Panorama taken from moving train with my iPhone

Fitness regimes for photographers, staying sharp, getting out of the rut: the photographer’s gymnasium

One question I get asked a lot is about how to ‘get out of a creative rut’.

For me it’s not just about getting out of a temporary funk, a creative cul-de-sac or talking myself out of the fact that one day a month I’ll wake up and think all my work is shit.

As a professional photographer, it’s more about my staying fit on an ongoing basis and for that I have developed a bunch of regular exercises.

Pro photographers are visual athletes. We need to stay fit, stretch and warm-up our muscles. The eye IS a muscle. It needs regular exercise.

Here are a few of my exercises. I like to call all of this stuff ‘my photographer’s gymnasium’
1. 24 shots, no deleting, one prime, black and white.
2. Put all the prime lenses on the floor in a circle, spin a bottle and shoot for a week with the lens the bottle picks.
3. For those without primes, go to and put the numbers for the widest and longest ends of the zooms you own into the random number generator and shoot for a week at the focal length the RNG picks.
4. ‘The Square Mile’: shoot 24 pics [one ‘roll of film’s worth’] within 1sq mile of your home, ever day for three days. Variation: make those 24shots last a week.
5. ‘The World at My Feet’: 24exp, one prime, only subjects at your feet.
6. ‘The World Above My Head’ same rules as above.
7. If you have galleries nearby, go see an exhibition and write 250-500 words about it.
8. Set the ISO, set the aperture, guess the speed: this one I do once a day at least. Keeps the part of my head that is a light-meter sharp.
9. Put the 50mm on, focus it manually at 3m [10ft] and then go hip shooting in the street to see how many subjects at 3m you can get sharp.
10. Use to get you to a place you’ve never been before. This is how I do it in Tokyo with that Random Number Generator [RNG]:
a. Give the main railway hubs a number: Tokyo 1, Ueno 2, Shinjuku 3 etc etc. then pick one with the RNG.
b. Give all the train lines using that station a number, then pick one with the RNG.
c. Using the total number of stations on the line you get picked, use the RNG to pick a station.
d. Go to that station and shoot 24 shots, one prime lens.
11. Using my iPhone, shoot just square photos, in monochrome.
12. Using my iPhone, shoot panoramas but vertically, not horizontally.
13. Using my iPhone, walk into a place. Take a look around. Close my eyes. Imagine directly in front of me is 12 o’clock. Hold the phone out at 12, 9 and 3 o’clock and take a photo each time.
14. Start a Tumblr just as a scrapbook. I used to keep scrapbooks, real ones, but I dont really buy so many magazines now. Tumblr is a great way to create an inspiring scrapbook you can keep in your hand the whole time you have your phone. I use mine all the time, on location and in the studio. To keep me inspired, remind me of poses, colours, makeup, hairstyles, light, etc etc . Here’s mine:

These are a few of my exercises. I have quite a lot of others as I am teaching regularly and use them for students.

The other big thing I do is to ‘collect things’. I don’t collect real things much these days as we live in a small flat and when we moved here from the UK, we used that opportunity to free ourselves of ‘collecting’ or ‘hoarding’.

So, I collect things with my camera. It helps keep my eye sharp, to never be outside the house with a camera ‘just to take some photos’. My collections mean I am always looking for something. It’s the photographic equivalent of going to a yard-sale or antique fayre and having the excitement of ‘maybe I’ll find something for my collection’.

I think perhaps too many people out there in the photo community online or offline obsess about projects. Yes, they are good but projects are sort of like ‘work’. You still need recreational photography and exercise to balance that ‘work’.

For my workshops on ‘visual literacy’, I have a worksheet which I’ll take with me to an exhibition. If you want to take a look at that, it’s here.

It can be a great way of structuring how you look at the work you see on the walls.

With my model friends, I do the ‘cup ramen’ shoots from time to time. One strobe, one prime, five minutes time-limit for setup and shooting. This article is about a recent one of those shoots:

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