Common Photographer Injuries: Ways to Prevent & Care for Them

Backstory: Last fall, I was struggling with back pain and carpal tunnel. (From too much shooting and editing). This summer, I was in so much elbow and forearm pain I could barely sleep. (Again, due too much shooting and editing). At some point, I stopped suffering in silence and complained on my Facebook page. Usually this doesn’t help, but guess what? I got great answers from fellow photographer and sports medicine specialist, Jen Chesnut of Jen Chesnut Photography that truly helped me to feel better — and much faster than I’d even hoped for.I was so grateful for her advice that I wanted to share it with those of you who may be hurting — or at risk of getting hurt — as we head into the Holiday Season, traditionally a photographer’s busiest period.I asked my group to help me identify the most common areas of photographer aches and pains. Jen compiled the answers and then graciously wrote up this amazing post, chock full of tips and links to help you feel your best.

Let me start by introducing myself.

I am Jen Chesnut, a photographer specializing in families and high school seniors. However, my degree and the bulk of my experience and work is in the sports medicine field, as an athletic trainer, along with my work as a strength and conditioning coach. I have had the privilege to work with clients/patients that ranged from children to professional athletes, but my main passion is just helping people to feel better, be more active and not live in pain. I also find talking about these issues so much easier then typing them and creating a blog post! As a photographer and someone who has suffered many injuries and had 13 surgeries, I get what pain and discomfort can do to you, so let’s get started.

First off, please understand that I am giving you suggestions for you to look into, research and discuss with your doctor. I am not giving you medical advice or promising these suggestions are a quick and easy fix. If you are experience any discomfort or dysfunction, please first consult with your physician. Now about those aches and pains associated with all the shooting and editing…

Today, I am going to start at the pelvis, because working on this area can many times fix the ailments in other areas.

A key thing to remember is everything is connected in your body. It is connected by webbing that spans throughout your body, called fascia (if you want to learn more about fascia, check out “The Core Connections” podcasts by Erica Ziel. Around the pelvis and core area the fascia is the densest, with multiple fascial lines crossing over and meeting there. Therefore, if we can fix dysfunction and lack of true strength here, we can fix a lot of things and prevent many other issues from arising. Good posture and proper core strength are key components to overall pain free health, believe it or not.

Whether you know it or not, your pelvis can easily become out of alignment. Sometimes you just compensate for this without any idea it has happened, and other times it elicits as symptoms in the back, hip, knee, shoulder, neck, or other area of the body. So this is why it is always good to start here. A practitioner can physically check your pelvis for asymmetry, but when it is just you, you can try this simple exercise I call the “hip walk exercise” to use your own muscles to realign your pelvis. Here is a video by Kelly Starrett showing how to do the hip walk exercise (start at about 4 minutes, 50 seconds). Sometimes you will feel or hear an audible pop (typically with the inner thigh squeeze), but not always. The key is to see how you and your symptoms feel after the exercise. You many need to do it a few times a day or week until you are feeling better.

Frequent complaints related to pelvis issues are low back pain, sciatica, tight hip flexors (“from sitting too much”) and hip pain.

• Stretching your hip flexors is so important for most of us. A kneeling hip flexor stretch, pigeon stretch, and the mermaid stretch (Pilates) can be great places to start.
• Hip flexor stretches (just pay attention to the first 3 stretches)
Mermaid stretch (start watching at 5:37 – while this video is geared towards pregnant mamas, it can be applied to all)
Stretching your piriformis can also help with low back and sciatica type discomfort (My tips are to sit on the edge of your seat, keeping your back perfectly straight throughout the entire stretch, only hinging from the hips. Do not round from your back. If you feel like you are stretching the nerve and NOT the muscle, it is not recommended to hold the stretch for more than 3-5 seconds. Rather, you can gently rock in and out of the stretch to keep from making the nerve mad).
• Another tool to have in your kit is KT Tape. And I can’t recommend this tape enough and I always have this tape on me. KT Tape is so helpful for so many people and you can go to their website and look up how to tape for symptoms based on the area of the body you experience it. Here are a few helpful ones:
SI joint (low back, hip, pelvis, sciatica symptoms) 
Low back symptoms
Tight hip flexors
• Learning how to properly engage your deep core is another important aspect and most people do it incorrectly. Not only do you get stronger, by connecting properly, you can also alleviate symptoms and decrease the likelihood of future injuries. Here is a video to teach you how to properly start to engage your core.
• Posture really is everything! Focus on having better posture when sitting, standing, walking, carrying, every movement, by lengthening tall through the top of your head and keeping your shoulders back and relaxed, down & away from the ears.

The next most common sites (I am combining two here) are the neck and shoulder, and they really do go hand in hand.

