Have you ever noticed that during a photoshoot, you love your images more and more as you go along? You are not alone. My favorite images from a shoot are often taken near the end. It’s possible that you aren’t even fully warmed up by the end of your photoshoot. Think of all the missed potential!
This is why you NEED to warm up before EVERY photoshoot. This thought caught me completely off-guard when I first heard it. It was my misconception that I can make a magical picture at the drop of a hat, regardless of what was going on at that moment. By publicly claiming the title of “photographer,” we are expected to be able to do just that: summon magical images from nothing with no prior warning. Chances are good that if you’re reading this, you are a photographer, and we all know that that is completely ludicrous. Of course, I will be able to take a better picture than most of my non-photographer friends, but it will be nowhere near my best work. It’s the same as if I met Lebron James (only NBA player’s name I know) on the sidewalk and asked him to shoot a basketball into the hoop at random, he would probably make it. Even if not, he would DEFINITELY get closer to making it than I would. Despite the fact that I would probably be amazed at his success, it would not have been at his peak accuracy since he was caught off guard (basketball pun 🤷🏼♂️?) So with that awesome analogy, I’m sure we can all abundantly agree that we need to warm up before shooting. But, why?
Well, I am not a neuroscientist (or anything respectable like that), but I do occasionally catch myself having deep thoughts. I belive that, as a society, we are becoming increasingly distracted. I know I am not alone in this belief, because almost everyone I meet agrees, but it is still very important to acknowledge. Being a photographer requires an immense amount of concentration and focus. You have to be able to look around at the scenery and consult a mental list of compositional elements, lighting techniques, color theory, posing techniques, and exposure settings to compose shots before bringing the camera to your face. This is a LOT of information, so there is no room for distractions. A good photographer is pretty much an adept meditator, being able to focus all mental power to the present moment. ***Get ready for another AWESOME analogy*** Even the most adept meditator knows that they will be far more effective if they warm up their mind before meditating. They move from letting the mind completely wander, to trying to be aware to the surrounding environment, to shifting focus to the breath while still acknowledging the surrounding environment, to focusing only on the breath. I am no adept meditator either, but I know that it is a much less effective meditation if you try to jump to focusing only on the breath.
As photographers, we must take small steps to transition our mind from the free-for-all state we are currently in, to focusing on the present moment environment and being able to access all of the knowledge we’ve acquired over the years. Here are a few things that I like to do before any photoshoot to help me warm up:
1. You need to tell your brain that it’s time to focus. The way that I do that is to play brain games provided by “Fit Brains.” This app has a ton of different games to strengthen your mind and I highly recommend playing all of them on a consistent basis, but you can also break the games down into categories (different parts of the brain that it works). One of the categories is “Visual.” I select that category and spend the next 10 minutes playing these games.
2. Go walk around outside (or inside if that's the only option). Focus on your surroundings and try to keep the mind in the present moment. Start to notice things like leading lines, natural frames, shadows vs. lights, etc... Frame some shots (mentally) and then scan them for objects you may have missed (pieces of trash, telephone wires, and other distracting elements).
3. Grab your camera and start shooting (not the paying client yet). Just practice adjusting aperture, iso, and shutter speed on the fly and getting the exposure correct. Take at least 20 pictures.
4. Wipe your memory card and head to the shoot!
Once you tell your mind to start focusing on these things, it will begin to automatically do it on its own. You won't be able to stop it from seeing miscellaneous compositional elements for the rest of the day! Take note of how hard it is to start warming up, and how many things you miss when you're out walking around. This is how you would be in front of a paying client if you hadn't warmed up!