person with a balloon so I can kind of wait till they all intersect.”

“I wanted my blog to be a little more free-flowing and just kind of my thoughts, but it kind of turned into more literally shooting from the hip.  One of the things that I think over the years of being a newspaper photographer that started to grate on me was that every place I went outside of a sporting event, people knew I was there.”

 “They knew they were being photographed.  And obviously, that kind of influenced what they would do, they would either do something for the camera or they would have this knowing expression on their face that they were being photographed and for me that kind of ruined the photos.”

 Strazzante started with the “shooting from the hip” method as a way to avoid that camera awareness of his subjects.  “No one is putting on a show, even though they are in public, they still have a reality to it.  There’s not any kind of influence from me because I’m just another pedestrian,” he said.

Scott Strazzante/ Chicago Tribune

After rushing for a career high 205 yards, Chicago Bears' Matt Forte meets Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith at midfield after Bears' 34-29 win in NFL game at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL on Sunday, October 2, 2011. Scott Strazzante took this picture by reaching around other photographers to get the right angle.

Additionally, Strazzante discovered a path to a newfound creativity along the way.  “I came to realize that the compositions that I made that were more happenstance are more interesting than the ones that my brain could put together.  I really enjoyed that surprise of, oh, this leg is in there framing this or, I got low enough for this, all this was in the frame.

One example of this came at the end of a Bears football game in which running back Matt Forté ran for over two hundred yards.“I knew I had to rush out on to the field and get some sort of post-game Matt Forté. photo.”

Scott Strazzante/ Chicago Tribune

Second version of the meeting between Matt Forte and Steve Smith. Photographer Scott Strazzante was able to line up the image after the media cleared.

After finding Forté mid-field with Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers, surrounded by other media, Strazzante reached around another photographer to get the shot of the players together ( at left ) without looking through the viewfinder. “Matt Forte’s entire head was obliterated by sun, and then people kind of cleared out and then I moved over and I stepped into the correct exposure and I shot it with my eye. “

“I went back and I compared like the photo I took just kind of reaching down which I thought was a super creative and interesting, I really liked it and then I looked at the photo that my mind put together and it was just this boring expected newspaper image. It’s like what I’ve been trained over the years to make.”


“I have this kind of schizophrenic line in my work where I have my creative, out-of-control photographs from the iPhone or “shooting from the hip”. Then when I’m shooting through my-- with my eye, with my brain, sometimes I get trapped in this newspaper-world of all these years of expectations of editors telling me ‘the horizon can’t be crooked’ or ‘it has to be in focus’.”

 “These things that have been ingrained in my head for years and years that I sometimes have a hard time mentally breaking through with that, and I feel I have all this freedom when I’m shooting for my blog that sometimes I forget to put into my daily work because my editors at the Tribune, they’re almost constantly telling me,  Scott,  please, be as creative with your daily assignment, as you are with your blog work because we like that.”

Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune

Photograph taken with Hipstamatic on an iPhone.

Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

Maywood Park Racetrack in Melrose Park, IL

 Strazzante borrowed his daughters iPhone on a family trip last year and was quickly hooked.

“In December I got my own iPhone and then it slowly replaced my professional cameras as my street photography weapon of choice.  Then I started doing Instagram, and now I’ve completely stopped doing street photography with my normal camera. Now I just use the iPhone exclusively because I really just love the Instagram community and it’s been really a fun thing for me.”

 “I feel that I have the right to photograph anyone on the street I want...but there will be some photographs that I won’t published because I just think they are almost cruel.  So there are definitely some photographs I won’t publish,  but there’s no photograph I won’t shoot because I just don’t know how it will turn out.”


Related links:

Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

Shooting from the Hip street photography in Chicago, IL.

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