An adventure photographer’s advice for putting down the camera

Kylie Fly didn’t grow up in one of those families that embarks on far-flung vacations and exotic cruises during Christmas break.

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“My sisters and I did everything together,” says Fly of her identical triplet siblings. Photo: Courtesy of Kylie Fly
With six kids in the brood (three brothers, and triplet sisters), the Flys spend most of their family time outdoors in Idaho.

“There was a lot of noise, a lot of competition for attention, a lot of scrappiness and thriftiness, a lot of humans to feed,” she explains. “So we spent a lot of time camping and going on little fishing trips. With three older brothers, [my sisters and I] did what they did. If they skied, we skied. If they skated, we skated.”

It wasn’t until Fly went off to college that she realized her trips could involve plane tickets and passports.

Kylie Fly spent years traveling to countries all over the world and honing her craft. Photo: Kylie Fly
Kylie Fly spent years traveling to countries all over the world and honing her craft. Photo: Courtesy of Kylie Fly
“I went to school and discovered people leave the country and come back with cool bracelets and do things,” the 28-year-old laughs. “So I started researching and there was an opportunity to go to China to teach English. I was terrified to do that, but it was the best decision I ever made.”

Her six-month stint abroad also served as a launch pad for a new career in — and passion for — photography.

“I was out and about and I spotted this dude washing his shoes in a river,” Fly explains. “I remember looking at him and taking his picture. It was something I’d never seen before, this really candid, raw moment. I knew I wanted to capture stuff like that, people living their lives so differently than mine, and sharing those images with others.”

Deciding when to shoot and when to be part of the action is part of the job description for Fly. Photo: Kylie Fly.
Deciding when to shoot and when to be part of the action is part of the job description for Fly. Photo: Courtesy of Kylie Fly
The course was set: Fly started traveling the world — often with her two identical sisters by her side — ticking off places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Haiti and Bali.

After a while, her travel log starts to read like a geography textbook. These days she primarily shoots outdoor adventure images, most recently nabbing the head-of-photography position for the Wanderlust Festivals.

But, as Fly admits herself, there’s a thin line between having an adventure, and simply documenting one. Here, she shares her tips for deciding when to shoot, and when to leave the camera in its bag.

Read the Group

If your group is receptive to being photographed, snap away. Photo: Kylie Fly
If your group is receptive to being photographed, snap away. Photo: Courtesy of Kylie Fly
If you’re climbing a mountain, I try to feel out the vibe of the group I’m with.

If they get easily irritated by my shutter going off or me pulling my camera out all of the time, or if I’m interrupting the moment or breaking their concentration, I don’t like to impose those things on other peoples’ experiences.

If the other people don’t care, I go nuts. For the most part, I try to be as unobtrusive as I can.

Candid Can Be Recreated

You can go on a trip with shots in mind, but if everything is forced and you’re creating moments, I don’t believe in that.

I find myself looking for the candid moments — like if I see someone spin their wife near a campfire — and if I miss it maybe I’ll just say, “Hey can you do that again for me?”

When someone climbs a rock and looks over the edge, it happens naturally but maybe I’ll ask them to turn a little to the left to catch the light. So shots don’t have to be super contrived, but you can make them better.

Budget Your Photos

On the go? Stop, take a series of photos, then get back to the action and don't worry about missing every moment. Photo: Kylie Fly.
On the go? Stop, take a series of photos, then get back to the action and don’t worry about documenting every single moment. Photo: Courtesy of Kylie Fly
When I’m whizzing over single track on a mountain bike or climbing, I don’t want to worry about crushing my lens, but sometimes that’s the reality of my work.

I have to pick and choose my moments. I observe and think, “Is this something I want to capture? Need to capture?” If it’s not, or it’s annoying to get my camera out, or I’m just not feeling it, then I don’t take the picture.

I’ll aim to take 20 good shots of something and then put my camera away again. I want to be able to get the shots I have in my head, so I’ll make sure I get those at minimum then set my camera aside.

I try to be selective about what part of the story I want to tell.

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