Warming Up

En smilende jente på markedet i District 23

I hope all of you have had a nice and inspiring summer – whether you have had time to take time off or not (and to my friends on the southern hemisphere; I hope you have had a nice winter instead). For most of us the daily routines are now calling upon us again. I actually look forward to starting up again. At the same time I know that even though I love my work as a photographer, in the beginning it’s still hard to find motivation to break out my comfort zone and get into an inspiring and creative mode. I bet the same goes for you – even if you are not a professional photographer. Sometimes we just don’t feel like taking pictures or just don’t feel inspired.

Here is a trick that often works for me: Warming up. Particularly after a relaxing and easy-going holiday it’s a great way to get back into my picture-taking game. Athletes and dancers stretch and limber up, musicians tune up and practise before going live, so why not photographers? The idea of mental exercises or warming up may not be part of your process, but when you have a hard time connecting with you creative self, you might find that it helps.

Warming up could be literally or mentally. I know photographers who practise mental photographing all the time. When they see something that potentially would be a good picture and they are without camera, they will say the word «click» or snap their fingers. This is a physical act that helps to train them for capturing moments when they are actually working with a camera – and by that making them sharper and better photographers.

For me warming up means basically to start shooting even if I don’t feel like I am motivated. Particularly when I go out on the street; some days may feel hard to get going. So I just start taking photos, even though I know they will all end up like rejects. It’s literally a warming up period. I keep going because I know when I do this exercise at some point I suddenly shift mode and I start to see pictures again. It’s a way to get into flow again, simply by forcing myself through an initially uninspiring phase and through this initial warming up my mind starts to concentrate again. When warming up I pick up my camera and start to shoot as soon as possible – something, anything, as an icebreaker, not waiting for the perfect picture to appear for me but working up to it by limbering up my photographic muscles. My best shooting experiences meld the physical act of shooting with a mental and an emotional engagement to get to a place where I feel completely in flow. Very often I can’t just turn it on, but need to warm up to get to that place.

Maybe this could be an idea for you, when you feel uninspired or would rather put down the camera – or whatever is you tool? Or how do you break that ice barrier?


96 thoughts on “Warming Up

  1. For me inspiration very much comes from nature. Often I find “the” moment of seeing,” when I am least searching for it. In the process of your “warming up” (with no expectations), I can imagine something wonderful occurring. Even if it does not, the act of doing is the key, which is exactly what you are suggesting.

  2. The smile and those bright eyes on this little girl are gorgeous! And so pleasing to know just how much you love your work!
    My barrier break/warm up starts when I get outside and start fiddling with the camera settings, how does this or that look if I do this etc? What are the prevailing conditions etc? Have to tell you though Otto, some of my best ever shots are the ones I ‘click” in my head when I don’t have the camera with me!

    1. Oh, we all see those great pictures – when we don’t have a camera. So I have learned: I always carry a little Lumix camera on my hip. And besides nowadays everybody (or almost everybody) carries a cell phone with a built-in-camera. So it happens less for me at least. Thank you for the comment, Patti!

  3. like you just taking photos from a generic state and weaning into taking photos from the eye of your soul, i often stare at the work in progress and think, ‘i really need to move forward with that…’ three paintings are patiently awaiting my attention; a large heliconia study, an oversized shrimp study and a new section of the concrete bodega floor… the floor trumps the other two.

    as with getting outside before daylight to catch those amazing moments of light, once i am there, i ask myself, ‘what was so hard about this, and why haven’t i been doing this?’ with my art, all i have to do is pick up the pencil or the paint brush, and ten minutes later i am in never-never land and wondering why on earth didn’t i do that three hours earlier!!!!

    for some reason we sometimes dodge our true genius. why is that?

    perdon, but i have a four-foot wide compass waiting for more paint!!! thanks for giving me the kick to resume painting!

    welcome back!

    1. I have it exactly the same way. I often have a hard time getting out with my camera (that is when I am not on assignment) as if there is a built-in resistance in me. But, yes, as soon as I get out there, it’s really not difficult at all and I quickly get into the flow of things. Good luck with the compass (and the two other projects), as you know I saw its latest stage on your blog – and it looks gorgeous.

      1. hey from costa rica—
        i worked on the compass until time to leave on a 2-week journey to guancaste; these two weeks will be busy ones, though i look forward to returning to ecuador and moving forward; the compass is really going well.


