It has been a little more than a month since I set my intentions on being a trail runner. I doubted my ability to be a pacer for an ultra-runner at the end of July, but by mid-August I had signed up for trail races in Monument Valley and Bryce Canyon, and started training for longer distances. I started as a solid 3-mile runner and today made it to a comfortable 10 mile. I’m doing the work. It isn’t fun every run, but more and more of them involve grinning and confidence.
Playing in the park.
Photography takes training and intention as well. Like the muscle memory of climbing a route you know well, or the way the body just naturally takes to a favorite ski run on a powder day, shooting a camera eventually becomes a natural extension of your own vision. But it takes doing the work to find your eye and know your camera. The fastest way to do both—take pictures every day and whatever you have handy.
I am a firm proponent of training your eye by using the camera you have closest. It does not matter if you capture your moment with an iPhone a professional camera or anything in between. The real beauty of an iPhone for this training is that you can’t mask imperfections with high quality gear, which forces you to really work on composition. The point of this training regime is to let your eyes dance around a scene and land on the way you want it framed. Take the shot multiple ways if the eye is unsure and then study the images to see what best reflects what story you had in mind. Go to the park with your kids, your dog, or just the camera and take lots of pictures. Walk around your town and find things that amuse your photographer’s eye.
Even if I do not have an accessible camera, which is rare, I mentally click images. It is just a little harder to honestly critique them—they are always awesome.
Training in the backyard with the D850.
We recently went through a camera upgrade that resulted in a Nikon D750 strapped to my backpack and lugged around where I go. I am learning the camera and training my eye to see through new lenses and my fingers to work through settings. The best routine I have found is to just go out and shoot. While we are fortunate to live in a visually rich environment between mountains and desert, some days the backyard serves the purpose just fine. The more I shoot, the more comfort I gain, the bolder I get with my images. I picked up the D5000 I had been shooting for the last three years earlier today and was shocked to see how quickly I’ve lost that muscle memory. It felt foreign in my hands. I’ve trained myself to be one with the new camera.
Random moments to work on portraits.
A third training regime comes at the computer. Play with your images. See what works and be experimental. Unless you are adhering to strict journalistic ethics, there is no excuse to not find your edit style. Pictures do not have to be rigid truth tellers. They can tell your interpretation of the moment. Photographs are an emotional experience that is unique to you and many times we want to capture the emotions we feel at the location, not to create an accurate visual document suitable for the courtroom.
The key to training for photography or trail running is to keep it fun, find variety, and be honest when things are not working. Try something different. Shoot macro instead of wide, go for a long hike instead of a run, or take the iPhone to the beach and just lay around for an afternoon staring at waves and the clouds. Stay balanced, stay in focus, stay playful! Do the work.