A Photo Shoot a Day Keeps the Doctor Away — The Camera as a Motivator for Physical Exercise

You’ve been there, everyone does it: waisting whole days without doing anything constructive. Or how often did you turn on TV only to find out that another evening could have been spent more wisely. In fact, each time you give in to laziness and apathy your body’s in passive shutdown mode. It’s your choice: either eat and drink what you want, do nothing and get moody and gain weight — or eat and drink what you want, do a reasonable amount of exercise and stay fit. What better way to stay fit than with photography. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Don’t want to insult anyone, but do you know a corpulent pro photographer? Each day of not venturing out with your camera is a missed chance to stay fit.

Photography is a simple, fun and easy way to burn off those calories you don’t want and don’t need. Depending on the size of your gear, you might even qualify for the “walking carrying child” category to calculate how many calories you burn doing what you love doing. Not to mention how physical a serious assignment can be: when I shoot for work, I come home dripping wet.

LIFE photographer Wallace Kirkland running, crouching and handling room as he would do on assignment in 1944. | Gjon Mili
LIFE photographer Wallace Kirkland running, crouching and handling room as he would do on assignment in 1944. | Gjon Mili
Don’t know why. Maybe it’s the intensity of the physical exercise combined with the mental. I try to avoid tripods and don’t count the squats to get every possible angle. But it can be intense — with the morning after feeling as if I did an Ironman.

To be on the safe side: let’s qualify photography as a light or moderate activity. It’s not that going out to be creative or hunt for shots is cardio exercise that makes your heart pound. You are stopping often, it doesn’t even count as walking. Still: play couch potato for a week, eat what you like and observe your “weight depreciation.” The following week be moderately active with your camera, go here and there, meet friends, see an exhibition, discover, walk new places.

Don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know how your overall physicality and state of mind improve. Do the math. Photography can be serious exercise. A physically demanding shooting style, a.k.a. landscape in rough territory or a wedding day workout, will burn about 200 calories per hour. Shooting a wedding will help the cameraman get rid of way more than 1,000 calories. Doubt it? Then you’re just standing around.

In fact, this week after work I ventured out each evening, armed with the Nikon Df, and again couldn’t be more pleased not only with the alluring power of nice gear seducing me to leave home’s comfort zone. The stay-fit factor is just undeniable. The main aim is photography — with the pleasant side effect of physical activity.

However, let’s not degrade or overestimate photography as intentional exercise. It’s not, not even if you have a muscular trigger finger or zoom-stealthed biceps. The focus on physicality might divert the eye and attention. Different story if you’re, as said, on assignment. Or a wedding photographer.

That’s some eight hours on your feed with minimum resting time, occasionally just in position, but at times running, walking, crouching, crawling, holding odd positions and bending every which direction to get the right angle. Add all the kit if you shoot a traditional DSLR with standard zooms and lenses. Photography can really take it out of you. See? There’s an upside in shooting heavier gear.

Either way, the more dust settles on your equipment, the less calories you burn. And the longer your zooms, the less you have to walk. Get up now. A photo shoot a day keeps the doctor away.

+++ If you want to keep track of your physical activity, check out personal health and fitness trackers such as Fitbit, Jawbone UP, Nike FuelBand or Basis. These devices alone keep you going. Add the camera and you gonna be as fit as a fiddle.