“Whether you call it hustle, get up and go or grit, I noticed some of your reaction times seemed delayed. The athleticism and “eye of the tiger” hunger felt like it was missing.”
Facing The Truth
Those honest, heart-felt words came from a dear friend with whom I had photographed a couple of weddings. Though I was the one who had initiated the correspondence and asked him for feedback, he was still right to call me out. Isn’t it refreshing that a critique isn’t sugar-coated?
The truth stung for about 15 minutes. Then I got sideswiped by a blood test that showed that I was borderline diabetic. Yes, it runs in the family and if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you also know that I love to eat vegetarian food. A lot of it. I was so sure that I could evade the disease until I was 60 years old. You know, diabetes … “it’s an old-person’s disease,” I thought to myself.
The doctor gave me some choices, thankfully nothing involved taking medications on a daily basis (it might come to that at some point, though). He said I had to lose some weight. I was a whopping 190 lbs. To put things into perspective, I am only 5’8 1/2″ tall. Yes, I was over weight by some 30 lbs. That was my wake up call, back in July 2014. While the progress has been slow, I am proud to tell you that I have lost 15 lbs. So, I am half-way there!
Here’s how I did it. First, I want to thank my wife for supporting me and insisting that I hit the gym. In December while the rest of the country was partying and cutting into Christmas cakes, I committed myself to going to the gym at least every other day. At the gym, I walked initially at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour. In the first few months, I couldn’t walk/run for more than 20 minutes. I felt tired and exhausted, but I kept at it. I would often come home feeling good about the walk/run. I had to split it up at this point because I really couldn’t run the entire time.
At home, I limited what I ate. I cut my portions down and I began the day with a green juice. Thanks to Joe Cross of Reboot with Joe and his movies Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, for the initial inspiration.
My doctor told me that I had to pretty much quit eating breads and pastas. Being a vegetarian that just threw me for a loop. While I don’t eat starchy Italian food everyday, I do enjoy my peanut-butter & honey with bananas sandwich. Instead of munching down two of those sandwiches, I have limited to just one, if that. Sometimes there is so much more green juice left over from breakfast time, that I end up finishing up my second glass of green juice for my lunch!
Anyway, I am making the time to eat right, sleep right and workout right. I try and avoid sitting at my computer all day long. I drink copious amounts of water, green and black tea and keep hydrated even on a cool day.
So, those were the symptoms and the solution to a problem that I am sure I am not the only one facing. I wanted to dig deeper into why all of this was happening to me.
Unwinding For Photographers
I suspect stress was causing me to over eat. And I was clearly reaching out for things that had no business being in my body – think, sugary cereal snacks right before I went to bed or granola bars that had more sugar and fat in them that would make a dietician blush. So, while I started to eat the ‘right’ foods and I cut down my portions, I still had to deal with daily stress.
We all have that beyond the stress of running a business, right? Kids not well, so you have to run them to the doctor in the middle of the day. Or, the washer and dryer needs servicing and you are there waiting for the repair technician to come home and he is 45 minutes late. Yeah, we have all those little dramas taking place in our lives too.
One thing I have turned to is meditation. It is almost never longer than 10 minutes at this time, but I shut every electronic device except for my iPhone off and sit quietly for about 10 minutes, breathing in and breathing out. Just listening to my own breath is a good reminder of why I am on this planet. Why don’t you give it a shot right now. Close your eyes and just breathe in, and breathe out slowly and deliberately.
One reason I have my iPhone still on is because I switch between Headspace and Buddhify, both good applications for meditation. I won’t go into greater detail about both of them here, but will just say that if you don’t know how to meditate or feel like you don’t have the time, these apps will solve those problems for you quickly.
Being Indian, I am embarrassed to say that I know almost nothing about yoga. But if you want to unwind there is nothing better than to stretch your own body. There are yoga centers all over the place now, so that shouldn’t be so difficult to find. However, if you are going to be more comfortable practicing yoga at home, do consider Vanessa Joy’s course on CreativeLive.
The Healthy Photographer
Sofia Negron is a New York City based photographer who just recently launched The Healthy Photographer. It is a blog for photographers that guides them through fitness, mindfulness, and nutrition. We had an opportunity to speak about her new initiative.
About three years ago, I had to go through shoulder surgery. I had what was called a “labrum tear” and it was due to carrying heavy cameras, lenses or camera bags on my shoulder for 10 to 18 hours a day during weddings. If you are a wedding photographer, you know what I am talking about.
This blog post on Sofia’s site talks all about avoiding shoulder injury. It is well worth your time to check it out!
A Different Perspective
Ramit Batra is a destination wedding photographer based out of India, and has photographed weddings worldwide. A mechanical engineer by education, Ramit quit his senior management job profile in 2008, to become a Wedding photographer. Having documented more than 250 weddings, Ramit is one of the most sought after destination wedding photographers in South Asia.
