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The Warm-Up

Do you ever go out for a shoot and feel a bit uninspired? I suspect you may not always feel like you're at the top of your picture-taking game. Here's an idea that seems to work for me: warming up. Athletes and dancers stretch and limber up; musicians tune up and practice before going live; why not photographers? The idea of mental exercises or warming up before shooting may not be part of your process, but when finding your way to that place of concentration, you'll find that it helps ( 4.18 ).


4.18 Warming up before a dance class at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio in New York City.©Steve Simon

I listened to a podcast not long ago with a wedding photographer named Joe Buissink. He mentioned a technique he uses to train himself to be a better photographer. Basically, when he sees something that would be a good picture but he's without a camera (not everybody always wants to have a camera with them), 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 is working, making him a sharper, better photographer. Interesting.

I've mentioned previously that when I get to a new shooting venue, before I start shooting I like to get a lay of the land and choose the places where I want to concentrate my time. There are other times, however, where warming up helps break the ice and gets my photographic juices flowing.

Warming up means picking up my camera and starting to shoot as soon as possible—something, anything as an icebreaker, not waiting for that perfect picture but working up to it by limbering up my photographic muscles.

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. I just can't turn it on like a switch; I need to warm up to get to that place.

Putting in years as a newspaper photographer, I often had to go out and find pictures, inspired or not. Those times when I waited for something better instead of stopping and exploring a lesser photo opportunity would often lead to regret, since the missed opportunities were often better than the ones I ended up seeing.

Photographer and author Ben Long ( uses warm-up techniques he learned in improvisation classes. Ben was inspired by the poet and screenwriter Al Young, 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. "He told us he would write something other than what he was working on, to warm up," said Ben, "to get in the space of writing."

Ben, who has also done some acting, 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."

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