Is Photography Dangerous to Your Health?

I've been a pro photographer for over 20 years - shooting primarily weddings and portraits. In my prime I was shooting weddings every weekend and Sunday was usually my day to "recover" and go easy on my aching back and hands. Come Monday, everything was back to normal and we'd process, sell, market, meet, and get ready to do it all over again the next weekend.

I've never liked camera straps. I always manage to get tangled in them and I feel that I allow myself to "slack off" by letting the camera hang rather than having it ready, in-hand to capture every fleeting moment. I still believe this. And, I'm paying the price for capturing all those spontaneous moments with constant pain in my right hand - similar to what arthritis might feel likeI think. In fact, I thought it was old age and arthritis working its way in to my life until I mentioned it to a friend who is a Physical Therapist and she immediately asked me, "How do you hold your camera?". I formed my wrist in that awkward, twisted, bent up, pistol-like grip position and put it up to the side of my face. Owww. That exacerbated the pain and I knew immediately where my constant, dull, aching discomfort was coming from. 
This is how I shot for 20 years: heavy lens held in one hand, leveraging force multiplied by the long, long lens. My poor hand never knew what was coming.

I have recently retired from shooting weddings - only making myself available for charitable events on a few occasions. It wasn't the hand pain that drove me to stop shooting weddings, but I now realize that the timing was right - if not a little too late. Only recently have I begun to use alternate camera carrying methods that still allow me to access the camera quickly and efficiently. When I really have to use a strap, I use the Black Rapid sliding strap. My preference though, is to use some kind of belt clip system as that seems to feel more "free" and I really prefer keeping the weight of the camera on my hips instead of on my shoulders and neck (which may have suffered the same fate as my hand - had I been using a strap instead of hand-holding all these years).

My favorite belt-clip type camera holders are the Peak Designs Capture and the Cotton Carrier. The Peak Designs (reviewed previously on this blog) is great for travel as it's light and attaches to just about anything - including a backpack strap. The Cotton Carrier provides better protection for your clothing (very important for frequent wedding and event shooters) and offers faster one-handed access. It's perfect for event photographers. The Cotton carrier can be used as part of their complete system, which includes a belt and shoulder support, or attached to most any other belt. You could start with a simple "holster" type belt-clip system, or go for the full-body vest system for making light work of multiple, heavy cameras.

When I first started using the Cotton Carrier a year or so ago, I gave in to it because a shoulder injury (from Mt. Biking) necessitated something to relieve the constant camera weight. I quickly became a fan of it and I now realize what an important tool it is for both my comfort while shooting, and my comfort in the many years AFTER the shooting. This may well be the most valuable benefit of all - something that I would have paid dearly for, had I known the long-term value.
The Cotton Carrier Carry-Lite is just one option in the plethora of arm and back-saving accessories they make.

Some say getting old sucks. I've always scoffed at that notion believing that my positive attitude and active lifestyle would keep me young forever. Age also brings wisdom. I accept now that I'm not invincible and that "someday" will soon be today. With a little shift in thinking, growing older is still wonderful, as long as we can learn from our lives and share a little bit of that wisdom with those still blazing their path.

If you find yourself in pain after a day of shooting, ask yourself whether it is just tired muscles (which can be countered with more exercise and strength training) or is it joint pain - which needs to be addressed NOW, before it causes long-term damage. Of course, I'm not a doctor, so please do your own research. The point is to pay attention to any discomfort you are having - whether with camera in hand or sitting at your desk, and do something about it!

Let's take care of ourselves and live long lives filled with creativity, activity, and happiness!