The Beautiful Palmer House Staircase
Lots of time is spent devoted to talking about limitations that hamper our photographic efforts. What happens when the weather isn’t right or there is no way to get the elements you see before you into the perfect composition? Or when your gear just isn’t capable of doing the things you want to do — like trying to create macro images without so much as a macro filter, let alone a lens, to work with.
But these aren’t the only limitations we photographers face. What about our own physical limitations? Myself, personally, I struggle with Crohn’s disease and a long history of blood clots — and I’m red-green colorblind, which can make post-processing a challenge. We all have such limitations. Maybe it’s aging knees or a bad back, or perhaps it is something else entirely. Even among those of us who are currently young and spry, a day could come when we’re not so spry anymore.
So what do we do with these physical limitations? Well, in my opinion, we certainly don’t let them stop us from pursuing our passions. No, instead, we need to have the determination to work around such things and, perhaps even more importantly, we need to think creatively in order to come up with solutions that work for each of us. I can’t possibly list off all the different ways a photographer might get around the myriad physical limitations that he or she may encounter, but I will give you a sampling of ideas so that you can see what I mean — and hopefully develop your own solutions!
Organizing Your Life Around Recurring Problems
For some of us, problems or health issues that may impede our work are the sorts of things that come and go. Most of the time, you’re perfectly ready to go out hiking. But some days, you wake up with a nasty headache or your stomach gives you trouble. What are you to do?
I think one of the best ways to combat this is to organize your life around chronic recurring issues. If you know that certain things will doubtless crop up to slow your progress, then save yourself some work that you can do on those off days. Maybe you can’t be out hiking field and forest, gathering new photos to process. But perhaps you can be comfortably propped up at your computer, a steaming mug of tea at the ready, working on that post-processing. Or, if you do a lot of reading related to photography, then these might be the ideal days to sit on the couch and work your way through some literature you’ve been meaning to read. In this way, you are able to keep moving forward, despite issues that may otherwise hold you back.
Overcoming Mobility Issues
For some of us, the problem is the hiking. If you’ve got bad knees or another mobility issue that prevents you from walking around as much as you’d like, then going out and taking photographs can become a real challenge.
There are a few ways to get around this. One thing you can do is scout online. If you enjoy nature photography, for instance, then search for local parks and nature preserves in your area that has accessible walking trails. Some parks will be rougher, with narrow, rocky game trails that are hard to navigate. But you’ll also find many that have nicely paved trails, ramps, and walkways. Learn about these places before you make the trip and you’ll know which you’ll be able to tackle.
Another thing to think about is ways to make photography easier on yourself. Do you really have to get out of the car to take a photograph? Not necessarily! If mobility is a challenge and you won’t be blocking traffic (and you’re in a safe area, not parked on a blind corner where oncoming traffic won’t be able to see you), then you can always roll down the window and take photographs that way. You may need to think a bit more creatively about compositions, but you’ll still be taking photos. And, as a bonus, you can prop your camera or your elbows on the car door — no need for a tripod!
What about Back Pain?
I mention back pain in particular because it is something that all of us either already struggle with or will, in the future. There’s nothing that can cause a backache like carrying a heavy camera bag all day! And if you’re prone to back pain, then the idea of long photo outings may inspire dread because you know at the end of the day, it’s going to hurt.
One solution to this is to pack lightly — and if possible, put your gear on wheels. A small pull-behind wagon or even a suitcase with wheels will work.
But what about those times that you’ll be out in the wilderness, somewhere where those small wheels just won’t go? My best suggestion is to be very careful about the backpack-style camera bags that you do buy. Skip the bags that only go over one shoulder. This can lead to an unbalanced posture, which is a sure way to give yourself a backache. Instead, look at bags that fit over both shoulders and specifically, choose a bag that fits you. It should balance evenly and distribute the weight of your gear in ways that won’t cause you pain. This can differ from one person to the next — we’re all different sizes and heights, after all, and we all get backaches in different places along the spine. Be sure to choose the style that fits you best.
How to Deal with Vision Problems
Photography revolves around vision, which makes these issues tricky to deal with. If you struggle with poor vision, then larger monitors, glasses or contacts, cameras with enlarging viewfinders and crystal clear live-view displays will help you. Colorblindness is another issue. To help get past this while you’re post-processing, you can always use the color picker tool to help differentiate between colors. Each color has its own code, so by looking at that numerical value, you can judge which color is which. And don’t forget about your friends! If you’re really not sure if the colors look off, just ask a friend to tell you what he or she sees.
As I said, this is only a small sampling of the physical challenges that can impede a photographer’s progress. If there is one thing to take away, it’s this: Don’t get discouraged and don’t give up! No matter what, you can always find a way to keep on creating photos!