It has been a few years now that I’ve qualified for a senior’s discount at various retailers. Of course the rules for such discounts do vary by store. Some start offering them at 55. Others at 60. And, at many they don’t kick in until that magic age of 65.
Well, I’m the ‘old dog’ here at Photography Life. I haven’t officially passed that milestone of a 65th birthday quite yet. It is inching ever closer and will happen this year. That gave me cause to think about photography and how one’s perspectives on the subject can change over time. I’ve included a somewhat eclectic mix of some of my favourite, recent images to serve as visual breaks. I suppose some of them may be signs of me having some ‘senior moments’ and may elicit the question, “What was he thinking?”. One of the advantages of aging is to use it as an excuse to say “I don’t remember”…even when you do.
For some seniors their interest in photography declines as they age. They no longer feel the creative juice flowing as strongly in their veins as they once did. Like a flower wilting at the end of blossom season their passion for photography slowly dries up and eventually dies. Whether it ever gets rekindled in them depends on the individual.
Some older folks find digital photography intimidating. The idea of working on images with a computer in post is a weird ‘brave new digital world’. They would much rather get 4”x6” prints done at a local store just like they did as young parents when they took plenty of snapshots of their children. If they still take photographs today depends in part on the ease of use of the camera. Whether it’s a point-and-shoot or perhaps a phone.
Sometimes the outlook a senior has on the world around them can grow narrow and hard over time. They see nothing in their everyday world worth photographing. Everything, it seems, has become a burden to them. Life is cold. Dark. Meaningless. If they ever did take photographs they are probably now found in some old dusty albums on the top shelf in a closet, or in long forgotten slide trays.
Other seniors are excited about learning something new and somewhat complex. They find it invigorating and mentally stimulating to pursue photography. I find it interesting that there actually is some research done by the University of Texas at Dallas that showed there was a significant increase in the memory of seniors who took up digital photography. Perhaps there is still hope for my old, porous brain!
I get quite a few emails and calls at the office from older folks who are intrigued with the idea of smaller, lighter camera gear. Many are considering ‘downsizing’ their DSLR gear and switching over to Micro 4/3rds and other smaller format systems. Some want the convenience of a bridge camera.
And, there are some seniors who are embarking on a fresh, new journey with photography and are unsure what path to even begin to take.
Many older people mention back and neck issues and the need to face new physical realities. Some talk about moving away from their DSLRs for this specific reason. They often admit that it is used less and less with each passing year. For many the attachment is simply too great and they hang onto their current gear anyway, even though they acknowledge that it is too bulky and heavy for them physically. For many changing camera formats now would be akin to cheating on a long time marriage partner.
Some seniors seem to go hog wild with their camera purchases, buying multiple bodies and a host of lenses. They realize that they have the freedom that comes with being empty nesters, and being at least semi-retired, they can pursue their interest in photography with real gusto.
For others budget concerns are a serious matter. They have more limited incomes, often fixed by pensions and annuities. They are very cautious about their gear purchases and want reassurances of quality and durability. They have little interest in upgrading every couple of years. While they are still interested in cameras their buying criteria has shifted to mainly being focused on value and longevity.
Many seniors take lots of family pictures and these are their most cherished images. The ability of a camera to capture very good quality photographs of children and grandchildren is paramount. Having a camera with good low light performance is a significant issue for many. After all, there are countless school events featuring their grandchildren to capture for posterity! Above all else the photographs that many seniors create represent a highly treasured family legacy.
Others find that the photographic subject matter in which they now have an interest is an extension of a hobby they enjoyed earlier in life. Gardeners can become avid photographers of flowers and trees.
People who enjoyed camping and hiking often transition into being passionate wildlife and bird photographers.
Some seniors find that pursuing their interest in photography takes them in entirely new and unexpected directions. Much of it is fueled by their passion to create and explore something new. To more intensely experience the world around them while they still have the physical ability and some time left to do so. They will dive into macro photography, astrophotography or a host of other specialties.
On a personal basis I find that things have changed as I’ve aged in terms of my photographic interests. In my younger years my personal photography focused primarily on travel. There were a number of my mid-life years during which my interest in photography waned.
