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Photographers, Take Care of Your Arms!

by Dan Bailey on September 8, 2011 · 23 comments

Back in the good old days, we spent only spent a fraction of each workday at the computer. The rest of the time was divided up between the light table and that spot in your office or home where you packaged up slides and finished photographs to ship out to clients. Those days are over. Now, between editing images, updating web sites, emailing clients, uploading photos, writing blog posts and eBooks, and spending time on social media sites, we spend an enormous amount of time at the computer. Here it is, 7:59 AM on a Tuesday, and I’m furiously typing away. These days, if we’re not out on a shoot, there’s a good chance that we’re at the computer.

Unfortunately, all that mouse and keyboard time can lead to repetitive stress injuries, which is the last thing you want as a photographer. Imagine trying to hold your camera or external flash unit and having your forearm or elbow scream out at you, or — worse yet — give out on you. The phrase “no pain, no gain” does not apply here; physical in pain is not exactly a great creative motivator — take my word for it.

If you’re in this photography thing for the long haul, you need to learn to take care of yourself. It’s not that hard, it just takes a bit of well-practiced diligence. Here are a few things you can do. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m pretty much writing this post to myself. Hopefully you can get something out of it as well.)

1. Take breaks. Last fall and winter, I really ramped things in my business with more frequent blogging, a massive keywording effort, increased social media and writing eBooks. There were days when I was spending ten and twelve hour days banging away on the keyboard, trying to get everything done. I know, I’m a little obsessive. You probably are too.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t spend that kind of time at your work, but learn to take regular breaks. Get up every hour and go stand outside in the fresh air for a few minutes. Go read a magazine article. Go eat some food. Go ride your bike. Anything to take a break from the computer.

2. Stretch. As we all know, working on a computer involves a lot of repetitive motion. Your arms and wrists sit in the same position for hours, which is just not good for any muscle. Just as important as taking breaks is regularly stretching your arms, shoulders, neck and back so that they don’t lock in place for good.

In addition to doing this at break time, take a minute to stretch while sitting in your desk chair as well. Type a couple of paragraphs, stretch your arms. Hit “upload” and stretch. Process a few images, stretch. Send an email, stretch. It only takes a bit of practice to get yourself into the habit.

*Pause… stretching…*

3. Get massages. Regular massage isn’t just for runners and football players, it’s good for everyone, including photographers. Think about all the work that your arm muscles expend between handling cameras and doing Photoshop stuff, not to mention all the other active stuff that you may do like rock climbing, riding bikes, paddling canoes and kayaks, bowling or just holding your kids or pets. Get regular massage. It’s worth your time and money. Plus, you can write it off as a business expense.

4. Drink water. I won’t get into all the physiological stuff that water does for your muscles; I’ll just say that it’s good for you. Drink lots of it. Keep a bottle filled right there by your desk and drain it a few times each day. This will also add to your number of daily breaks. See how this all works out nicely?

*Gulp, gulp*

5. Get a tablet. Often it’s not the keyboard that causes the stress, it’s the mouse. Many photographers swear by their tablets. In addition to being better for you ergonomically, tablets are simply more precise when doing labor-intensive Photoshop and other digital imaging tasks. Try one out. You may find that once you go tablet, you never go back.

Remember, a healthy photographer is a more creative photographer. Take care of your arms and they’ll take care of you.


Senior contributor Dan Bailey is a professional adventure, outdoor and travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

finally123 September 9, 2011 at 4:02 am
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Paul September 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I hear you! I have shocking issues with my shoulder if i sit at the desk for more than an hour! Recently i experimented with a standup desk which works wonders! I’ve found a desk and chair that lets me stand and sit is best. 15yrs+ of desk work  and cycling will do this!

Fotokrool October 11, 2011 at 10:19 am

Also important: how do you sit behind your computer (ergonomics). I developed golfer’s elbows due to a combination of staying too long behind my computer and a wrong position. My doctor told me it can take up to a year to heal..
Fotografie Carool van der Hagen, Diemen, The Netherlands!/fotokrool?sk=photos

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