The Aging Photographer

Some of us can remember when these cabooses were on the rails being pulled by a coal powered steam locomotive.  I can remember stories about my grandfather who, by the time I could remember him, was a retired conductor and had spent his entire working life on the rails in WV.  Now they seem to be converting the old cabooses into museums and parking them off to the side of the main tracks.  The one above is in Old Bowie.

Unfortunately, many older people feel like they have also been parked on the sidelines, and they have to make a few changes as a result of it.  Before I mention some necessary changes, I’ll go over some of the problems that I have seen or experienced due to the problems of aging.

Our eyes change and some need to get cataract surgery.  We end up with either bifocals or eyes that can’t see well in the distance or eyes that can’t see well up close.  Either way, that means that it is difficult to see the control settings of the camera at the same time that we are trying to focus and compose the subject.  This is a minor but irritating problem that slows us down, but fortunately, artificial lenses enable us to see better as long as we learn to compensate for the far-near issue.

A far more difficult problem is arthritis.  It can make it hard for us to get around when it attacks our knees, hips, or back … and sometimes we have to use a cane or walking stick.  Have you tried walking with a cane and them using two hands to hold and adjust your DSLR without dropping the cane?  Also keep in mind that photography is a mobile hobby or profession.  You have to go to where the subject is located if you wish to photograph it.  And if you are into street photography or the photographing of any moving subject you have to be fast.  Another issue is the effect of a heavy camera bag that causes you to lean to one side.  If you have arthritis of the back you need to keep straight and keep the load balanced and minimized.  Many of us may end up with lumbar fusions, and/or artificial hips and knees, but they enable up to keep doing what we love.

Another problem with arthritis is when it hits the hands … usually it’s the thumb joints that go first.  This makes it hard to hold heavy objects between the thumbs and fingers.

By now you should be getting the idea; getting older creates different problems.  If we wish to pursue a hobby of photography, what can we do?  Well, from my experiences, I decided to make several changes in my equipment.  The most important change that I found that I needed to make was to reduce the weight of my camera gear since I was having trouble holding it as well as carrying it.  I sold my heavy DSLR and all of its heavy lenses.  I replaced them with a micro 4/3 system consisting of the Olympus E-PL2 along with three prime lenses, the Panasonic 14 and 20mm and the Olympus 17mm lenses, and two zoom lenses, the 14 – 42mm and the 14 – 150mm Olympus lenses.  I also kept my older E-P1 camera so that I have redundancy in cameras, lenses, batteries, and chargers while traveling.  This new system gives me a wealth of choices in lenses and allows me to go out with a very good, very low-weight, very small camera.  I never go somewhere with all the above since I select a camera and a lens or two depending upon where and what I will be shooting.  I can just put a camera in a jacket pocket or take a small bag.  And when/if this system becomes too much I can always get a good point & shoot camera.  Since we all age, I think that many of you will be making similar changes.

I’ll be saying more about how I carry my latest camera, the type of bags I use, etc. in a later article but for now I would like to end with some comments about using a cane or walking stick while carrying a camera.  Fortunately I’m no longer using a cane or walking stick but I had to use one off and on for several years, and may have to use one later as my arthritis increases, but I found a way to resolve any problems with using it and a camera.  I got a cane with a wrist strap.  I then replaced the original wrist strap with a longer piece of nylon parachute cord and attached it to my wrist so that the cane wouldn’t fall to the ground when using the camera.  You can see a picture of it in an earlier article called Gear Preferences (click here).

As we age we have increased problems with mobility and that has a major impact on the types of photography that we can do, I’ll try and make that a subject for another article.  In the meanwhile, age wisely.


  1. Paul Croll

    Great article, as an aging photographer myself, with bad knees and a bad back, I certainly appreciate your perspective. Take a look at a new site I’ve started to share accessible locations, gear recommendations, tips and techniques for folks like us: Let me know what you think.


    • John

      I will be curious about what kind of articles and information you will have on your site. Keep up photographing and I’ll be watching and reading.


  2. Nik

    As I was hiking some nasty ridges in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago, I remembered this article of yours. I had to carry 3 liters of water on a camelback + food + Canon 60D and after about 8-10 miles of hard fast pace, it was starting to get to me. I actually didn’t take anymore photos after about mile 9 because it was just too much of a hassle to point , frame, expose properly.

    If I had a smaller package perhaps a Sony NEX5 or a Oly m4/3 system it would have been different. But I do like your idea of having an S95 as a backup..

    As always excellent article John!


  3. Bundesverdienstkreuz

    Howdy! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog. Is it hard to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty fast. I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any points or suggestions? With thanks


    • John

      It is not hard but they could make it easier. I suggest that you use Go to their web site and check out at the bottom and the support buttons.


  4. John

    Yes, I took it the other day close to where I live. I was looking to photograph something else and decided I would try this shot instead. Thanks for the comment.


  5. Seasweetie

    John, while I’m only suffering the early “thumb stage” of arthritis, I found your article quite good. I was just thinking a day ago as I was waiting at the railroad crossing about the demise of the caboose. I remember how there was always a railroader on the back platform who would wave to us. My grandfather spent a number of years on the railroad in WV as well. I’m in the thought-stages of a book about his life and travels, based on a journal he left behind from the early 20th century in which he crossed the country over and over as a young man. I’m hoping to retace his path. Have a good day – I always look forward to your posts.