In retrospect it was the shift to digital photography that re-energized me. While I’d been around cameras for much of my adult life I always disliked using film. Digital photography was liberating.
I still love travel photography, but I am intrigued with a much broader array of subject matter than when I was younger. Years ago I couldn’t have imagined myself enjoying creating images of flowers and plants. Or capturing the intricacies of wedding dresses in a bridal studio as my daughter planned for her big day. Or using five extension tubes stacked together to discover how alien things like butterflies can appear.
It wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I started to capture images of birds with any kind of regularity. I now thoroughly enjoy the challenge of capturing birds-in-flight and it has become one of my favourite pastimes.
My wife still maintains, and rightly so, that I seldom create images that contain people. She has to remind me to do so regularly. Eventually it will sink into my thick brain. I think she is making progress though as I purchased a flash for my Nikon 1 gear earlier this year with the intent of doing more ‘people’ photographs, at least with family members.
I suppose when I sit back and think about photography at this ‘senior’ stage in my life a couple things are readily apparent. The first is that far too much emphasis is put on things like camera specifications, sensor performance debates, and choices in post processing software. All of these things are only of transient relevance. Within a few months, or a year at tops, some new technical wrinkle will overshadow what is now the latest buzz…making all of the effort spent debating such things rather pointless. These are only tool-related things that help a photographer create an image. The real power of photography lies in its potential to stimulate personal growth.
We grow when we put our work out for others to see. We grow when we follow our hearts, our passions, and flashes of inspiration when creating an image. We grow when we experiment, trying something new with our camera gear. We grow when we trust completely in ourselves and in our abilities. We grow when we push ourselves to explore more of the world around us, camera in hand. Our resulting images having the potential to live beyond our limited time here.
Living really is all about growth. All we need do is look at nature for proof of that fact. The precise moment at which the process of growth stops, the process of death and decay begins.
All images in this article were captured hand-held in available light while on a photography tour of New Zealand. Many of these images, as well as hundreds of others photographs (mainly landscape) will be featured in my upcoming New Zealand photography e-book. All photographs presented were created from RAW files using my standard process of OpticsPro 11, CS6 and Nik Suite.
Article Copyright 2017 Thomas Stirr. Images Copyright 2016 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, adaptation or reproduction of any kind including electronic and digital is allowed without written permission. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Posting comments on offending websites and calling out people who steal intellectual property is always appreciated!
At 69 I have taken up photography and I am loving every minute of it. I shoot with a Canon 6ts. I find learning the processing a great challenge. I have a pretty smart granddaughter living at home and she is a great help.
I am a very happy 69 year old and so fortunate to have this opportunity. Thank you for sharing.
It is great to hear that you are enjoying photography and have a smart granddaughter to help you with processing!
I would agree with Thomas – forget the tech and just use the equipment that produces the results you like. As an Ex professional I had the pick of Nikon, Hasselblad Canon etc, I now use a Canon 1200D with 4 lenses. My next camera maybe a Canon 80D or strangely a mobile phone or both!
Thanks for adding to the discussion! The key is to keep on creating – the specific tools we use to do so is secondary to our love of our craft!
“For many changing camera formats now would be akin to cheating on a long time marriage partner.” I shot Nikons going back more than 30 years (and Pentax and Kodak before that) and it was all my grown sons ever saw me use. I read a fascinating story about Sony’s cameras about two years ago and got jazzed enough to buy an a6000 to give mirrorless a try. When my younger son saw me with it, he said, “Did you and Nikon get a divorce!?” I appreciate the light weight and rapid responsiveness of my Sony gear and I’m sorry to say it, but I’ll probably get rid of all my Nikon gear one of these days soon. Sometimes relationships do break up, I guess. ;-)
Jeez, don’t give up on Nikon until you’ve tried a Nikon 1, preferably a V3 with a J5 for those times you need some extra dynamic range. Lighter than an A6000 and better native lens selection. 70-300mm is a joy (189-810mm equivalent). I still can’t figure out why Sony doesn’t offer more E-mount lenses…
Each of us needs to find the gear that works best for our specific needs…if Sony ends up being the best for your needs so be it! I know a lot of people scratch their heads when they find out that I used to shoot a with Nikon full frame D800 and a very good compliment of FX glass (about 8 or 9 FX lenses if my old, porous brain remembers correctly), then sold it all, and now shoot exclusively with the Nikon 1 system. It all comes down to using what meets our needs best.
