Fitness and photography

A couple years ago I spent 12 months focussing on being more ‘creative’. I spent more time writing, taking photos and making videos…hell, I even took singing lessons. The net result was that I think I became a happier human being. I had a creative outlet (even if the world probably preferred it when I didn’t), my problem solving improved (although admittedly the ‘problem’ was normally someone asking me not to sing…and my ‘solving’ was agreeing and apologising) and I started to see creative options where I hadn’t seen them before. But for the last year and a half I’ve been training for the Ironman (well admittedly I’ve spent the last 2 months basking in the afterglow of having completed the Ironman) and I’ve been amazed at how focusing on keeping yourself physically fit, can have massive benefits for your creative endeavours.

The basics

Granted, the actual act of pressing the button on your camera, looking at the screen on the back, sighing, and then dejectedly deleting the photo, is not all that physically taxing (the emotional and psychological onslaught is of course another thing). So you could argue that increased fitness won’t make a big difference to your photography. But a bit of cardio fitness may have meant you walked a bit further to get a better vantage point, a bit of endurance work may have meant that you carried an additional piece of gear in your bag that helped make the shot and a bit of muscle may have allowed you to elbow your way through the scrum and get the best shot of your daughter’s dance recital (Oh sorry other parents, maybe if you’d spent a little more time at the gym you would be the one taking this awesome shot…instead of rolling around on the floor moaning ‘My nose, my nose…I think you broke my nose!”).

Dr. Who dance-16

Location, location.

While training for the Ironman (and yes I will continue to drop that into conversation wherever possible) I would often head out on 1.5 – 2hr runs. Now don’t get me wrong, running along main roads and having the local bogans loudly question your sexuality as they drive past is pretty awesome. But eventually you will want to get off the beaten track and run somewhere different, and this will open up a world of new photographic locations. Old buildings, new bridges, creeks, graffitied walls, velodromes, rolling hills- you never know what you will find, but you can bet that it’s not something that many other people have used for a photo.

I stumbled across this one morning while out for a run...then scampered back to get my camera.
I stumbled across this one morning while out for a run…then scampered back to get my camera.

The early bird

Do you know what’s awesome for photography? Early morning light, deserted streets, sunrise, frost and that crossover between late night revellers and those who get to work early. Do you know what sucks? Getting up early to take these shots when on any other day you’d still be asleep. But if getting up early is now part of your daily routine (because it’s the only time you can work your fitness regime into your family life or work schedule), then getting up early on another day to take some shots really isn’t that tricky.

Admittedly this photo wasn't taken superearly...but it was early when we started!
Admittedly this photo wasn’t taken superearly…but it was early when we started!

The people you meet

I’m firmly of the opinion that the most important factor in taking a great photo is not your skill level…but being there. A photographer with basic skills who is actually there, is going to take a much better photo than an expert who isn’t. But the problem is, how do you meet people to take photos of? How do you hear about events that would be great to photograph? How do you hear the stories that would translate beautifully to the captured image? In short you have to get out and meet people and do things, and getting involved in a sporting group or club is a great way to do this.
Plus, if you are actually doing an activity, you will have a much better idea of where the best photos are going to be. Everyone is going to be at the finish line, but where will the race be won? Where will the hearts break? Where is the bike most likely to stack? If you are actually doing these activities day to day, you will be able to walk up to any event and have an advantage over the other photographers.

Footjam Nosepick,
Footjam Nosepick,


OK, if you’ve made it this far into this post then you’re probably willing to let me get a little tangential. If you are exercising regularly, you will be happier with yourself physically. When you’re happy with yourself physically, this tends to manifest itself in greater self confidence…and you know what is an incredibly powerful tool when trying to convince strangers to let you take their photo? Self confidence. It makes no sense, but I know that for me personally, knowing that I could run 20kms on any given Sunday, gave me the confidence to approach Luke and ask him to pose for a portrait.

Of all the photos, I think this one carries the most weight.
Admittedly he does look a little like he’s regretting agreeing to let me take his photo.

Time to think

If you’ve got kids, or a full-time job, or remarkably persistent cats, you’ll probably find that you don’t have a whole lot of time to think about your photography. But head out for a swim, ride, run or gym  session and you suddenly have time and space to think, although for the  first couple you will just be thinking ‘Christ I hate running!’ and ‘Why am I doing this?!’ and ‘Who the hell put the Wiggles on my playlist?!!’ But eventually you will be able to do the physical side of things on auto-pilot, while you use your newfound firing synapses and endorphins to come up with some stellar ideas.
The best ideas I’ve had for photos, videos and blogs have been while I’ve been out exercising.

Selfish portrait. ISO 400, 17mm, f3.5 and 6sec
Selfish portrait.

