Shooting From the Hip

I often claim I don’t have time to setup a tripod, which means I shoot from the hip.  I have learned that this gunslinger style of photography is really just an excuse for my undisciplined approach to photography.  Granted, certain shots don’t require me to setup a tripod.  The opportunity presents itself and I shoot.  In the photo below I had gone into the woods looking for deer.  I couldn’t find them that day and so I started to back out and immediately stopped when I heard rustling leaves.  Usually it’s just squirrels, but on that day it turned out to be the yearlings and the male decided he would walk up to within ten yards of me, which gave me an easy shot.


Most wildlife photos do not take place within ten yards.  Usually, if I get to within ten yards of whatever I’m shooting there is running involved, as in me or it running in the opposite direction.

I’ve been using Canon’s 100-400mm lens for over a year now.  Most of the shots I take are at 400mm.  The 100-400mm has its drawbacks; the trombone style or pump style tube that slides in and out, which can and does pump dust inside the camera, and the overall weight of the lens at nearly five pounds can get tiresome to carry around all day, to mention a couple.  Even so, I like some of the photos that lens allows me to take and as long as I’m within thirty yards of the larger animals like deer and eagles, I can get very nice shots without using a tripod.

However, outside of thirty yards the odds of getting a good shot diminish the further away the subject is.  I can still get pretty good deer shots at fifty yards, but not eagle shots.  To illustrate, I’m going to compare two shots taken on the same day, roughly about ten minutes apart, using two different styles of holding the camera, at a distance of about fifty to sixty yards.

A few weeks ago, as I rode around on the back-roads of southwestern Wisconsin, I happened on about a dozen to two dozen eagles feeding on a deer carcass.  I noticed that several of the eagles had flown off in the same direction.  West, toward the Mississippi River.  So I drove up a large hill to see where they were going.  As I drove along I noticed an adult Bald Eagle perched in a tree.  I know enough to stay in the car when I shoot eagles because if I get out they will fly away.  Being on the right side of the road, I stopped the car, rolled down the passenger-side window and leaned across, trying to take a shot while handholding the camera through the passenger window.  The cropped picture below is the result of a handheld shot at roughly fifty yards.


No amount of computer trickery will ever save this photo.  Having missed plenty of shots like this one, an inner-voice told me as I drove away to turn around, go back and do it right.  So I found a place down the road to turn around and went back.  The eagle had remained on its perch.  I stopped my car, rolled down my window about halfway, turned off the engine to reduce any vibration from it and used the window’s edge to stabilize my camera and lens, resulting in the picture below.


I don’t always have time to setup equipment to get my shots, but I have learned the value of improvising.  I lean on things, over things, or crouch down so I can stabilize the camera on my knees.  I’ve leaned over the hood of my car, or leaned on trees, anything to stop my body from affecting the shots.  Bottom line, any shot with a long lens has to somehow be stabilized, whether you use a tripod, a fence post, the ground or a car window rolled halfway down. 

Below is the un-cropped version of this photo.


5 Responses to “Shooting From the Hip”

  1. March 13, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    The picture you have of the deer is just amazing !! i love it – great job!!

  2. 2 Wapello Warbler
    March 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    The second eagle photo is keeper, too.

    Have you tried a walking stick with a Y or T top that you could use to steady the camera?

  3. 3 Randy Roberts
    March 13, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Thank you, epicswife. I have several shots from that day which remain as some of my favorites.

  4. 4 Randy Roberts
    March 13, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Thank you, Warbler. A walking stick ends up being one more thing to put down when I’m trying to get a picture. The best solution would probably be a mono-pod, though the noise it makes adjusting the leg would probably confuse and scare the deer.

    Glad you liked that shot. I had you in mind when I wrote some of this because I know you’re trying to get eagle shots and I know how uncooperative they can be. Good luck.

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