Turns out running with a camera phone has really helped me focus

The Xiaomi Mi 11 with an image of Route 66 on its screen
(Image credit: TechRadar / Shutterstock)

In the Jim Carrey film Yes Man, the love interest, played by Zooey Deschanel, organizes a workout group in which the members combine long-distance jogging with photography. I always thought the concept was a purely comedic one, but after having tried it, I'm not so sure.

Where am I?

Carthage, MO

(Image credit: End to end)

Column number: 10
Date written: 16/07/21
Days in: 137
Current location: Carthage, MO
Distance traveled: 592.08 miles
Distance left:  1658.92 miles
Current tracker: Polar Vantage M2

This is the tenth entry in my fortnightly running column - I'm undertaking a challenge wherein I need to run, walk or cycle the length of Route 66 in two years - and writing these articles has me noticing all my workout idiosyncrasies that I'd never thought about before.

As a member of the TechRadar phones team, I have to test camera phones all the time - this used to necessitate me taking weekly jaunts across my city to find good samples, which was a huge time drain. Since I've started my running challenge, though, I've been able to combine my workouts with my camera tests, to great success.

In fact, using a phone camera while on my runs has got me appreciating these trips a lot more.

All roads lead to... more roads

It's very easy when running to keep your head down, watch your feet and ignore the world around you. This makes it easy to focus on your music and ignore how slowly the world is passing around you, only looking up when crossing roads or passing people.

That's especially the case if, like me, you live in an urban area. It'll take me a good 30 minutes to run to a park or somewhere watery, which just isn't enough time if I'm on my quick lunchtime blast.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra (Image credit: Future)

London's pretty gray - especially since, during lockdown, I found myself running in financial areas like City of London which were totally deserted. That's a pretty gray area.

Because of this, I got into the habit of keeping my head down and ignoring the world even on my longer runs, when I could get somewhere with cleaner air, more grass and less traffic.

That all changed, though, when I decided to start testing smartphone cameras while on my run.

Keeping your head up

One of the best ways to test smartphone cameras is by taking wide shots of vistas. In these shots it's easy to see exposure, how the cameras handle shadows and darkness, the actual resolution of the photo and more. So I always try to take pictures like this.

When I started looking up from my feet and actually looking around at the park I was in, I started to notice little parts of it that I would have missed before.

Oppo Find X3 Pro camera sample

(Image credit: Future)

Above is a shot I took of a little building in London's Victoria Park, covered in birds, when I was testing the Oppo Find X3 Pro. It wasn't directly on my running route, so I wouldn't normally have noticed it, but when I was trying to find nice areas to snap I was drawn to it.

Actual locations aren't the only thing I started discovering though, but I started to appreciate new vistas and lookouts. For example, Hampstead Heath in North London has a place called Parliament Hill, with beautiful views out over the city. 

My running route around the Heath didn't typically take me down the hill, but when I realized it was perfect for photography, I amended my course so I could visit it more frequently.

Here's a photo I took with the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra from half-way down the hill - I also found this a great location to test camera zoom, though for the final review I actually used zoom shots of somewhere else.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra camera samples

(Image credit: Future)

I'm not saying I was totally blind to my city, and I'm aware it has one or two pretty places, but by trying to take more photos on my run, I really started to appreciate the city and its lovely bits.


For the above shots, I always had ample time to stop, frame up a photo and take it, but lots of the time when I'm running, I don't have time to do so. Thankfully, smartphone cameras have tools to help.

As an example, now and again on runs, I bump into cats. Cats are, obviously, the best pet animal you'll find out and about in a city, and I made it my ethical duty to document every feline I found on my adventures. 

However, cats can be skittish - some are shy, and like to run away. Others are all friendly until you whip out the phone camera, and then they apparently get bored?

Black Shark 3 camera samples

(Image credit: Future)

This beautiful angel of fluff, found in Kensington and captured on the Black Shark 3, was one of the few willing subjects for my photography. They didn't just want to be photographed, posing in various ways and generally being very affectionate, but when I tried to move on, the cat followed me for several blocks. It broke my heart, but the road lead me ever on.

Not all cats are like that though. If they don't want to be snapped, I'll generally leave them well alone, but some are so friendly and affectionate, that they don't stay still long enough to capture.

That was the case with this friend. They apparently live on my route to the aforementioned Hampstead Heath location, because I  see them basically every time I go that route, and they're very energetic.

Realme 8 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

This picture, taken on the Realme 8 Pro, was snapped on the selfie camera - I'm just to the left of the water bottle - because I was only able to frame up the photo that way.

Like many of the cats I meet, this monochrome moggy is very fond of circling me, playing with my shoes and investigating me when I'm near, but if I stay still to prepare a photo, they get bored and slink off. So I've become adept at using zoom, action modes and stabilization to still capture the pictures, instead of just the standard capture mode.

This article has probably gone off track a little bit, but sharing these cat captures was more important than staying on message. 

The point I'm trying to make is that going on runs with the intention of taking photos has made me appreciate my city and its parks and pets a lot more. I've changed up my routes to find nicer overlooks (and cat hot-spots) which has let me see the place in a new light. 

With global lockdowns causing the last eighteen months to be a pretty walled-in experience, seeing the nature around me has been a great thing.

In Yes Man, by joining the photo-runners Jim Carrey is shown to have embraced his new life of interesting adventures, and as the film plays out we see how his life is improved as a result. I'm not sure my life is hugely better by running with my camera phone, but I've saved lots of time by combining these two activities, and have met a few more cats - that's a net gain in my books.

Tom Bedford

Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. He also currently works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.