Dade Freeman
Photographer & Trainer


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5 lessons martial arts taught me about photography

Practise, Practise, Practise

When I began practising martial arts, and I did several, all of them began with Kata's or Forms - a fixed routine of movements simulating fighting an imaginary opponent. By repeatedly performing the katas I quickly learnt the routines and what move came next, and then the one after that and so on. Once I learnt the routine, it was a question of tightening up the weak spots, finessing the moves and improving my speed or power.

Now, imagine creating your own photographic kata. Pick an appropriate lens, decide on your white balance, choose an ISO, set the aperture, select a shutter speed, frame your shot, firm up your stance and click the shutter. By frequently repeating this series of actions it will help make you a faster and better photographer. 

Practise until you create muscle memory and your body reacts without thinking, like when you are driving or doing something routine.


Heightened sense of awareness

Interestingly with martial arts, there wasn't a load of technical gear to rush out and buy, I pretty much had what I needed from the start; arms and legs. What each of the arts taught me, were the different ways I could use my arms and legs to develop speed and power. Each seemed to approach this slightly differently. Maybe that's because there is no one way?

As with photography, once you have the tools, you have to find your path. Each teacher will have their own approach and style. Yes, your teacher can lead you so far, teach you the basics, but there comes a point when you must become your own master.

When I started my martial art training, I suddenly became more aware of my peripheral vision. My eyes were constantly looking and seeing. My mind running through various fight scenarios. My body poised and relaxed. By being aware I was able to remain calm, composed and ready for action. A settled mind will help you in all aspects of photography too - when your gear goes wrong (and it will), when things don't go to plan or just by showing you know what you are doing and you are in control.

Sea Defence


Punch through your opponent

From boxing to Jeet Kune Do, they all teach you to not only hit your opponent, but to punch through them. I have witnessed firsthand that when photographers put the camera up to their eye, suddenly blinkers come on and you focus solely on your subject and tend not to 'see' what is in the frame. By 'punching through' it will save you hours in Photoshop as you take a minute to look past your subject to see what distractions that lie in the background or at the edge of the frame.

Female Fighter


Know your opponent

By knowing your opponent, you have a better chance of beating them. Apply this to knowing your subject matter, each genre comes with it's own challenges and skill sets. 

Understanding how to photograph different subjects, will help you determine how your final image will look. Obviously, the shot below didn't look like this when I took original saw it, but by knowing how I wanted the final image to be, informed me of what I needed to do to create it.

Light Vs Dark


Use only that which works 

Yes, there are 'rules' to photography, but you are not likely to break new ground if you don't try pushing the boundaries once in a while, and understand how and when to break the rules. Be adaptable. Keep an open mind when shooting and experiment with different techniques.

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.
— Bruce Lee
Female Samurai

Dade Freeman is a Brighton photographer creating portraits and fine art images for commercial and personal use.