Warming Up

by Steve Simon

After listening to Derrick Story's podcast interview with Aperture wedding shooter Joe Buissink, I got to thinking. Joe mentioned he uses a technique to train himself to be a better photographer. Basically, when he's out in his life and he sees something that would be a good picture but he's not shooting, he will say the word "Click" out loud, or snap his fingers. This physical act he says, helps to train him for capturing moments when he's working, which makes him a sharper, better photographer.

The idea of mental exercises to make us better photographers or warming up before shooting is intriguing. I have to admit, I'm skeptical, but open to the idea and may give it a try to see if it works for me.

Are you getting warmer? These Montreal fire-breathers go from cool to hot in a split second, but photographers may need a little more time to warm-up to make great work. Copyright: Steve Simon

I don't know about you, but I have to be fully engaged and concentrating when I shoot. I can't have the distraction of being with someone; I need to be a lone wolf to do my best work, without distraction.

I used to take a camera everywhere, and I still try and have a little digi with me at all times, but I realized a long time ago, that for me to do my work, I can't just be out for a casual stroll, I need to be in all-out shoot mode. This means, the switch to shooting mode is on, I'm concentrating, in the moment and thinking and feeling my way around with my camera.

My best shooting experiences meld the physical act of shooting (which becomes second nature with experience), with the mental and the emotional to get to a place where you're in that zone. And I agree, it takes a bit of warming up.

When I was a newspaper photographer and we had to go find a picture on slow news days, it helped to start shooting right away. So as I looked for potential photographs, if I came across something that was not as exciting as I had hoped, I would still stop and shoot to break the ice; loosen up by taking a few pictures right from the start.

There were times when I didn't do this, and I regretted not stopping to photograph something I didn't deem worthy, when in hindsight, it was the most interesting opportunity I had all afternoon.

I also tend to pre-visualize the potential of upcoming shoots as a form of warming up, but I am conscious of being open to the reality when I'm actually there, letting go of my pre-conceived ideas and reacting to the situation in front of me. Sadly, my fantasies of what the shoot might be is rarely as good in reality.

Photographer Ben Long uses warm up techniques he has learned in improvisation classes. Ben was inspired by the poet and screenwriter Al Young, (now California Poet Laureate) who spoke at a workshop he attended almost 20 years ago.

"Mr. Young didn't understand why most people didn't warm up before writing, or performing other mental pursuits," said Ben.

"He told us he would write something other than what he was working on, to warm up; to get in the space of writing."

Ben says that in improv, you just can't get to a higher level of creativity without warming up. "Warming up helps you to react in split seconds, being physically present and tuned into your environment in a very profound way".

Sounds like photography to me.




One of the exercises he recommends before going out to shoot is to walk around the room pointing at objects and naming them the wrong name, out loud!

Don't think he says, just free associate, concentrating on looking at the object and giving it a different name. After a few minutes, stop and look around the room. You may perceive like he and others who perform this warm up ritual, "a brightening of colors, a greater sense of depth or strong outlines around subjects", he says.

It sounds a little wacky, but the power of great photography cannot be fully understood or articulated; yet we see, feel and believe its magic. I'm going to give it a try.

If you have some warm-up techniques that work for you, please share them here.

Quick Tip: Mastery

When I'm making adjustments to a new version of an image, I like to repeatedly press the M key to toggle from the new version to the master raw image. This way I can quickly see and compare the differences in the version I've been correcting and the raw image. You will see the master image tag on the master, so there is no confusion as to which is which.

In Focus

Remember the days when an out of focus picture was an out of focus picture? Mitsubishi Electric has developed a new camera that refocuses out of focus pictures.

"The heterodyne light field camera makes refocusing after capture possible. Using coded aperture that can increase depth of field by 10 times, the camera essentially deblurs an image after it is captured, according to the researchers."

Edge Sharpening is so 2007. Looking forward to the Refocus command in Aperture.


2007-04-19 12:17:14
I use the M key a lot to compare my version to the master, but if the version has been cropped, then the two do not line up on the screen. I suppose I could do the crop last, or I could make another version that only has the crop, but not the adjustments. Anyone know a better way around this?
2007-04-20 06:16:18
Thanks for mentioning warming up, it is so true for almost everything we do. Thinking of photography, even studio photography as performance is actually a useful way to think about it and good performances are generally proceded by warm up.
2007-04-22 04:48:30
Warming up with free associations was great! Thanks for the tip!