Is Learning Photography Like Crossfit?

In Photography by Matt K8 Comments

True story… last week, while in the middle of working out at my gym. This particular workout I was doing had a longer run involved in it. And sometimes, during these long runs, various things run through my head. Thoughts like “Why am I doing this?”, “This is dumb”, “It’s too hot to be running”, “This sucks!”, and my favorite “Why am I doing this… it’s dumb and it’s hot AND this sucks!”.

But on this particular day, if you can believe it – I started thinking about learning photography and post-processing. Sadly, I’m dead serious. Somehow thoughts about how it’s similar to the coaching in the Crossfit gym I go to. And for that matter, similar to coaching for just about anything out there.

I know it sounds dumb but I swear. My wife Diana will tell you that, on the way home, I told her about this blog post I wanted to write. She was like “Honey… bless your heart…” (which by the way always means that an insult is coming)… “But you think of really weird things when you work out!” 🙂

What Is Crossfit?

If you’re not familiar with what Crossfit is, I don’t want to bore you too much. It’s basically a fairly new-ish high-intensity fitness program that incorporates elements from several sports and types of exercise.

It’s got a love hate relationship in the world out there, and it’s very polarized. Ha! Remind you of any photography forums you’ve been to where they compare Camera brands, technology, retouching ethics, and just about any other thing they can think to argue about :-). Anyway, some people love crossfit. And some people hate it. My thoughts… I enjoy it. I know my limits as a 44 year-old, and I workout within those limits. I’ve realized I’m a “group-workout” kind of person. Send me in to a gym alone, and I’ll sit there and listen to my headphones and people-watch for an hour. But hey… to each their own right? If it’s not you (or you have no idea what Crossfit is), I think you can keep reading and you’ll still see a parallel with MANY things you see in life.

How Is It Similar to Photography?

I mentioned I thought it was similar to photography because it’s fairly new. Now, photography isn’t new, just like exercise isn’t. But digital photography as a whole is somewhat new. I got my first DSLR in 2001 and most people didn’t have one back then. So the process of using a digital camera, and editing those photos on a computer is really only 10-15 years old for most of us. And in that 10-15 years, the greatest leaps in engineering and technology have happened exponentially as this field grows. In short – it has changed rapidly. So where we were 10 years ago in terms of what the camera could do, what the editing apps could do, and what we could see and display on screen has changed in a huge way.

Much like Crossfit. Exercise isn’t new. But this genre of exercise is. In fact, Crossfit as a company was born around 2000 which is right around when digital photography really started hitting mainstream.

Okay… Enough Crossfit Talk – What’s the Point?

Alright, now that we have the history behind us, let’s talk about something I hear quite a bit out there in the photography-education world. At just about every seminar or workshop I teach, there are multiple people that ask me something like:

“I saw a video a while back where you were using Unsharp Mask to sharpen your photos. But now I see you do it in Lightroom. What’s the deal?”.

And the question wasn’t always about sharpening, but you can insert just about any tool there and it still works.

So…. during that long run at my Crossfit gym, I started thinking “Wow… this sucks… ” “… and we haven’t really done a long run in the middle of a workout week like this before – why are they doing this to us!”.

Then I started thinking about how I’ve been going to the same gym for years. And over the years, I’ve seen a lot of different exercise routines and thoughts from the coaches. While the same core principles were there (proper technique, don’t hunch your back, tight core, shoulders back, etc…), there was a lot of new stuff that sometimes seemed to contradict some of the older stuff.

And then it hit me… Crossfit is a lot like learning digital photography, editing, and even newer media technologies (video, drones, go-pros, etc…). In the scheme of things, they’re all fairly new, and WILL evolve over time.

Innovation Happens… Even With Our Coaches and Mentors

Here’s where I think this all ties in. Innovation is a way of life. And it’s not just the camera manufacturers and software developers that innovate. Our coaches and educators innovate too. And that’s a good thing. We want the people teaching us to constantly push the boundaries of what’s available. To see if there’s a better way to do something. Or maybe a more effective, cheaper, easier or enjoyable way.

Just like at my gym, I want my coaches to push themselves. To research, read, practice, and try out new things – and find newer better ways to coach me to get a better workout, stay fit and maybe even have a little fun while doing it.

