By Suzi Pratt
Have you been noticing little aches and pains lately, especially around your arms and back? If you do a decent amount of photography, your camera may be the culprit. While photography is largely seen as a hobby or art form, make no mistake about the fact that lugging gear around can be serious physical activity, especially as you accumulate more gear over time.
Consider this: a Canon 5D Mark III body only weighs 1.9 lbs (860 grams), and a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 telephoto lens weighs 3.28 lbs (1.49 kg). Combine the two, and you’ve got over 5 lbs of gear to tote, not to mention the added weight of extra lenses, tripods, lighting gear, etc. As a result, it’s not uncommon for longtime photographers to develop chronic pain in their backs, wrists, shoulders, and arms due to the stress of carrying so much gear. The bottom line is that being a photographer can slowly, but surely, lead to chronic injuries over time if you don’t take proper precautions. Here are a few tips to help keep your body in top shape while toting camera gear around, and avoid injury.
Choose the right gear
If you’re just starting out in photography or considering replacing your current camera gear, keep in mind that there are many smaller, lighter camera systems that may be easier on your body. Mirrorless cameras from camera manufacturers such as Sony and FujiFilm (as well as Olympus and Panasonic) are becoming renowned by both amateurs and professionals for their superior image quality and significantly smaller camera bodies and lenses. Depending on your photography needs and budget, you may want to invest in smaller, more ergonomic gear, that won’t weigh your body down.
Select the best bag and accessories
Camera bags come in all flavors today, ranging from messenger bags, backpacks, and even stylish purses. While fashion can certainly impact your camera bag choice, be sure to also consider how comfortable that bag will be in the long run. Medical professionals often recommend selecting bags with symmetrical designs that equally distribute the weight across your body. This usually means opting for a backpack, or rolling bag with wheels, to move large amounts of equipment from one photo shoot to the next. If you choose a bag that will be carried on your shoulders or some part of your body, be sure not to overload it with too much gear. As a rule of thumb, a truly ergonomic bag you carry on your body should not weigh more than 10 percent of your body weight, and you should not carry a heavy bag for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
While actively shooting, consider investing in camera accessories that will help alleviate camera weight in the long run. Some options include monopods for sports or wildlife photographers, ergonomic camera or wrist straps, and holster or belt pack systems (like the ThinkTank one shown above). In summary, choose one or several accessories that will help distribute your gear’s weight between your hips and shoulders so that one part of your body doesn’t bear the bulk of the burden.
Practice good ergonomics while shooting
1. Correct your posture
One of the leading causes of injury among photographers is poor posture. If you plan to spend long hours at a photo shoot, keep the following posture tips in mind:
- First, always make sure to protect your lower back by keeping your pelvis in a neutral position and your core muscles (abs, side, and back) taut.
- Secondly, make sure your knees are slightly bent (not locked) and your feet are spread at least shoulder-width apart, forming a wide base of support, not unlike the legs of a tripod.
- Finally, always be mindful of your shoulders, making sure they are dropped down and pulled back, and keep your chin tucked in. These two posture tips will help avoid common neck and back pain as well as headaches that commonly arise among photographers.
2. Take frequent stretching breaks
When you have a moment to rest during a shoot, don’t just sit down. Remove your gear, and stretch your muscles and joints.Rotate your head in a clockwise and counterclockwise motion to stretch out your neck. Do the same movement with your hips to loosen your lower back. Reach high into the sky and rotate your arms like a windmill to reach your shoulders and upper back. Finally, do some squats and lunges to keep your quadriceps and legs supple. Above all, remember to not just focus on your arms and wrists. If you’re a photographer who likes to shoot from every possible angle, this means you’re likely squatting, kneeling, bending, and rotating nearly every part of your body to get those shots. As a result, pay equal attention to stretching out all the major muscle groups in your whole body.
Don’t forget about post-processing ergonomics
Good posture and ergonomics shouldn’t be forgotten once you’ve put the camera down. Considering all of the time you spend in front of your computer, offloading memory cards, sorting and editing photos; you’ll want to make sure your work station is also suited for maximizing your posture. Suggested accessories include a standup desk, computer monitor risers, ergonomic mouse and keyboard, and foot stools to elevate and correct your posture while in a seated position.
Take care of your body as well as you take care of your gear. You can replace a broken camera, but not a broken you. If you have any other tips for avoiding injuries please share in the comments below.
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