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!