SUPER IMPORTANT: And I also understand that in order for them to stay positive, fresh, and motivated, that their style is going to change. One coach may be really into the benefits of rowing for a while. But a year later, it’s perfectly understandable for that same coach to really preach the benefits of biking or something else. Tastes change, styles change, motivations change, and – most importantly – people change.

I think you want the same in photography. I think you want the people you follow/learn from to push the boundaries of cameras and editing apps. If you’re reading this and you follow me for example, you want me to download and try out the latest apps and techniques for editing and working with photos, and report back. After I put some of those things through some tests, I may come out with a different workflow after a while because I’ve realized that it’s not only better for me – but also for the people I teach.

And forget about my tastes and style. Years ago I processed many photos with a heavy HDR style to them. Years ago I did a lot of composites too. Today, I love landscapes and outdoor photos. And lately (in the last few months), I’m really enjoying wildlife photos – something I never have before.

My bet is that anyone reading this can relate. You probably loved an area of photography or editing-style/technique 5 years ago, that today you don’t care much for.

My point here is that it’s normal. Embrace it! Don’t feel bad about it. Don’t wonder too much about it. And most importantly, understand that it’s human nature and expect it to happen.

Parting Thoughts

So my final thought is this… Be flexible and evolve – and know that the others around you will be doing the same. Whether it’s your friend in a camera club, or your favorite educators and photographers.

That doesn’t mean don’t question and don’t get comfortable. You have to learn techniques and practice them over and over to get better (and become comfortable with them). But if someone taught you a technique, and is now teaching you something different, it’s okay to question why. But at the same time, don’t overthink the “why” and the change behind it. Do you like that particular coach/mentor/teacher and trust them? If yes, then go with it. Change happens. It’s natural. And it’s 100% part of the evolution of learning, improving and enjoying your photography.

Comments

  1. Rick

    Nice post, Matt, and tell Diana I don’t think it’s weird. 😉

    As you know, I’m a Bootcamp dude. I’m intrigued by Crossfit, but BC works for me. One of the similarities I’ve noticed in both is that ‘evolution/change/fit to your style’ ethic, and that is something that appeals to me as a reformed long-time-no-gym-rat, and your connection to growing as a photographer is spot-on. For example, I’m tiring of landscapes, and haven’t yet figured where I’m going from there, but I know that there will be something new that grabs me just down the road. Much like I’ve gone from the hard-core bike runs to more weights and lunges and the like.

    You also nailed the Crossfit/Bootcamp ‘group’ thing. Even when you’re buried in your own workout, you know you’ve got a group of folks there to help (encourage, challenge, and yes, taunt) you achieve your goals. I’ve found being around like-minded photographers makes me a better photographer. And while I might not always step up the photo game on these adventures, I love being somewhere with a bunch of folks with cameras, soaking it all up.

  2. Betty Girardeau

    Loved this blog as it really spoke to me. Two years ago I was just a very amateur landscape photographer. In the last almost 18 months I have evolved into a “photographer” embracing and wanting to learn everything I can. This has led me into techniques and inspiration I would have never believed possible. Carpe diem. Every day, every blog post, lesson, general learning experience is enriching beyond belief IF you are open and willing. Matt, I think it sounds like you agree.

  3. Kent

    Great article Matt. I am a veteran of 17 marathons and have been a runner for about 40 years. I know you know this but in spite of your wife’s “bless your heart”, great ideas and thoughts come while running. For me it’s like all the rest of the crap in my mind, at least during the run, dissolves and leads me to solutions (I have corrected more than one photoshop problem during a run), ideas, talks I had to give during my previous job, and my favorite of developing and publishing a high end photo book of some of my images for my wife. BTW, she blesses my heart on a regular basis. Keep running and thinking and writing and teaching. You are a gift to those of us who are not gifted.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Thanks so much Kent. I’m glad you liked it.
      Wow! 17 Marathons! That’s crazy. Good for you 🙂

  4. Joe Hudspeth

    I agree with all of that Matt, and anytime you want to come to Oregon and go photograph the Wild Horses, or maybe some Elk or Antelope, just give me a call!

  5. Kim

    Great post, and so true. Except, burpees suck and will always suck. Other than that, most everything with both my CrossFit training and photography journey are always stretching, growing, and changing. I’m more of a rower than a runner, but rowing a warnup or cool down 1000 meters is a great time to let my mind work more clearly and find solutions to challenges or find some inspiration for photography.

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