Thomas, you could be my younger brother, I’m 69, if we were related. The age however has NOTHING to do with being ‘old’ when we are older or being ‘young’ when we are younger at all! All is in our heads and in my opinion the age is not a restricting factor in our pursuits to make better things, photos, today than we were doing ‘yesterday’.
She, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, started her painting when she was at our, 60+, age and got World Wide recognition at the age of 80ty!!! And se, EKK, is my inspiration to never stop whatever the circumstances in life doing things one love to do.
By the way I’m still working in consulting 2 days/week, learning French, buying new photo gear, travelling and looking forward to my next trip over the weekend!!!
I agree with your comment wholeheartedly! As Althea Gibson once wrote…you’re always the same age inside! Like you, I have no intention of slowing down and find myself busier with new projects than I have ever been.
Being in my twenty-somethings I seem to be one of the younger commenters. Let me tell you that I am very impressed with the photos you used in this article. I bought an Nikon D5300, because for me that camera holds the number one spot on the price-quality scale for DSLR’s. Your images are samples I only would have expected to be taken with a DSLR, not with a compact camera. This proves once more that it’s not so much the gear, rather than the photographer’s creativity that matters.
I also would like to express my astonishment for the number of active senior photographers in this digital era. I’m glad to see that digital post-processing isn’t only for the youngsters.
Many thanks for your personal view on photography and how it has changed during your life. I have happily subscribed to your YouTube channel (and to Mr. Browne’s) as I hope to learn much more.
If this is allowed, please let me share my 500px account. I am always looking for positive criticism to improve my photography. 500px.com/matthiassandra150
I think the number of more mature commentators is a testament to the desire that many people have to keep growing and learning new things. There is no age limit to creativity! I’m glad you enjoyed the images and thank you for your kind words. If you would like feedback on your images I suggest that you visit the Forum section on Photography Life. Thanks for subscribing to my YouTube channel, unfortunately I haven’t posted any new videos there for quite a while given my other priorities. If you are interested in seeing more of my current work you could think about subscribing to my photography blog. I have over 300 articles posted on it.
Wow … based on the number of comments, you have a bunch of golden years followers. I started into photography forty plus years ago. It was an on/off relationship but mostly was about the family’s various activities and vacations. I retired from teaching (accounting) in 2013 and photography has been my main activity since retirement especially getting into printing (Epson 2880) my work for various local art shows, family, and friends. I do participate in some on-line things but having a physical print in one hands and then on the wall really brings it all together for me.
Nice fun article to read and was able to identify with many of your observations plus all the comments from the golden years crowd.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article…and thanks for sharing some of your experiences. I also enjoy actually holding a print of one of my photographs…it just makes the image so ‘real’. We print with an HP Z3200.
I love your photos and read all your post. I have a question since you mentioned older photographers and camera gear weight. I’m going on an overseas trip and worried about taking a D810 and tripod and probably three lens plus misc gear. I’m not a fast shooter and don’t even try to hand hold the D810. It just to much weight I have problems with sharpness, even with mirror up & delays if I don’t use a tripod. I love the camera but I’m considering leaving it home. I print my own photos usually large 20X30+. What can you suggest?
I interpreted your question to be one about what camera gear would you take on your overseas trip if you left your Nikon D800 and FX glass at home. It is difficult for me to make a suggestion as I would not know your quality expectations, i.e. if you would be creating images with the expectation that when you returned you would be making 20×30 prints of them. Very few cameras will equal the quality you are currently experiencing with your D810 and its outstanding 36MP full frame sensor. Your D810 is currently the second highest rated camera in DxO testing, so in terms of dynamic range and colour depth performance you are already shooting with one of the best cameras available. Based on the 20×30+ print sizes you are producing the D810 is one of the best cameras you could own.
