Kung Fu Movies Taught Me 9 things About Photography

As a teenager with an off-kilter sleep/wake cycle, I watched a lot of old Kung Fu movies when I was up late at night.  They’re corny, predictable, and the acting isn’t very good, but they’re always fun to watch (and usually a good cure for insomnia).

You’d be surprised at what they can teach you, even something like photography.

Training is Key

Many Kung Fu movies begin with a boy of no particular note, who finds out that he is destined to defeat some immensely powerful evil.  But first, he’s going to have to train his body and his mind to be as solid as a rock.  The Invincible Shaolin movie has some great training scenes, like this one.

You don’t have to do a rock pushup on your back, but training and practice are essential for a photographer. You’re going to need focus and discipline, and most importantly, you’re going to need a plan.

Sit down and write down a list of the expertise you want to learn, and then figure out how to get that knowledge.  You can learn a lot from Google, but eventually, you will need to begin taking pictures and discover what performs for yourself.

Or, read some books, and you can consider taking a photography class, which will lead us to the next lesson that Kung Fu’s movies have taught me.

Old Guys Can Kick Your Ass

Old Masters have always been given a lot of respect in Kung Fu movies, and with good reason.  Though they may be old, they’re still fast and strong, and more importantly, they always seem to know where the next punch comes from.  Since they can predict your next move, they are always one step ahead of you.

New photographers can learn a lot from old hands.  They have been thinking about photography for a long period of time, finding out what works and what does not, and you can learn a lot by hearing their stories and looking at their photos. Taking a class from one of them, or just finding a mentor, can take your photograph to a whole new level.

Eventually, You’re Going to Get Kicked in the Face

The hero in the Kung Fu film always gets his ass kicked at least once so that the audience has some doubt as to whether or not he will be able to win in the end.

Sooner or later, you’re going to go through the same thing (hopefully just metaphorically).  You’re going to drop that expensive piece of equipment, you’re going to miss the perfect shot that you can never recreate, you’re going to get told that your photos aren’t good.

Just remember, it’s not that the hero’s never going to be beaten-they’re going to be beaten.  But they’re always going to get up again.

Heightened Sense of Awareness Goes a Long Way

With martial arts, there wasn’t a load of technical gear to rush out and buy. I had pretty much what I needed from the start; arms and legs! What each of the arts taught me was how I could use my arms and legs to create speed and power.

Each of them seemed to approach this completely differently. Maybe that is because there is no ‘one’ way to do it?

As with photography, once you’ve got the tools, you’ve got to find your way. Each teacher will have his or her own approach and style. Yes, your teacher can lead you so far, teach you the basics, but there’s a point where you have to become your own master.

With martial arts training, you suddenly become more aware of your peripheral vision. Your eyes would always be looking and seeing. Your mind is going through different battle scenarios. Your body was well-positioned and relaxed.

By being aware of this, you have been able to remain calm, composed, and ready for action. A well-established mind will also help you in all aspects of photography-when your gear goes wrong (and it will), when things don’t plan or just show you know what you’re doing and you’re in control.

Know Your Opponent

By knowing your opponent, you have a better chance of beating your adversary. Apply this to the knowledge of your subject matter, each medium comes with its own challenges and skills set.

Understanding how to take pictures of different subjects will help you determine how your final image will look.

Punch Through Your Opponent

From boxing to Jeet Kune Do, they are all teaching you not only to hit your opponent but to punch through them. I saw firsthand, that when photographers put the camera up to their eyes, suddenly flashes come on, and you concentrate solely on your subject, and you tend not to’ see’ what’s in the frame.

By ‘punching through’ you’ll save hours in Photoshop as you take a minute to look past your subject to see what interruptions lie in the background or at the edge of the frame.

Use Only that Which Works

Yes, there are’ rules’ to photography, but you are not likely to break new ground unless you try to push the boundaries once in a while and understand how and when to break the rules. Be adaptable to that. Keep your mind open when shooting and experimenting with different techniques.

50 Gangsters, to fight? No Problem.

Learning to be a great photographer takes time, and there are no shortcuts.  It takes practice, study, and hard work, but it is a workable goal.  Do not try to become a master in the night.  Instead, set a few short-term goals on how to improve your photography and work with it.

The Good Guys Always Win ….. in the End

Which brings us to our last Kung Fu film lesson.  Their girlfriend was kidnapped, their town burned to the ground, their father /teacher/old master died-but the hero of the film makes it to the end, overcomes the bad guy, and saves the day. It is every single time.

And in the end, you are going to be one of the Ancient Masters.

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