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.

The photographic waiting room

It can be very easy to think that the  modern photographer’s life is one of instant gratification. After all, Ansell Adams often had to wait weeks before he knew if that shot of a rock had worked as he wanted it to…nowadays we can take a photo of the rock, add a few filters and send it to an uninterested world in a matter of seconds. But much like a young tradie being sent to the shop to get a ‘long weight’, there are still a few times that photographers find themselves waiting, and then realising that they are too embarressed to tell anyone about it.

The time between taking the photo and getting to work with it in Lightroom

Pretty much every photographer has had the experience of looking at a shot on the screen on the back of the camera and thinking ‘Nailed it!’, only to get the photo onto a larger screen and realise that in fact it’s soft (slightly out of focus), or noisy (ISO too high) or shit (shit). So there is always a degree of paranoia about your shots until you can load them into your computer and see what you’re really dealing with. After all softness can be sharpened, noise can be reduced and shitness can have 100% clarity added to it and passed off as ‘HDR’. But you just don’t know what you’re working with until it’s loaded onto your computer…and so the wait between clicking the shutter and clicking on the mouse can seem like an eternity.

Last year I shot my first ever wedding. By the time I got home that night and loaded the photos onto my computer it was late and I was too shattered to do any work on them. But then the next day was chock-a-block with family activities, and the day following that involved a 5 hour bike ride. So I spent over 48hrs freaking out that I had no idea if I actually had any decent shots…it was torture.

So if you live with a photographer and want to be nice to them, give them an hour off other duties and let them load in their photos and have a look at them  on a big screen with access to some software that can hide their mistakes…it will make them a lot more pleasant to be around.

Waiting for feedback

I think that people who don’t take photos can underestimate just how much a photographer invests in a shot. As the photographer  you’ve chosen to take a photo, you’ve composed it, you’ve chosen your settings, you’ve forged a brief alliance with your subject, you’ve taken the shot, you’ve spent time doing post-production on the shot, sent through the final product, and then…well then you’re in the hands of the recipient, and the longer you wait for a response, the more you become convinced they hate it. It can be soul crushing. It’s a bit like finally plucking up the courage to call someone you have a crush on, but getting their voicemail and having to leave a message and then having to wait them to call you back. Or maybe you should call them…to make sure they got the message…or maybe I should I see if they’re available on Facebook…wait, it says they’re logged in on their mobile…why didn’t they answer my call then?… Oh God they must be trying to think of a nice way to say ‘No’…Oh God I feel like such an idiot!…but why don’t they just let me know? Why do they just leave me hanging? What sort of psycho are they?! Screw this, I’m going to send them a really nasty text message telling them that I can’t believe I ever I had feelings for them, but not to worry, I can take the hint, and I’ll never bother them again!
Meanwhile, in the time it took to go to the bathroom, the subject of your desires has received one voicemail message followed a few minutes later by a bafflingly angry text message.
In short, you are a tad vulnerable when you put a part of yourself into a shot for someone else’s judgment, and paranoia + time = teenage boy.

So if you have the misfortune of living with someone who fancies themselves as a photographer, or someone has taken some photos for you, here are a few things you can do to assuage our fears:

  • Let us know you got the photos. Even if you haven’t had a chance to look at them yet, just let us know they’ve arrived. Sometimes, due to the vagueries of the internet, photos don’t make it from sender to reciever, and there is nothing worse than waiting for feedback  on photos when the other person is still waiting for them to arrive.
  • Give feedback. Look, I know we’re all time poor, but I’ve had photos that I’ve taken hours working on, uploading to a gallery on Flickr and sending through,  only to recieve  ‘Great, thanks’  as the feedback. What was great?! Which ones did you like? Why?
    When I did the recent photoshoot with Luke from the Cobblers  Last  he actually went through and listed the photos he liked and why. It was awesome because going into a shoot you have no idea what people are hoping for, so it’s great to know how close you came to what they were after.
    Oh, and if I’ve seen you write ‘Cute pic’ or ‘That’s so great’ to someone’s clearly out of focus photo of their child on Facebook, your feedback has no weight with me.
  • Tell it like it is We are precious flowers…but sometimes we need to hear what you don’t like. Yeah, it hurts and we will probably spend the next couple of hours in a huff, but we need to know why you didn’t like a photo. I can pretty much guarantee that if there’s a photo you don’t like it’s either a photo the photographer had doubts about themselves, or there is a specific reason why they included it. As a photographer you take a lot of photos…the real skill is culling them down to the ‘good ones’. The more informed we are about what constitutes ‘good’ the better we’ll become as photographers.
  • Be our muse Yep, standing a spot while the photographer stares blankly at the display on the back of their camera and then adjusts the the off-camera flash for the umpteenth time can be boring as batshit. But consider it an investment in the ultimate prize; a photo of yourself that you actually like!

So there you go. We photographers are in fact incredibly misunderstood and under-appreciated geniuses who thoroughly deserve your respect and admiration.  Just please tell us we’re good…please!