Limber Up Before You Take Street Photos

In my eBook “100 Top Street Photography Tips” there is Number 81 and it’s called “Limber Up.”

I don’t think anyone will misunderstand it to the extent of physically stretching and bending before taking their camera equipment out on to the street. That’s because it’s one of several “Psychological Tips,” mental insights, tricks, approaches to the task — call them what you will — intended to help readers unlock their creative potential.

The Sports Comparison
Sports people limber up with gentle exercise before beginning the more strenuous tasks of running, jumping, skating, cycling (or whatever). In the same way, street photographers should make a deliberate effort to “get in the zone” by taking one or two easy shots before they attempt any serious photography.

Why? There are several reasons, the first of which is the very simple fact that you have to start somewhere. The old saying that the “longest journey starts with a single step” is profound. Writers know their task becomes easier once they’ve constructed just one sentence that measures up to their expectations. To switch metaphors: it gets the ball rolling. It gets rid of what the poet Dylan Thomas called “the terror of the virgin page.”

In the supporting text to my tip I say: “Take some “warm up” shots on your way to your chosen location. You’ll be surprised how quickly this gets you in the mood for serious street photography, even if the shots aren’t that great.”

I don’t just mean shoot at random, but try to take the best photos you can achieve in the unpromising area between you and your destination.

A Lucky Hit
I think I was lucky with the featured image (above). Emerging from London Bridge tube station and heading across to Borough Market I took a quick shot of a “red devil” figure on a stall. I’d would have been pleased with it even later in the day.

Here (below) is another example of what I mean, although, as this one also turned out reasonably well, it’s as untypical as the one above.

This time I emerged from Holborn tube station, crossed the road, and looked for something easy to photograph. It was my intention to walk to Covent Garden, a few hundred yards away, but first I needed to “limber up.”

I spotted the placard for the “London Evening Standard” newspaper: “Chinese Flock to London in Brexit Bonanza” on the side of a closed newsstand and thought: “Here’s potential shot. All I need is a family of Chinese tourists to walk past.”

In the event, these two gentlemen came along almost immediately. They’re clearly not Chinese, but the contrast is interesting. They’re probably here to work rather than to indulge themselves in a shopping spree, courtesy of the cheaper pound.

In fact, the downward fluctuation in the UK’s currency was not to their advantage because it meant that money earned here was less valuable overseas. They look very uncomfortable, which fits the image. Of course, their discomfort is caused by the weather, not the exchange rate. Sleet was falling and the temperature was hovering around zero.

I think this is one of the better limbering up shots I’ve taken and it had a very positive effect on me as I marched towards Covent Garden. I thought: “If I get nothing else today, at least I have one reasonably good shot. I’m ahead of the game after one minute on the street!”

Timing Is Key
Another reason why limbering up in this way is essential is because it helps you get your timing right. Timing is a key part of street photography. A split second too early or too late can ruin the image.

At this point I hope American readers will forgive me for referring to the English game of cricket (I’m sure the same applies to baseball) but players speak of “getting your eye in” — which means getting up to speed with seeing the ball as it hurtles down the pitch towards you, then timing your stroke to perfection. When players have put a few runs on the scorecard they’re much more difficult to dismiss thereafter.

The ultimate reason for limbering up is to protect you from fluffing your first real chance of taking a good picture. If you’re not “in the zone,” where you’re working at a high level of awareness, there’s always a chance you’ll miss a great opportunity when it comes along.

Not So Calm
From what I’ve said, above, you may think that limbering up has a calming effect: putting you in a relaxed state of mind in which the day’s street photography will be free from all worries. Not so! It will raise your anxiety level. And that’s good.

Your psychology may be different from mine, but personally I find that my anxiety level increases with the first shot or two, then it gradually subsides as my confidence builds and I get a few decent shots on the card. I can’t sustain the higher level for longer than two or three hours. Lunch or coffee takes me out of the groove and I have to limber up all over again before I restart.

So there you have it. I think it’s an insight you can apply to many creative tasks and much else besides. If “to be limber” is to be “lithe, supple, nimble, lissome, flexible, fit, agile, and acrobatic” (mentally or physically) it can’t be bad, can it?

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