“F/8 and be there.”
Sometimes it’s not enough to just be there. All photography requires some degree of physical ability (even if it’s just releasing a shutter), and many types of photography demand high levels of physical ability. Being there is not always so simple.
Picture a coastline. Insert some seacliffs. You know the type – from the top it’s a landform that carries along gently, and then suddenly plunges away to reveal a rock-strewn coastline, waves pounding themselves into oblivion far far below. For a bipedal creature this is unforgiving territory, a purgatory between land and sea.
Now picture a castle. Perched atop a rocky spire, on its every side is pure, unadulterated, swirling, non-weight-bearing air. This place is so exposed that its most every wall has melted away; only a few stubborn sections defiantly still stand. The only way into this ruin is across a crumbling catwalk of land where once a narrow and treacherous drawbridge undoubtedly rattled most every visitor passing over its planks.
Photography as Physical
Out on that rocky spire, balancing on edges, treading on rock, looking down hundreds of feet at seabirds swooping below, having a grand old time poking around the ruinous stacks of stone, the thought crossed my mind of how important it is for photographers to be able to trust their bodies. There must be confidence in the steps, steady strength in awkward positions, yet also a light and quick feeling in the feet. This was obvious when balancing atop a crumbling precipice, but truths are revealed here which are perhaps relevant to many – or dare I say most – photographic situations.
When was the last time you thought about your weekly runs as critical for taking photos, or that you’d better get to the gym since you have a shoot coming up? Do you think of your physical capabilities – or lack thereof – as central to your practice of composing images? These are not things that seem to come up a great deal, yet they are a variable that is always in the equation of image-making. Like many professions the state of the body can be sometimes forgotten, but it’s always there. Can greater physical prowness make you a better photographer? Absolutely.
Being There Vs. Being There
I recently ended up on the website of a gym in Wyoming called Mountain Athlete that is based on some cool stuff. The gist of it is that outdoor sports have been discipline-specific for a long time, meaning that “traditional” thinking went something like “in order to be a good mountain biker you need to mountain bike, lots.” And while this is correct to a degree, when everyone trains like crazy on the bike and then competes, selections often start to be made based on a higher order of variables.
The notion of cross-training has been around for a long time, and strength conditioning is also nothing new, but doing sport-specific conditioning is a bit newer. Recent changes in sports like cycling see athletes doing an awful lot of work off the bike, adding to their physical potential with everything from nutrition to recovery. We’re talking about standing around in ice pools here, just to aid the muscles in the legs after a long day in the saddle. My question is, what’s the photographic equivalent? In different terms, it is another body and mind equation.
There are two parts to the famous quote of “be there”. One is getting there. There is always an approach of one sort or another. Whether it’s a hike or a long day’s work or thinking up an idea, there is a lot of work to be done to push through the challenges involved in wrangling the many variables of image-making together. The second part – and this is where we started here – is what condition you are in once you are finally “there”. Finding new angles, moving around, a brain that’s still keen and alert – making images is inescapably physical. Will you still have ample energy to work for that next shot? Will your body bend easily, will you be ready to drop to the ground or edge out over a cliff? To top it all off, the vagueness of “being there” means that defining moments are not always identifiable as they happen. Sometimes we only even “see” them once they’ve passed. When at work as a photographer, you always have to be on. It the studio, in the wild. Tricky.
Shooting for Quality
The solution to all this is? Well, training. Yup, I think it’s time for some photographer boot camp action. We should run, we should lift, we should practice yoga. Have you ever tried to handhold a 300 millimeter lens when the fading light of an afternoon demands that you shoot a relatively slow shutter speed and therefore remain absolutely still? It’s like shooting a rifle accurately – you even have to monitor your breathe so that you can get as close to holding still as is humanly possible. In a day and age when everyone can be a photographer and we have an amazing set of tools at our fingertips, maybe it’s time to go beyond just “taking pictures” – it’s time to hit that higher level and aim to break some records. What records? To start, I’m thinking of personal ones and of how all of this might tie together into living a higher quality of life.
So there you have it folks, I’m off to do a dozen salutes to the sun, a track session, and then check in at the firing range. See you out there. And lest I forget – a few shots from the day’s wanderings in Scotland. Hope to make it back before too long.