  4. I have made living in the moment a regular exercise. I try to be consciously aware of all of my surroundings because a great moment could happen at any time. Life’s best moments don’t always wait for you to have your camera (or whatever other tool your craft requires) in your hands. So capture them completely in your mind (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste) and use those moments as inspiration to capture through your lens or whatever other vehicle you express yourself though.

    1. That sounds like a great way to go about it – always being aware. There is always moments of inspiration, isn’t there! Thanks for the comment, Shawn!

  5. Great advice, Otto, and something we all probably need to be reminded of. Sometimes I use my iPhone to reboot my photography; it is easy to use, always with me, and starts my creative juices flowing. Soon, I get frustrated by its limitations and pick up the big camera again and think “Why did I stop? This is fun!” Thanks for a great post!

    1. Using the iPhone or any other smartphone to warm up is a great idea. And then of course you don’t have to switch to a bigger camera if you are having fun away… Thank you for commenting, Lynn!

  6. Great shot. I keep trying to figure out why real photographers can take a shot on the diagonal like this and it looks very cool and interesting. When I try that it looks like…well, I won’t say what. Is there a secret?

    1. I don’t think there is a special secret about the tilted camera. You just have to go out there and do it until it feels natural. I don’t even recognize I do it any more. One thing, though, I have found that it usually works best when one element in the picture is aligned with one of the sides – although the photo on this post doesn’t apply to this “rule”. Just have fun with, Linda, and don’t worry too much about what it ends up looking like. Thanks for the comment.

  7. This is so timely, Otto. I realized over the weekend that I didn’t get my camera out once–and I had several opportunities to take some interesting photos. I have taken so many over the summer months and I just wasn’t interested. I didn’t really understand why. You’ve helped me realize this even happens with professional photographers! I like the idea of just warming up. That makes sense to me. Tomorrow that’s exactly what I’ll do! 🙂 I love the photo you’ve shared today! What a brilliant smile! And the angle of her pose is a wonderful photo. You do inspire me!

    1. Of course it happens to professional photographers. We are governed by the same emotions and moods as everybody else. I am glad you got somewhat inspired to go out and shoot again, Debra. Have fun! Thank you for the lovely words.

    1. None of us are able to keep photographing continuously – we all need a break off from time to time to fill up the creative well. And using the phone camera for warming up is a good idea! Thank you for commenting, Angeline!

  8. Yes, I agree. My first few shots at a new place are usually just snapshots. It can take me quite a while to really tune in to a place.

    1. When I arrive at a complete new place, I usually take quite some time before I get under the skin of the place and start to take more than snapshots. But as long as we keep at it, we are doing fine, I believe. Thanks for the comment, Suzanne!

  9. definitely warm-ups are important both to get started and in some cases to prevent injury…like in athletic endeavors. i break the barrier pretty much the same way you mention…jump right in and go with the flow. ☺
    as always, great message. ♥

  10. Cute kid. I can see both the angel and devil in her. I like what you say about warming up. For me, it’s doodling. amd sometimes those doodles later turn out to be interesting pieces of art. The hardest thing for me sometimes is just to pick up the pencil and start, but it’s good to remember that just starting is the important thing. Good post!

    1. As I wrote in another comment, there is a built-in resistance to get started. And I think it’s universal. It takes courage to create – as strange as it sounds, and we have to overcome that inner resistance. It’s not for nothing that Steven Pressfield takes about the war of art in his book with the same title.

  11. I love your photography and your advice. This may seem odd, but I dream about sights to shoot. I visualize different angles a shot can be taken and try to be alert to the unexpected. I carry my camera everywhere. I am no professional but I love taking pictures. Thanks for sharing so much.


  12. Nice read, Otto. How do I break the ice? I do not have a regular way, sometimes trying something different (like an old film camera), sometimes just going for a walk and shoot whatever I find in front of me each 5 minutes, than once back home look for something interesting I shot which could be the beginning of a series (large or small). But starting is a difficult step…

    1. Yes, starting is half the battle, isn’t it! Otherwise trying something different is a very good advise. Thanks for the comment, Robert, it’s always appreciated.

