They’re the people who run around cities, jumping over walls, climbing the outsides of buildings, and generally doing ‘impossible’ stuff. Their ‘sport’ is called “Le Parkour” or “FreeRunning” and the practitioners are called ‘Traceurs’. Their goal is to get from point A to point B in the most graceful and efficient way physically possible.
Now, Where’s the Creativity?
Their creativity is in the way that they tackle each obstacle. Each of them may go down the same route, but tackle the same obstacle in different ways. See this video clip to understand just what they do.
What Can You Learn from Parkour?
There are some basic principles that apply to parkour as well as other things in life. Here we’re going to apply this to how we learn about, and grow in our photography skills.
Conditioning is Vital
Training rigorously until something that was challenging becomes normal is the essence of Conditioning training.
Traceurs have to be able to deal with real-time changes in their environment. They practice for hours every day to build their strength with a range of movements. It also allows them to develop an innate “muscle memory” that will help their bodies understand their commands and adapt their movements instantaneously without having to think about it.
It’s the same with photography. If you practice enough, your adjustments will come to you so naturally that you will forget about the technical aspects altogether. Practice makes perfect. It also helps you forget about the camera and think more about the things that are going on around you… essential for a ‘brilliant’ photograph.
Understand Your Environment
Traceurs need to have a very good understanding of the world around them, the strength of the surfaces that they will jump to, the texture of the walls that they scale, and how it will interact with the rubber of their shoes. They test, train, and build up their bag of tricks.
As a photographer, you need to understand everything that’s going on around you while taking photographs. This is more important if your environment is one that is constantly changing. This will keep you open to unexpected photography opportunities, and that’s half the fun of photography, isn’t it?
Use The Environment to Your Advantage
This is an extension of the previous point. Being aware of your surroundings means knowing how elements around you are going to act, or react. It could mean knowing how people react to their environments, or it may be something as simple as knowing something unique about how a traffic sign works which then allows you to create a unique photograph.
Knowing what to expect in a given situation will help you plan out your shots in advance, anticipate what is about to happen, and make the most of that situation. A keen eye for detail can help you with this.
Keep Your Mind Free
When you’re first learning something, you need to understand the whys, hows, and why-nots of how to do it. With experience (and a lot of what we do in parkour is learned and gained from experience), you can pay less attention to the details, and keep your mind free for the task at hand.
But it goes beyond this. Clearing your mind of preconceived notions will allow you to be open to new ideas and suggestions.
Your mind is at its creative best when it’s free of inhibiting thoughts. Lots of practice will help you with this. It takes your conscious thought away from repetitive actions that you’ve practiced a thousand times before, and helps you concentrate on the creative aspects of your photography that confront you.
Know the Rules & Respect Them
This may seem odd at first… Isn’t Parkour about breaking out of the ‘rules’ that society imposes? About breaking out of the box? Yes. But there are some rules that can’t be broken.
While Traceurs appear to be ‘flying’ while practicing parkour, they’re not actually defying any rules of physics or biology. They can’t fly. However much they want to break the rules of physics, it’s not possible. At the same time, failure to acknowledge and respect these fundamental rules will result in them injuring themselves. Instead, what they do is train so hard and so well, that they appear to bend the boundaries of what is possible, and what’s not. Parkour athletes push the boundaries of what’s possible by the human body, and have a system that allows them to do it repeatedly, with safety. I think that this principle can be applied to your art too.
Do ‘the rules’ mean the rules of photography? Do they mean the law of the land? Do they mean the confines of ‘good conduct’?I believe that this means all of the above-mentioned points. Know the rules of aesthetic photography, The law of the land, and the limits to which you can push decency. Realize which rules can be pushed to the limit, and push them … people will respect you and treat you well.
View the World Through a Child’s Eyes
What could be more innocent, more wonder-filled, and more questioning than a child’s mind? They’re seeing things, and learning what to do with them for the first time.
When you learn new skills in parkour, you open up your world to new possibilities. Steps that used to be dreary now become a place where you can move in a different way, exploring different paths between your travel points. Your eyes are opened up to new ways to use old things.
Try to view the world through a child’s eyes and you’re sure to see something different and new all the time. The traceur is urged to do this because that is what they’re after… a mind and body free of the restrictions imposed on it by ourselves, yet responsible and ready for action.
The traceur seeks a world free of inhibitions, and their freedom of movement beyond the “traditional” gives them a form of creative expression that is unique. You have that freedom too… your camera gives you a means of expressing your thoughts that is impossible for some. So, do not restrict yourself.
Know Who You Are, And Why You’re Doing This
A traceur’s journey is hard on the body, mind, and soul. It is a path that is as difficult as the highest form of martial arts at its very zenith. Traceurs who want to attain this peak are advised to ask themselves why they want to achieve that level. Why does this matter? Because, as with anything, if you know your intentions and motivations it will strengthen you and guide your thoughts and actions.
If you do not intend to reach the very peak of your skill, you will know that you need not put in your best efforts here… Rather, seek out where your efforts should be directed to achieve your true goal.
I’ve recently been enthralled by “Parkour” videos that are freely available on the internet and have been studying their training methods and the reasons why they do what they do… If you get nothing else from this post, I hope you go away with an appreciation of how wonderful the movements of these athletes are, and a yearning to be able to do something close to it.
This post is part of the Beyond Photo Tips Birthday series (2008), see the other posts from this series here.
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