I’ve not done 20×30 prints with any of my Nikon 1 files. I think about the largest that I’ve done is about 16×24 and I found them to be acceptable for my purposes. I print with a 12-colour 24″ HP Z3200. Whether you would be happy with large sized prints with a camera like a J5 is another story. I simply can’t answer that.
In terms of small sized gear that is easy to shoot with hand-held, Nikon 1 is a very nice system. Whether it would produce the quality you want, especially doing large sized prints is something that I simply can’t answer as I don’t know your expectations.
Using a cropped sensor DSLR would be lighter than what you are currently using but there would still be an image quality trade-off albeit not nearly as great. I’m not sure if the weight savings would be sufficient for you to be able to shoot hand-held with it.
I think it really comes down to you needing to make a value choice…is image quality or small size/lightweight the most important factor for your upcoming trip? The answer will then guide your choice of camera gear.
Nice post. I’m a fresh 51 years old. I’ve had a camera in my hands since I was 12. I am an early adopter of digital and custom print as well. I did something interesting recently. I put in a darkroom again and invested in a few film bodies, one of which is a Mamiya RB67. I just printed my first film prints in 15 years, instead of for clients and under pressure, all for fun and my enjoyment. To load up a back, with which you’ve got 10 shots and to make the best of them, is a tremendous creative exercise. From previsualization through print, the actual creative process was liberating!
What else I took with me was my Nikon J5 and a few lenses. I followed up my film capture with the digital body right after. The quality of the digital capture clearly benefited from the film exercise. It slowed me down enough to think about what I was capturing. When I got back and processed the film and the digital imagery, I was rewarded in both mediums. After 15 years and it’s like riding a bike, right back in it, processing technique and all. It comes right back to training the mind’s eye and having that vision reach fruition and the reinforcement it provides.
Most importantly is the rekindling of the joy of photography again. Rather than massaging files and adding filters until the image decouples from reality, it makes me want to keep it real. I agree that just because anything is possible in editing doesn’t mean it should be done. I’m sure it will show in my future client work as well.
Thanks again for taking the time to write your article. It means a lot to many of us.
Thanks very much for sharing your recent experiences with both film and digital! I enjoyed reading how you reconnected with the fun and creativity of photography by slowing down with your film captures.
Another wonderful article, and I can really relate to it, as I turned 66 on January 4, 2017. I am still using my D800, but I do sometimes wish I had something smaller, or maybe just lighter. I used to mainly shoot travel images back when I was younger. For a number of years I stopped my photography due to work and other interests that took up more of my time. But then the photography bug hit me again and in 1999 I dug my old trusty K1000, then in 2001 I picked up an F100. In 2013 I purchased the D800. I mainly shoot landscapes and flowers, and years ago I don’t think I would have ever thought that I would enjoy or even want to shoot those subjects. At this point, I don’t have any plans to replace my D800 with another DSLR, even though sometimes the size and weight does bother me. As you said, sometimes the attachment to a camera is too great (hence why I still own my K1000 and F100). At this point I would rather invest in a telephoto lens for the D800, as I also would like to try some bird and wildlife photography. Also, budget is a factor to consider if I was purchasing a new camera, as I don’t think I could afford a replacement if I decided to stay with a FF body.
Anyway, I enjoyed reading this post and viewing your photos as usual.
Thanks for sharing some of your experiences with photography! The D800 is a wonderful camera which I sure will serve you very well for many years to come.
Great art always provokes thought. Your images here certainly do that. As a fellow high-mileage type, I find that a more mature way of seeing the visual world sets in; one begins to think more of the meaning of one’s images. Thanks for sharing your fine work again.
Just a thought: Did you ever locate the donors of the lovely bras?
Thank you for the supportive comment – much appreciated! As far as the donors of the lovely bras…they would have numbered in the hundreds, perhaps more. No attempt to locate any of them was done…one must respect the privacy of donors.
There is a cement replica of a headless woman’s torso at Bra-Drona. During the time we were at the site all of the female visitors (including my wife) had some fun posing behind the torso…which was shall we say ‘amply endowed’. Bra-Drona is a very unique place, and raises a good amount of money for the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation.