I first became fond of the term ‘shooting from the hip’ while photographing skiing in steep couloirs. A couloir is a steep and narrow gulley that cuts into a mountain and forms a chute. Sometimes to stabilize myself while shooting photos I sort of ‘flop’ down on one hip and prop my camera up on the other as I face downhill and prepare for the skier to go by. The locations are often precarious and staying alert and balanced is paramount. Online ‘shooting from the hip’ is aptly described as, “…a quick decision in a situation without spending much time on weighing other suitable alternatives.” The term originated in the Wild West when a cowboy would holster his pistol on his hip and pull it out in a quick-draw like fashion during a duel.
I think adventure photography has a lot of similarities. With adventure photography I’m not always in a comfortable position, and I can’t always see very well— maybe the sun is coming into my eyes or wind is causing me to squint— and things tend to move fast. I often choose my camera settings and simply go for it. Sometimes I even shoot with my sunglasses or goggles still on. When I’m with a team and we are going for a big objective, on the move for 10 hours or more, there isn’t time to ask someone to hike back up and do it again, or pause for a minute while I check the white balance. It forces me to think fast and react quickly. Sometimes I totally blow it, but more often than not— it works out and results in a beautifully wild and real moment.
That’s not to say there isn’t forethought that goes into a day of shooting though. When planning an outing I’m always considering what lens or lenses I am going to bring, what I want my ISO and white balance set at when I leave the house, how many batteries I should carry, whether I need an extra memory card, and what type of camera bag I’m going to bring (Pro Trekker, Photo Sport, Toploader Pro). Most importantly I think about what types of images I might try to get, based on where I’m going and what the landscape provides.
The description of ‘shooting from the hip’ online continues with, “This strategy may be beneficial in certain situations which require a quick reaction. But in disciplines which warrant strategic planning and vision, shooting from the hip may attribute an impulsive and rash decision which may be detrimental to the organization.” I think this carries a lot of truth too, because my method of ‘shooting from the hip’ would not work if I did not have technical training and had not spent years in the darkroom learning the basics. As much as I love spontaneous photography I also know how important it is for me to slow things down and really focus. This is especially crucial since I’m stubborn and pretty much refuse to shoot on anything other than manual (I never feel like the images are exposed quite right as soon as I switch a camera over to auto… but that is the old lady in me). Occasionally I catch myself photographing faster than my mind can keep up with and I have to tell myself “Whoa Nelly!” and slow it back down.
So I suppose if I were to offer three tips to someone who is seeking to capture real moments on the fly it would be: be prepared, make it real, and go with the flow.
The key word there is real and that is what makes this style of photography unique. I find life to be truly incredible and celebrating that reality is important to me. There’s no harm in pretending that heaven is on earth and making the absolutely most out of the time we get to spend here. So, get out there and find yourself some moments that make your heart skip a beat… and don’t be afraid to holster your camera and quick-draw on some epic scenery!
Kt Miller’s photography has taken her near and far from her home base of Bozeman, Montana. She has captured some of the world’s most talented skiing and climbing athletes such as Jon Krakauer, Ralph Backstrom and Kasha Rigby. And her own skill in backcountry skiing has taken Kt – with camera – on many first descents in Greenland, Alaska, Romania and her backyard of Southwest Montana. Kt has worked with Polar Bears International in their education efforts and used her photography of the Arctic to help expand awareness of climate change. Check out her web site, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for more beautiful imagery. And read her blog to follow her adventures.