Again, I would suggest starting at the pelvis and work on the suggestions above to see if that helps first. Common complaints given in the poll for these areas were muscle tension, “straight up pain”, headaches and numbness down the arm. First and foremost, your posture is a major key to correcting issues that arise in the neck and shoulder areas. Think about how you sit at your computer editing all day or what you look like 3 hours in to a wedding, wearing two bodies and holding one up, with rounded shoulders and a protruding neck to put your eye on the viewfinder, to take photos. That could easily be your root cause right there and it is as simple as fixing your posture!
Stretch your chest muscles (My suggested change to his video: do not allow your fingers to go numb)
Mid back mobility movements to help with shoulder issues (start at 5 minutes).
• Neck stretches: there are a million stretches you can do for your neck just by running a quick google search
• KT tape, again, is a great tool for helping alleviate symptoms, but also a great postural reminder tool.
o Shoulder tape
o Neck tape
• Massage: let’s be honest, after those long weddings (or newborn sessions), you deserve a massage to loosen tight muscles.
The last area that received a lot of complaints was the elbow, mostly the lateral elbow, with many people complaining of “tennis elbow” (also known as lateral epicondylitis). This can be a common overuse injury from the amount of time we spend on the computer, along with how we carry our gear.
• Rule number one, I would avoid carrying heavy objects with just one hand, as that causes a bend in your wrist and puts strain on your lateral elbow. For those of you, who use a wrist grip/holster for your DSLR, see what position it puts your wrist in, especially if it’s a lot of flexion or extension (ideally you want to keep a neutral wrist), as that can be a trigger for elbow pain.
Wrist extensor stretch (this is the muscle that attaches to your lateral elbow and causes the majority of issues – it’s what brings the back of your hand close to your forearm).
• KT tape can be the game changer for this injury (can you tell I love this stuff?!)
Work station ergonomics can really improve your overall aches and pains AND posture.
Ice massage is a great tool for any aches and pains as it allows you to combine massage with ice, and the cold effects go deeper than just the skin surface.

A few key points:

• Posture, posture, posture
• Learn about the fascia and how to properly engage and strengthen your deep core – it is the game changer to living without aches and pains. Erica Ziel has created an amazing program, called the Core Rehab program. It is geared to post-natal women, but I teach it locally and the men love my class and make amazing improvements with it.
• Work smarter, not harder when it comes to the gear you carry and how you carry it, along with how you work at your desk
• Get up and stretch and move often when you are sitting for long periods of time

I hope this was helpful! What we do as photographers is such a great gift to our clients, to capture and create moments and memories they can cherish, remember and keep forever. But, we have to take care of ourselves first so we can do this job and do it well.

All images above are provided courtesy of Jen Chesnut Photography. All rights reserved.

Note from Jessica:

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing and also liking Jen’s Photography page 🙂

If you’re looking to spend less time editing, try my new QuickFlow actions — clean, efficient edits that you can use with just one click or customize to add even more refinement and polish 🙂

February 365 Project Images

I’ve stayed committed to my 365 challenge, on the good days and the bad. As you can see, I have 28 new images below. Most taken in the month of February, some from the archives, sessions I never truly “finished” and wanted to revisit. In this journey, some days decisions are easy, some days I struggle, but the goal for me is producing work. I am a firm believer that you grow by forcing yourself to move quickly, not by slow deliberation. It’s been a productive month. I released the Raindrop Overlays and I’m thrilled to see the work others are doing with them. I created a tribute to a life-long friend’s father who passed (RIP, Charlie). I worked on close ups, distance shots, my color grading, and compositing. Perhaps most importantly, I got more shots of Vivi who continues to grow like a weed. Thank you for your interest in this project. The encouragement I receive from others inspires me to continue.

Two Series in One

One rainy morning, on impulse, I texted one of my models, Jessica Graham* and asked her if she’d be up for shooting in the rain with me. Jessica is possibly the most fearless woman I know. She has this amazing confidence and adventurous approach that make you feel like you could say, “Hey, my concept is that we roll you in Cheetos and then run, barefoot, through the snow”. Jessica is an author, actor, and teacher. She is also a woman who at 38, I feel very comfortable asking to do certain things I wouldn’t ask another model to do. Such as taking off her dress.

But I digress.

Basically, my original concept pretty much fell apart the moment Jess pulled up to my house. The steady rain we’d been having all morning stopped. The clouds opened, revealing a bright, sunny sky. Still trying to save my original concept, I asked Jessica to hop into my shower while wearing the dress I’d selected for our shoot. I figured it was likely that it would start to rain again, or at the minimum, the clouds would roll back in as we were predicted to have rain until the next day. Didn’t happen. Instead got brighter and warmer and everything dried up. Including her dress, which apparently was created with some sort of space-age 60’s fabric designed to dry instantaneously. As we hiked up to the location, I thought: “Well, at least we have wind”. Hearing my thoughts, God promptly calmed the wind. Now, I might have mentioned somewhere that I have not yet gotten to goal number 11 of getting in better shape. As we trudged up the muddy hill, I may have started shedding props and wardrobe. Things were getting brighter and lighter by the moment. We scrambled up part of the trail and I slid back down. While I was muddy from the waist down, I didn’t let the camera or lens slip, so I mentally high-fived myself. But the tumble made me decide to leave all but my Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 in my bag, safely at the bottom of the trail with all my props, all the wardrobe, all basically, all my former concepts for this shoot.

