The Key to Having a Long Career in Photography is All About the Body.

The Key to Having a Long Career in Photography is All About the Body.

There is no way to stay on top of your creative game if your body is falling apart. The wear and tear of shlepping gear up 4 flights of stairs, down alleys and packing, repacking and packing again takes its toll on our bodies. Here’s a few ideas, tips and tricks to help you work until freelancers get good healthcare….
 As I approach 50 years old there is a quiet voice in the back of my head that pipes up every now and then. Mostly complaints, but I’ve figured out how to silence that voice at least until I get into my hundreds. Strength training. Yeah, I know we’re all too busy, too much travel, too many hotel rooms, but if you can't pick up a camera you can make an image.

I’m not any sort of doctor, or trainer but I can tell you that my lower back, wrist, shoulder and neck are much better, much stronger and much better functioning than they were a couple of years ago. I’m not a gym junkie either, I spend a maximum of 4 hours a week on training and it’s worth every moment. I partake in Crossfit, but there are tons of other options, yoga, martial arts, Olympic lifting, and the list goes on. I like the combination of strength and cardio that Crossfit provides.

As photographers we are always lopsided. Shoulder bags slung over one side, lifting heavy cases, straps one either side of our necks. It’s a recipe for screwed up, crocked, unhappy backs, necks, arms, and wrists. There is a whole crop of late career photographers nursing arthritic and damaged wrists from decades of holding big heavy camera bodies with even bigger and heavier lenses on them. As you all know holding a camera is not at all a natural position. So let’s start off with something that requires no gym membership, no fancy equipment and it could be handy if you run out of food.

The setup is this: buy or find a 5 gallon bucket (get one with a lid), and buy a 15 pound bag of rice. Here’s the how-to part everyone likes. Open the bag of rice and pour it into the bucket.  Your home gym for wrist and hand is complete. Now for the training part. Wash your hands, dry them and then shove them into the bucket of rice. The rice feels good but it also creates enough resistance to start strengthening your muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your wrist and hands. Rotate in circles, clockwise, counterclockwise, open and close your hand and get creative with the motions. Soon your grip strength and wrist flexibility will be the envy of everyone in your neighborhood.

Yeah, I know you can’t take a 5 gallon bucket of rice on a plane to your next assignment but you can leave it in your studio or next to your desk and plunge your paw into it when your carpal tunnel syndrome is rearing its ugly head from too many hours on the keyboard. 
It’s small step but a step in the right direction. We all want to keep shooting into our 90s but we need to have healthy solid functioning bodies so do a little bit now to keep those parts working in to your 100s. Being stronger and having less pain will also keep you thinking about the creative side of our work and not the aches and pain side of it.

If you’ve got some DIY ideas that might help us stay healthy and strong so we can keep working drop a comment down below and maybe we can start a recurring segment. 

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LA M's picture

Well stated...I started looking after that 7 years ago as part of my "job" least an hour in the gym every other day.

The rest of the time it's steaks, whiskey and cigars...

Jonathan Brady's picture

More than likely the single best exercise you could possibly do for yourself would be something called face pulls. I have these
Just grab a simple set of resistance bands that include a "door anchor attachment" (it's a temporary attachment and does not damage your door, it's a 1 inch piece of plastic pipe with rubber around it that has a nylon strap running through it).
Then, watch this video to learn how to do them:

Why do this? You do it because all day everyday most of us are slouched forward. It not only affects our shoulders but it also affects our head and neck positioning. Look at most older people and you'll see that most of them are in a position where their shoulders are hunched forward and their chin is sticking out in front of their body and leading them wherever they go. This quite often is a result of their shoulder and back weakness that has been developed over time from poor alignment. The worst part of this is that this position exacerbates the problem and can easily lead to pinched nerves. Ironically, the old people of today never had access to handheld devices that they looked down at all day long and most didn't sit at a desk much of the day which is the other main culprit. You do face pulls to counteract all of this.
Photographers are even worse than the general population because in addition to sitting at a desk for hours upon hours editing pictures and spending time looking at handheld devices with our faces pointing downward, many of us hang our cameras from our necks and we also tend to roll our shoulders forward and push our face forward to take a picture while looking through the viewfinder.
All of the above is written by someone who has a pinched nerve on the right side and tingling and numbness in his right hand from poor genetics, poor posture, and photography. All at the ripe old age of 40. Face pulls and other physical therapy plus an awesome chiropractor made the tingling down my right arm and into my thumb and fingers stop.

Jerome Brill's picture

Want to stay in shape? Buy Sigma lenses.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Or that new Canon RF 28-70 f/2.0!

W S's picture

Oh, I'll need that 500mm f/4 lens to keep me fit, yessiree. It's for my health, so it's really a bargain. ;-)

Andy Work's picture

The Sigma 120-300mm 2.8 will give you a good workout.

Colin Robertson's picture

ROTF! So true!

Deleted Account's picture

Surely anyone doing this job is getting a lot more daily exercise than a 9to5 deskjockey?
My Apple Watch often warns me to back it off a bit as it loses count of all the lugging about I do.

C Fisher's picture

There's a difference between exercise and back breaking labor lol.

Don Yates's picture

I'm 62 now, with arthritis in my hands, and issues with other joints as well. I like the bucket of rice idea. When I first searched for a camera bag, I knew that wanted it to hold 2 bodies, 4-5 lenses, a small laptop, and misc. items. I also knew that I didn't want it hanging off one shoulder, and didn't want to have to take it off (like a backpack) in order to access my gear. The Kata 3N1 (now Manfrotto) fit all my requirements. I couldn't be happier.

Jose Roca's picture


John Martin's picture

Pushups and situps. Pretty simple.

michaeljin's picture

Currently recovering from spinal fusion and I have arthritis in my right knee at 34. Definitely take care of your body because once things start going wrong, it easily becomes one thing after the other as other parts of your body have to compensate.

Gerald Bertram's picture

Fusion buddies! Got my bottom two fused about 8 years ago. If I had known when I was younger what I know now I would have taken such better care of my back. When that goes it pretty much alters all aspects of your life.

michaeljin's picture

L4-L5 for me. :P

Buy yeah... my back problems started at 18 and I really wish I had taken better care of myself back then. Perhaps this was inevitable, but at very least I think that taking better care of myself could have delayed it by a few years if not a few decades.