In conclusion, your Honour…

Having swung the pendulum between focusing on creativity and focusing on fitness, I have settled on the idea that I need to have a balance of 60% fitness and 40% creativity…with that additional 20% focus on fitness leading to more than a 20% improvement in my creativity. So go out and try find your balance. Before you buy that next bit of gear, buy a a decent pair of runners instead, before you book a photo-tour, go for a run around your local area and see what you find, and instead of putting your head back on the pillow at 5.30am get outside and break out of your comfort zone…your photography will be the better for it.

Staying fit when you’ve got kids

Apart from the actual exercise itself, two other essential ingredients when it comes to staying fit are consistency and sleep. You need to have a regular routine rather than sporadic bursts, and you need to be getting enough sleep to let your body recover. However there are two things that are going to be mere blips disappearing into the distance of your rear view mirror as you travel on the good car ‘parenthood’; routine and sleep.
So what can you do if you want to stay fit with kids? Well first of all I have to premise this with the fact that a year and a half ago I completed my first half ironman…but after the birth of our 3rd child 6 months ago, my next involvement with triathlon will be next weekend when I am going to handing out drinks at the Melbourne Ironman…so I’m not claiming to be a shining example of being in peak fitness.
Now I‘m no expert but’ here are some tips I’ve developed over the last 6 years of raising our three kids.

1. Consider being a bad parent.
Being a good parent is actually really time consuming. All that loving, and nurturing and ‘being there’ can really bite into your training time. Sure, being a good parent will probably result in them being well adjusted human beings who people actually like spending time with…but if you put the time you’re putting into being a good parent into your running training, you could probably run 4 minute kms for the marathon. So think about which one of those is more important.
But bear in mind that your kids are probably going to be the ones who decide which old people’s home you get put in.
2. Abandon hope all ye who enter
Ok, so a  more positive way of saying this may be ‘readjust your goals’, but positivity disappears at about the same rate as your anaerobic threshold after the birth of a child, so  unless you:
a) have gone with the option above
b) are a genetic freak
c) have been setting your goals remarkably low
You will not be returning to your pre-child levels of fitness for at least the first 6 months of the child’s life. So there’s no point trying to achieve it, and even less point beating yourself up for not achieving it. On a good day I focused on ‘maintaining a base level of fitness’ so that I when the time became available I could increase my training without having to start from scratch. On a bad day I focused on not becoming someone who was morbidly obese and had to be lifted out of their house by a crane.

3. Work the training into your life
As I discussed in my previous post (which ‘The New Yorker’ described as “We don’t review blogs so please stop sending us emails”), it’s hard to find time to do the things you want to do at the best of times…and finding time to do the things you want to do when you have kids is even harder. So where possible work it into your day to day activities.
For example:

  • Ride to work if you can. If you’re feeling courageous try running to work.
  • Pretend that carrying a small child is in fact an exercise for your core
  • Still carrying that child? Pick up that toy you just stood on. Now do it again…look you’re doing squats! You used to pay to do this at the gym.
  • Take your kids to swimming lessons and participate. If the sight of yourself in bathers isn’t enough to terrify you into more exercise or less eating, then you’re doing well.

4. Misery loves company
You know how little you cared when one of your friends without kids complained about how they had to wait for ages to get a seat at some new and expensive restaurant even though they ‘totally knew someone who worked there and had spent like at least $200 on drinks at the bar’? Yeah, well that’s about how much they care about your ‘I got no sleep’ and ‘I’m pretty sure this is an acceptable amount of vomit to have on my top’ discussions.
So if you’re going to spend a couple of hours on a bike talking to someone, make it someone who is the same situation as you. They are a lot more likely to empathise with you, and a lot more likely to be at a similar level of fitness as  you.

5. It does get better
My experience has been that you spend the first month after the baby is born living off residual fitness. For months 2-4 the sleep deprivation accumulates and your level of exercise is pretty much eviscerated. At this point you become pretty much convinced that you will never be fit again. Months 5-6 are frustrating because you suddenly get intermittent exercise availability…but nothing consistent enough to let you feel as though you’re doing anything other than fighting hard to stay in the same place.
But after that you will hopefully start finding that you can get out every second weekend for a ride…or to the gym a couple of times a week. Within a year, suddenly you’ll start feeling some of that fitness come back and you might start identifying some targets for the next year. Within 2 years you will be back to your original level of fitness and you will have completely forgotten all the pain and frustration of that first 6 months…then you will decide to have another child…and 9 months later it will all come flooding back.

But is it all worth it? Well I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Jon Stewart who says that ‘Parenting seems like a lot of work. But for all the hassle and worry once in a while comes a moment of pure innocence that touches your heart and tickles your funny bone…nah f%&$ it, it’s a lot of work.’

If you’ve got any advice or tips, I’d love to hear them.