An Often Overlooked Factor In Great Photographers – Muscle Memory

Words by Scott Bourne - A Platypod Pro
Edited by Eryka Bagwell

Few people mention the importance of muscle memory in successful photography. That doesn't mean it's not important. It just means that some people don't realize it.

Musicians play scales all day long for years because they need to develop muscle memory that helps them execute the notes they need to play quickly and efficiently. If you watch a master musician at work, it may seem like what they do is effortless. But it only seems that way.

Read on to see how this applies to photography. First let’s define muscle memory. Muscle memory is the act of committing a specific motor task into memory through repetition.

How does this apply to photography? In lots of ways, but the simplest is this. Handle your camera EVERY day – every single day – no exceptions. Get it out of the camera bag, into your hand and make a few pictures of literally anything.

The mere handling of the camera, pressing of the shutter, raising your eye to the viewfinder, etc., these are all easy things to do but if you do them daily, when you’re in the field (where it counts) and that once in a lifetime shot of a grizzly bear playing games with an eagle unfolds in front of you, your fingers and thumbs won’t be running into or over each other to get the picture. Handling your camera every day is building muscle memory.

Muscle memory also impacts how quickly you can wield a long lens; how quickly you can focus, how quickly you can adjust focus points or exposure.

All of these things can be sped up and made more accurate by PRACTICE! We all want the magic camera that just knows what we want it to do and then it does it. But it doesn't exist. So we practice.

If you only handle your camera a few times per year, you'll never get comfortable with it. So fix that problem. Handle your camera every day. Make a photograph of SOMETHING (ANYTHING) every day. It can be a beer can or a coffee mug. But be sure to make a photo every day.

Your nervous system is a miraculous thing. It helps your brain recognize patterns and the regions of the brain that are in charge of motor skills react very positively to repeating patterns.

Muscle memory is just learned motor skills, repeated often enough that they become routine.


Give this a try. Grab your camera and your camera manual. Open any random page in the manual and then whatever it describes, do that with the camera. Not only will your muscle memory improve, your knowledge of your specific camera will improve and then all that stuff will simply go away and drift into the background while you use all your brain’s conscious processing power to SEE and compose the next great image.