Almost a year or two back, Ramit and I spoke about how health affects photographers and how we are often loathe to take care of our own bodies. He was so enthusiastic about writing a guest blog post for Tiffinbox, that I have decided to publish it below. Give it a read:
Enough has been said about photography gear. But the most important gear that the photographers neglect, is their body. Like Charlie in ‘Two and a Half Men’ I am sure I heard most of you raising a hand and saying ‘Guilty’ in a not-so-proud way. And if you did, read on.
1. Shooting Too much
If you are a busy photographer & more of a one man (or woman) show, you have been neglecting sleep, activity, games & basically all things healthy, to run a profitable business. You cannot time when or what you shoot or predict a possible date for a shoot. But you can choose to say ‘No’ when loaded with work.
I learned the importance of this little word last year. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of declining a project. Just because you have one day at leisure or an evening free, doesn’t mean you cramp yourself up with another little shoot, like an engagement session.
Everyone needs time to recover after 3-4 days of continuous shooting, especially Big fat Indian Weddings. And although you might have your own threshold of working-without-taking-a-break, I usually add a 75% buffer to the time I spent shooting; to help me get back to normal. So for a four day shoot, I would put a three-day gap and block the entire seven days.
2. Your Body
Your body is the most important gear that you can have. And to carry out a brilliant shoot, it is necessary that your fitness levels are high!
I often get students, assistants and associate photographers complaining of pain in the wrist/forearm/ankle/heel. If you get that too – you need to check these:
a. Pain in the Wrist and Forearm = You are not holding the camera properly.
Blackrapid straps have been a lifesaver, now I don’t have to carry the camera around my neck all the time (thank you, Blackrapid!). But a very minor downside to that is the grip. Because you bolt your camera at the bottom, you cannot use your left hand to ‘shelf’ the camera properly. which means, your right hand grip is doing the hold, click and change of settings, all at the same time.
The solution: Make sure you put in enough support with your left hand, cupping the lens, so much so that your right hand is free of any weight, and is only used to control the camera.
b. Pain in the Heel and Ankle = You are not squatting/kneeling properly.
If you have shot an Indian wedding, you know where all the details are during the ceremonies. Right on the floor. And you will end up squatting and bending for a picture and getting up the next instance. The posture here is key. A lot of people (including me) get down on one foot and one knee. And when you get up, you are putting ALL your body weight on the ball of the foot, whose knee was touching the ground.
The solution : Kneel, putting both knees down for support. And when you stand, do not take a push from the foot behind you, always the foot in front of you. Or better still, squat with both feet put on the ground (not a very complimenting pose – beware) – but very stable & safe.
3. Nutrition & Hydration
Six to 12 hours of photography means – you are on your feet most of the time, you are working hard, carrying weights and burning about 100-125 calories per hour. Broadly that means you use up about 800-1200 calories on a wedding day, shooting! Not only do you need energy, but water and salt too!
Nutrition bars are great, but they are mostly high in protein, and not ideal to pump you with energy instantly. Energy drinks are great too, but they come with a distinct hangover, making one grumpy after 2-3 hours. I am a big fan of Webber (and RBR F1 Team) but the race lasts for 1-2 hours only, and so does the positive effects of the energy drink.
I generally keep nutrition bars and energy drinks for towards the last 1-2 hours of the shoot. When you start, you need a lot of Water, salts and minerals, carbs and even sugar. Fruit juices and sandwiches are great for the first 3-4 hours, soda, coffee and a protein rich meal will do you good mid-way. And yes, more water.
Each photographer has his own favorites, and a lot of photographers whom I interact with regularly would agree on these basics:
a. Before a shoot
– Always stretch before a shoot. The most important stretches are – Back Stretch, Hamstring Stretch, Shoulder Stretch, Tricep Stretch, Hip-flexor stretch.*
– Do a few pushups, Lunges & Sit-ups *** (25% of 1 working set). For example, on a regular day, if you can do 3 sets of 20 push ups, do 5-6 before leaving.
Just so much so that your body knows that it is going to be subjected to some kind of exercise next. It takes about 5-10mins to follow this process, but if you follow this on a regular basis, you will feel a lot more energetic at the shoots.
b. On non-shoot days
– Work out, play some sport, do some activity for at least 5 hours/week. Running & Swimming can help you gain major stamina. And you don’t need to be at your Home destination for a run or a swim, so no excuses for that too!
Ah, I know I am contradicting my very first statement. But one must remember camera support gear is evolving at keeping our comfort in mind, and it is foolish to not invest in these.
I use and recommend the biggest possible cabin-baggage sized ThinkTank rolling bags instead of backpacks for all shoots – this keeps your shoulders free from any weights when you are traveling. I also use BlackRapid double straps to hang two cameras, rather than having a spare lens on a belt – which makes sure the weight on your shoulders is balanced, without putting unnecessary stress on your back. I also use shoulder sling straps rather than hand grips – to make sure I am not holding the camera when I am not shooting.
Keeping Healthy & Following a good routine goes a long way in maintaining a great photography business. Less downtime. More power to you!