  13. I warm up with watercolor sketches-no expectations. Sometimes they turn into surprising finished pieces, sometimes into the collage bin or recycling bin, and that’s just fine. Your lovely photo of the beautiful child warms my morning and inspires me to to get started.

    1. Thank you for the nice words, Elena. And I think part of the clue with warming up, is exactly that we don’t apply any expectations. Just go out and do whatever we do, and suddenly something happens.

  14. Et nydelig portrett og et herlig smil!
    Takk for gode råd : ) Har ikke den helt store motivasjonen for fotografering for tiden… håper den kommer da jeg er tilbake i Kina om få uker. Jeg liker veldig godt å fotografere folk, det er ikke så lett å få til her hjemme ; )

    1. Håper du får inspirasjonen tilbake. Bare husk på at den ofte ikke kommer av seg selv. Som Jack London sa, du må gå etter den med en klubbe… Takk for hyggelig tilbakemelding.

  15. You are so right — warming up is key. Even with something like coming back to blogging! I write a few posts that I don’t publish each time I come back from a break. They get me back in the groove, and help kick my brain back into gear. With my fiction, I write openers or chapters I never plan to publish either. It’s important to have those trial runs. And to give them the time they deserve! Sometimes entire days are just warm-ups. But they are so worth it. (And that’s a great photo of the beautiful girl smiling. Lovely.)

    1. Trial runs – that’s a good description. Warming up is never wasted – even if the result isn’t going to used. But it definitely get you mind going, doesn’t it! Thanks for the comment and nice words, Melissa!

    1. Like Melissa says (the comment above from happykidshappymom) warming up is key to her writing, so yes, give it a try. Thanks for the comment and nice words, Indira!

  16. hello, sir Otto. wonderful pic of the child. her eyes say so much! and, what a lovely little post to get the blood all warmed up. nice tips… i guess, the same goes for warming up to write when one still feels like it’s still vacation time, ahaha. 😉 warm regards, thanks for the visit. ~San

  17. Warming up to me is seeing my son smile or my wife laugh just like the beautiful little girl in this picture. Their optimism inspires me, so with those around me. It does help too when I’m close to the sea where fun and greater memories seem to follow. Great post!

  18. What engaging eyes and smile. i think it has helped me to shoot flowers since the birds are not so evident right now. Been thinking of shooting in black and white for a bit to see things differently.

    1. Nothing is like changing the game to get inspired again. So I say go for black and white if you feel inclined. Thank you for the comment, Jane!

  19. I felt that way about blogging recently. There were so many events I wanted to blog about that it seemed overwhelming. I finally decided to take it one step at a time and started by getting all of my photos ready – downloaded from the camera, edited, added my watermark – and then it seemed like a less daunting task. Now, all of my photos are ready to go, so I can sit and write up a post when I have a few extra spare minutes in the day.

    1. I think you approach is very good when things starts to feel overwhelming: Take one step at a time and not look to the end result. Good luck with all those posts, Heather!

  20. I hardly ever leave home without a camera so a week rarely passes without me taking a picture or two. But I do also mentally look for pictures whether or not I am carrying a camera. ‘Framing’ the world around me I think helps me to keep using my Seeing Eye. But there are times when it is a lot harder than others.

    1. I, too, always carry a camera with me, but just like you, there are days when I don’t “see” much. That is usually a sign for me to take a break and do something completely different than photography. Thanks for the comment, Andy!

  21. I do the same thing when I realize I haven’t snapped any photos lately. And right away I start seeing things I didn’t notice before. It works for writing, too. Start writing even if you’re not “inspired” and before long, you’re back in a groove.

    1. Seems like you have a good way to get back into flow, whenever you want to. For some creatives it’s just not a big deal, and it seems like it isn’t for you. That’s great! Thanks for commenting, Barbara!

  22. Because I enjoy working with patterns and abstract images I use a variety of approaches to match my interest. At various times these include
    a walk in the garden in search of patterns or splashes of colour; (nb not for botanical accuracy);
    taking pictures of the ground within a fixed radius of where I am standing, sometimes varying focal length, sometimes increasing or reducing the radius;
    walking round my small garden pond, exploring the reflections and the changing patterns created by the fountain.

    1. Those are all great ideas, and good approaches to get into the flow of things. I particularly like the idea of taking pictures of the ground within a fixed radius. I will have to try that. Thank you for the comment, Louis!