We got to the top of the hill and I asked Jessica spin herself. Sometimes I had her do it slowly, sometimes I asked her to speed up. I found myself liking the movements she made when off-balanced. I asked her to keep repeating, and she would plant her feet to try to steady herself. At some point, I felt like she and I merged. Her movements started telling MY story. She was expressing my week, my month, my struggle to maintain equilibrium, to stay composed under changing skies, both literally and figuratively. I think it’s important to say here that I don’t equate being off-balance with anything bad. On the contrary, I find challenges, changes, shake-ups are often inspiring. I have been struggling with being too “safe” — not wanting to experiment for fear of failing, alienating my audience or my model, falling short of expectations. In this non-ideal scenario, I found some courage. I played with light I wasn’t used to shooting in. We played with different, off-balance poses. My original idea was about transparency, a second skin. As the shoot progressed, I decided that Jessica, with her confidence, maturity and philosophy towards life, would be the ideal model to ask to shed this second skin: the dress. Now, just as additional background, I went to art school. I am very comfortable with the naked human body. Models should always make an informed consent when taking on these sorts of artistic projects, otherwise these projects can quickly become exploitative, no matter how artistic the intention.

Series One.

“Heroes are never born fearless. They become heroes by facing their fears, by meeting them head on and saying, ‘You do not control me, or own me anymore.”
― Nikita Gill

 

“You are damaged and broken and unhinged. But so are shooting stars and comets.”
― Nikita Gill

 

“I hope you never doubt again that even when you are in pain, that you are a miracle, that every part of you is incredible.”
― Nikita Gill, Wild Embers

 

This is a waltz thinking about our bodies
What they mean for our salvation
With only the clothes that we stand up in
Just the ground on which we stand
Is the darkness ours to take?
Bathed in lightness, bathed in heat
All is well, as long as we keep spinning
Here and now, dancing behind a wall
When the old songs and laughter we do
Are forgiven always and never been true

 

 

Second Series.

Contains artistic nudity.

I also made a simpler series with no overlays, just stripped down black and white imagery. As this series includes artistic nudity, you might want to stop scrolling now if you are not someone who likes nudity.

 

*If you are interested in learning more about Jessica’s work with mindfulness and sexuality, you can find her website and Instagram.

 

January 2019 Images

The 365 Challenge I’ve given myself has me hopping. With only five exceptions, ALL of these images were shot in January. All were edited this month. 42 images below… And I’m not sharing them all so as to not be too repetitive. It’s so funny…. I feel the OPPOSITE of burned out. My brain is on fire, I feel like things are just starting to get rolling. Working this fast is eliminating the anxiety and second-guessing from my editing. It’s forcing me to make choices and react quickly.  I am in a very happy creative space.

In addition to making these images, I also went to the dentist, made a new dinner recipe (I liked it, the kids…not so much), went to baseball practices and games, and nursed a sick kid through a stomach bug and then the flu… with a sick husband. I did NOT however (even though I also got the stomach bug on New Year’s day), lose the 10 pounds I was hoping to. I tell myself that’s why God created February.

Rainy Day Window Portrait Series

I don’t get much weather living in Southern California. When I do, I get very excited and inspired. Here are a few experimental portraits from two days of rain.  I loved the distortions, the soft focus in areas, the textures, the steam effects. Basically, I was in Photographer Heaven.

 

New Years Goals, Part 3

In last two weeks, I started posting my New Year’s goals and intentions. Since I have many, I’m doing this in segments. I’m sharing these publicly because I like the accountability and I also hope that these thoughts might be helpful to others.

GOAL 5:

Shoot and edit whatever moves me, but organize my posts differently.

For years, I’ve weighed whether it was better to segment my work a bit more to suit my audience. I’ve finally decided that it makes sense to do so, and as a result I am focusing on growing these new, segmented accounts on Instagram and Facebook. My main pages for Facebook and Instagram will stay the same, but I’m adding micro accounts which will be focused on portions of my work to give my online portfolios more cohesion. If you’d like to follow, here’s how I’m organizing things as of now:

Main Facebook Page

Main Instagram Account

Fine Art Facebook Account

Fine Art Instagram Account

 

 

365 Project Instagram Account

GOAL 6:

Saying “NO” to drama. I refuse to get embroiled in Facebook drama. I’m eliminating all sources of it, even relationships if necessary, so that I can focus on my family, my business and my art. I find the drama on Facebook to be destructive to all my goals.

GOAL 7:

Getting in the frame. I’m not 100% happy with myself, but I’m determined to show up in more pictures with my family and also, in my own art. I am working hard to feel better about myself by taking time to focus a little on me. I feel like the issues are so intertwined, I don’t get in photos because I look like a truck hit me. So I’m investing in self-care — making time to cook healthier food, exercise, brush my hair, wear pants with zippers…. Baby steps…