For photographers and outdoor lovers alike, maintaining your ability to move, play and work is central to staying successful, happy, and healthy.
About two years ago I stretched my ACL after my tibia popped out of place. A month later after doing the Hospital->Physio->Rehab thing I didn’t have a more stable knee, due to a mis-diagnosis. A slip on ice in Whistler put a major ‘bucket handle’ tear in my meniscus. A year later I had surgery, and after several months of physic I was as close to normal as I’ll ever be, even though it’ll never be as good as it was before.
I went almost 23 months without skiing, and at least 14 months without riding a mountain bike freely. Even though it was a doctor that failed to prevent the major tears in my knee, I really blame myself for a whole series of unfortunate events that could have been avoided if I had simply been smart about caring for myself to stay in the game. Leading up the the first injury I had completely neglected the overall muscular balance, stability, and health of my body. Sleeping on a futon mattress for six months, walking several kilometers daily in poor shoes with a heavy/poorly fitting camera bag, and little exercise other than mountain biking and skiing without properly stretching or training.
So from the guy who did it all wrong, don’t do it wrong like me. As a ski photographer its not very lucrative to be banned from skiing for 2 years, as a person its not very inspiring to be restricted from enjoying the passions you love so much, and as a business its not a great situation to be unable to generate new products. So; don’t do it wrong like me.
So, how does one do it right?
Preventative Maintenance: work to develop a strong, but balanced body. I’ve been working on this through Yoga, Jogging, and Weight Lifting.
Yoga: It does a great job of finding and correcting issues with flexibility and muscular/ligament strength and balance. A great benefit of being more flexible; when you fall, twist, or get bumped your body can absorb more of the impact by flexing and stretching without tearing, which proves very handy as a ski photographer.
Jogging: Developing your Cardio and strength jogging helps last the full day shooting in the backcountry without fading. It also does a bunch of other great things like increasing life span.
Weights: I’m not as concerned personally with lifting weights (insert joke about lanky skinny tall white boy here) However I still do lift weights to help maintain strength, which comes in handy when you head out and ski several thousand feet with a bunch of cameras and lenes on your back.
Quality footwear, sleep, and Camera bag.
Quality footwear is pretty simple: if you’re shooting in flip-flops you’re probably doing it wrong. Look for well supported shoes with quality grip so you don’t slip.
Sleep: If you wake up daily with kinks in your back theres something wrong, you’re developing back issues while you dream. Again, look for good support. You’ll know when its working.
Camera Bag: Look for a bag that looks more like a hiking pack than a camera bag. Run of the mill camera bags are often boxy, don’t draw the weight close to your body, and don’t offer the straps and clips necessary to distribute the weight, and control movement effectively. Well designed bags cary most of the weight in the hips, if you have sore shoulders after a day of shooting you’re dealing with a crappy bag, or your bag needs to be re-adjusted. Currently I work with a bag called the Loka made my the company F-Stop. Click to check it out
I good friend of mine, Kevin White, is a chiropractor in Victoria (ph 250 743 3775), and I asked him for his tips on staying healthy -and consequently out of his office!
1. Packing your Bag – Pack heavy things closer to your body, and the heaviest closest to your waistline (most ego dynamic efficient carrying place).
2. Bag Type: Avoid bags with only one strap/sling such as satchel or messenger bags. Since you need to often hold a heavy camera and have steady hands, use bags that have 2 shoulder straps and preferably chest and waist straps. This takes load off your neck and shoulder and places it across your chest and waist, making it easier to shoot and reduces fatigue. If you only have a shoulder bag, wear it across your chest for the same reason.
3. Strap Padding: look for bags with padded straps to prevent neck and shoulder injury.
4. Plan ahead for heat/cold and for water and food needed. Its hard to press buttons when your fingers are frozen. Staying warm especially around you neck, shoulders and wrists/hands can prevent injury from the elements, uncoordinated movements and joint/muscle tightening. Plain water and simple packable foods like nuts, dried fruit is best if you’re active for over 1.5hrs. Don’t forget this for your subjects either!
5. Start Slow if you have a long trek to your location: stretching cold before is a waste of time and can actually put you at higher risk of injury during exercise. just warm up into any activity.
6. During shooting if you start to develop a “kink” from holding a position try and shake it out immediately. The longer you maintain stressful positions the more compensations your body develops and the more likely its going to become an issue… “If you keep making that face, its gonna stay that way”. Shaking out only takes a second to do and you can go back to the original position to continue shooting. Think about carrying heavy shopping bags and the burn you get in your shoulders…you shake it out and you can go another block before its an issue again.
7. Stretch after focusing on fingers, wrists, arms, neck and shoulders.
8 Lift properly: you’ve heard it before, but don’t underestimate how important it is. Lift with your legs, not your back. Make sure when you lift your camera bag, its the closest you can get it to your center of gravity before trying to move it. Bend at your knees and tighten your core to help protect your back.
Most know the basics of lifting with your legs, but doing a scissor stance with one knee dropped creates a rotation through the pelvis which also reduces lumbar strain while lifting and moving things.
9: While taking pictures: When you are in position but need to move the camera to adjust the height or move laterally – try and think about moving your sternum(chest) to point in that direction rather than wrenching your neck, hunching. Think about a soldier shooting a gun. For best accuracy they keep the angles between the rifle and their shoulders somewhat constant and pivot from the waist/sternum to aim. Don’t hunch into the camera or lurch your head forward, instead relax your shoulders down and back, drop your elbows and bring your ears closer above your shoulders. This reduces neck and shoulder strain.
Note I’m not a physiotherapist, personal trainer, or chiropractor. This is what I’ve learned works for me, not absolute truth.