  23. I completely agree. There is a big resistance to “beginning again” that is so over-clouding. I would concur that just starting to shoot again is critical, but for me it wasn’t enough. I was extremely frustrated with a newer camera so I went back to an older one. Although it is old technology, it seems to create a better flow and finally I am starting to “see” again and am getting back into the flow. Wow, it’s tough. I’m so glad to read your article; it’s an an encouragement to know that better photographers than I also experience this. Thanks! I love the portrait, too. That smile is priceless!

    1. I am glad my post could be of some encouragement. In one way equipment isn’t important, but still we need to find the tool that works best with our mindset. So good that you picked up the old camera and thus were able to “see” again. Thanks for your poignant comment, Phil!

  24. Oh yes, thank You! This summer was very late and sometimes toooo hot but creative and inspired. There are some things to do, so the next wintertime won´t be boring…

    Nice capture of this Little gril♥

  25. Lovely smile captured.. I always see pictures in nature and get really upset if my camera is not close by… I’m warming up all the time even if I hadn’t realised as I picture the perfect shot all day.. sometimes the real shot is not soo good!! hahahaha 😉

    1. Well, we can’t always make good pictures, even when it’s the real ones. Yes, it’s frustrating to not have a camera at hand when The Picture presents itself. Thank you for the comment, Lisa!

  26. Warming up is a good idea. I have been off for a bit with an injury and am finding it difficult to get back to the creative process again. Perhaps I should try some smaller quick stuff before I tackle something with more weight.
    That little face with the big smile is certainly inspiring.
    Thanks, Otto.

    1. Starting out easy and without expectations is often a good way to get back into the flow again. I hope your injury is getting better, Michelle. I wish you all the best!

  27. The little girl in your photo just shines her inner light. Good capture! I can’t stand that funk but thankfully it does not happen often, but you described it perfectly and gave a solution. Well done as always Otto!

  28. My problem is taking a break from taking photos. I am constantly seeing things I need to grab my camera to get a photo, just within my yard. So when I get outside my area into a new enviroment I am really bombarded with what I should be taking a photo of. I click click click and many may are not good, but are such learning experiences on what I should do different next time. Sometimes just a weather change or rain gives me so many new opportunities for new photos. My problem is putting the camera away for a break. My creative delima is not in taking photos but in creating blogs showing the photos. Anyway your photo of the young girl would bring a smile to anyones face. Such pure joy is felt in the photo.

    1. I would say you problem is of the positive ones. While many fight to get into flow, it seems to happen for you all the time. I think that is great, and something you must cherish. Thank you for the comment, Carrie!

  29. I don’t know if I exactly warm up when taking pictures, at least not by design.I know that anytime I have been anxious at all in a shoot situation, generally once I’ve gotten started, worry evaporates and its only the view through the viewfinder I see. Sort of like diving, if you are at all nervous, as soon as you hit the water, you are in your element, no nerves at all. But then I am a worry wart!!

    I actually see things all the time that would make great compositions when I am without camera. It is an effort of will to not be regretful and to just tell myself that this one is for the memory database so revel in the beauty with no regrets.

    1. I know the feeling of anxiety before going for a dive, but you are right, as soon as you get in the water it’s all forgotten. Your last point is an interesting one. I think we as photographers may have to be somewhat conscious about appreciating moments that we are not able to photograph. It’s all to easy to be frustrated when we aren’t able to capture the moment or miss it. Life itself should not be forgotten just because we enjoy photographing. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Judy!

      1. That is perfectly how I see it!! So easy to lose everything in the wishes and should have done’s. Sometimes you really have to just find joy in the moment or lose it all!! It’s not like a fragile dream trace either that dissolves the moment you come out of the dream, the remembered scene, colors and smells do stay in memory and can serve to inspire future efforts…or just make you smile remembering!

  30. Practice mental photographing? How curious! Never heard anything like it. Wow.

    That girl is utter beauty and light. Captured perfectly by your camera.

  31. Warming up is a wonderful idea. I never thought of it that way, but I do the same thing you do — just start shooting until I get in the mood. Beautiful image in this post. 🙂

  32. Oh my, the warmth and beauty of this little girl’s eyes and smile is enough to melt the iciest of hearts. Good reminder in this post about the importance of just going through the motions in order to get warmed up and maybe get that “money” shot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s