(* Please consult your personal trainer/doctor before doing this. Please follow necessary precautions while performing exercises. If you don’t know what these are and how they must be done, please do NOT experiment by looking at YouTube videos, but learn from a trained professional at your local gym)
Tracking Fitness, Nutrition & Sleep
Now, it’s not just important to actually set aside a time to workout, do yoga, or meditate, but you must have a way of tracking all of that to see if the work you put into it creates the positive results you hope to achieve.
I’ve already mentioned a couple of apps above that will help you meditate, but thanks to wearable devices like Fitbit, Jawbone and even the Apple Watch, wearable devices are on the upswing. I have vied for a Fitbit Charge HR for a long time, but my friend and fellow photographer Mark Higgins swears by the Polar Flow. Beyond just exercise and meditation, these devices and their online or smart phone apps can also track what you eat.
As an added bonus, if you read all of this and you are still with me, check out the Official Couch to 5k app. Feeling inspired and want to make changes? My recommendation (and I am not a doctor obviously) is to make incremental changes every day. Drastic changes almost never stick around and you are liable to fall off of the wagon.
Does this blog post resonate with you? If it does or this entire post is something you have been pondering, please leave a comment and start a dialogue with other photographers. Do you work out, do you practice yoga or meditation, are you particular about your diet? Do you consider yourself a healthy photographer? Tell us!
Feel free to share this post with your photographer friends now. We are in this together!
Leah Haydock says
Great post! I try to schedule a deep tissue massage every 2-3 weeks during peak wedding season. I’m also trying out D750 bodies instead of my heavier D4s bodies.
Khürt L. Williams says
“My doctor told me that I had to pretty much quit eating breads and pastas. Being a vegetarian that just threw me for a loop.”
My experience with wife’s family — she’s Indian — has made me aware that most Indian vegetarians are really fried starch-atarians. A pile of rice with daal (another starch) on top and two rotlis. If they have vegetables it’s fried (pakora, bhajia).
Khürt – thanks for your comments here. I agree, being Indian doesn’t make it any easier. I have switched from eating white rice to eating quinoa. I also pile on the veggies whenever I can. I don’t eat anything overly fried because I also suffer from GERD. So, there’s that! And I appreciate you linking to the JDRF site. There is a lot we must change including mindset!
Thank you, Leah. I am looking at the D750, too or Fuji X system. I never owned a D3, D3s or the D4s bodies. While they all have great sensors, what would the point me if I keep getting hurt using them?
Great suggestions with your post. Although I’m only a part time shooter, my day job has me behind a desk for 40 hours a week, finding time to do some weekly exercise is a must.
Heather Conley says
Wow Seshu, what a great post…just shared it out on my business page! This is an aspect of my work that I don’t often think about this way and I appreciate even more that you shared your personal story. You’ve turned up my awareness this weekend for sure! I hope you’re feeling your best self now that you know what you need to do, and keep doing. I love #JoeCross btw…so happy you have found him too. #JuiceOn & cheers to our good health!!
Start small, Brian. As I state in the article, I couldn’t even run for 20 minutes. Now, I feel like I must be doing something wrong if I don’t go the full 35 to 45 minutes. My biggest challenge will come when I go out for a run on the roads instead of a tread mill. I think they are two different beasts! Keep me posted about your efforts. If I can motivate you from back here, I will. Just say the word. Sitting for 40 hours is not good for you at all.
Leah, a deep tissue massage sounds divine. Now, why didn’t I think of that when I shot weddings?
Thanks for commenting, Heather. So glad to hear that you too have heard of Joe Cross. I have watched his first movie a couple of times now and it is amazing to see his transformation. It can’t ever be overnight. It has to be done slowly and consistently. But I am feeling a lot better. I am not out of breath when I walk up stairs or haul gear (both something photographers have to do a lot of, right?)
Rachael kloss says
Great post! I to have struggled with all of the above. I am healing a neck injury which stemmed from a shoulder injury that I didn’t properly let heal because it was wedding season. I have been spending 2015 to work on myself. I joined a barre studio – which is strengthening and lengthening mixed with some yoga and it has made a huge difference. I also have been going for massages.
I have learned my bodies limitations and have limited my schedule. I have learned how to use the “no” word. Which is really not in my vocabulary. :) I prepare healthy snacks and make sure I bring lots of water for the drive to and from the weddings. I could go on and on about it all! Thanks for the post it’s fun to hear someone else’s joirney down the same path. :)
Quick question: How many of you would like to see more article about being a healthy photographer? Comment below this comment so that I can get a sense of how important this topic is for you.
Rachael – so happy to hear that you are working on your body and repairing it … getting hurt on the job, especially photography can be debilitating. If I don’t go to see my chiropractor (wassup, Dr. Koster!) I am a ball of mush after a few missed weeks. Plus, I am starting to do that gym thing. Just put on a couple of podcasts and go for a run. It’s a two-fer!