Kung-Fu For Your Photography

Kung Fu is the martial art weapon of the masses. Its inception took ‘force’ out of the exclusive domain of the rulers and empowered the common man. The basic ideas are simple but powerful. You can use these lessons to master photography today!

With amateurs putting their work alongside professional photographers on the internet, the line between master and student is starting to blur. Master your skills today, and you will always be a photography hero!

Here Are a Few Tips From Some (movie) Kung Fu Masters

1. Practice Now; For The Future:

How to Kick Ass with your Photography
Photo: TCM HitchHiker

Kung Fu movies show the hero practicing intensely before a showdown with an arch-nemesis (think Jackie Chan, um, rather, a younger Jackie Chan).

Keeping in good practice ensures that you’re ready to pick up your camera and be ready to capture that brilliant photograph without worrying too much about the technical aspects.

By working out your mistakes before you actually get hired, or before you face that incredibly beautiful scenery, you also ensure that you present a much more professional front while working with a client sometime in the future. Remember, “Wax on, Wax off” (oh sorry, that’s Karate)

2. Learn the Way and Then Find Your Own Way:

As with any subject, photography is based on some infallible truths. This is the substance that should make up your theory. Then, you take theory and turn it inside out, searching for different ways in which to make that theory work for you. If you practice enough, keep your mind free, and snatch at wisps of imagination, you could end up turning that theory into a very exciting practice.

3. Observe, Listen, Duplicate:

As with any learning, a teacher can only tell you so much. After that, it is your turn. Observe what others are doing, listen to those who are teaching you, and try to replicate what the masters have done. Once you do that, you’ll be able to create your own images with more flexibility and skill.

4. Be Flexible:

A perfect split will keep you in good stead if you were in Kung Fu land. With photography, knowing how to use light, and suit it to the mood that you’re trying to create can do the same. Be flexible with the kind of lighting that you create, and learn how to change it quickly to suit your needs. Master Strobist is a good teacher for those who want to use off-camera flash.

5. Improvise:

Sometimes, you’ll find that you’ve got the wrong tool for the job, or that you don’t have your tools at all. It’s like facing the dragon master with a toothpick in your hands. Make the best of it. Put up a good fight and alter your technique to suit your tools. You may have to do a fashion shoot with just a simple digital camera, but if you use the right technique, you may just impress the editor.

6. Sharpen Your Senses:

Stay aware of everything that’s happening around you. Your eyes, ears, and sense of balance and stability will keep you alive and well if you take photographs in the field. In your area of art, the eyes are more important than anything else. Keep them open and alert. Your balance will be tested again, and again. Practice walking on narrow short walls if you need to. The balancing beam is a good alternative. If you live in China, try the great wall.

7. Improve Your Reflexes:

The time difference between recognizing an attack and blocking it, or recognizing a weakness and taking advantage of it is very similar to the time that you have when taking a photograph on the streets. Sometimes the difference between an unbelievable photograph and a mediocre one is just a split-second difference. Stay alert and react quickly, on instinct. Of course, you will also have to know how to pre-empt situations and set your camera up to take advantage of them.

8. Stay Fit, Eat Light, and Eat Right:

Kung Fu is an art that takes a lot out of you, physically and mentally. Photography does that too. It will eat up your time, your energy, and your mind. Stay fit, and you’ll be able to do it better. Staying fit will allow you to be more patient, to carry more equipment for longer and with a steadier grip, or to just stay out on your shoot for longer – allowing you to get more photos.

9. Take Every Opportunity That Presents Itself:

The Dragon Master has summoned you and asked you to fight him with a toothpick and a nail. You’ve been waiting for this opportunity from the beginning of your Kung Fu life. When he asks you to fight, you fight. Don’t worry about the tools. Make the most of what you have.

Seize the day when an opportunity comes knocking. After all, they do come but once.

10. Learn New Styles and Techniques:

Learn New Styles and Techniques of Photography
Photo: Herbs1

The way of the Intercepting Fist, The way of the snapping branch, Drunken Monkey Kung Fu,  using Hyperfocal distance, or motion blur in your photographs; they’re just another way of using the underlying basics to present something that is wildly different from what is expected.

Learn how to make use of them to make your photographs look different, and to give them impact. Eventually, you’ll develop your own signature style.

11. Learn How to Work With Different Equipment:

The Staff, The Fist, Range-finders, filters, and Medium Format cameras. They all have their places in your journey of discovery and you will eventually find reasons and occasions to use each piece of equipment. They will become an important part of your repertoire and each will help you to perform a different task with greater ease and finesse.

12. Take the Leap – it’s Not Like You’re Jumping Off a 5-story Building:

When presented with a challenge, remember to pull out all the stops to get the photograph as you visualised it. Make sure that you use all your accumulated knowledge and experience to deliver your best effort. You need to have paid attention to the other steps in this article before you get to this stage.

You may not be jumping off a 5-story building, but it’s all the same… When presented with a problem that could either deliver you into new territory or away from the following hordes, you want to put every bit of your photography to work for you. Remember, the only luck you get is that which you create for yourself.

13. I Know Kung Fu:

So, you’ve learned Kung Fu. You’re the one… Now, the only one who can challenge you in your art form is yourself. What do you do now? Lay back and die? Go on a 500-year-long meditation? Not likely for a Kung Fu master.

Challenge yourself with our Photo Projects! Compete with other masters, take your Kung Fu Photography to new heights, and teach yourself how to fly! Use the hashtag #BPTprojects on Instagram.

So, as one tale ends, another begins. Tell us your story…

This is part of the Beyond Photo Tips Birthday Special Series (2008). Go here to see all the posts so far.

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Susheel Chandradhas
Susheel Chandradhas

Susheel Chandradhas is a Product Photographer and Filmmaker based in India. He has been taking photographs (almost) all his life. He has a diploma and a bachelors degree in Visual Communication, where his classmates all believed that he would write a book on photography... Instead, he writes on this website (because - isn't a community more fun?).

His passions include photography, parkour, wide-angle lenses, blue skies, fire extinguishers, and fast computers.

In addition to writing for Beyond Photo Tips, Susheel is a staff writer for Fstoppers.com, and owns and runs ColoursAlive, a photography, and video production studio.

You can connect with Susheel on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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