Compromising Comfort

Compromising Comfort
Many things can be said about “getting old” and all the disadvantages, I dare say, that come with it. Some of those disadvantages can be little aches and discomfort, and their frequency depending on one’s movements. Am I feeling too old?

No, not really, I am still in my 50s, but the discomfort has started. I need to be careful how I move about when on location for photography. For example, recently I tried to jump over a fairly low fence; the result was that I landed on my backside, and suddenly it dawned on me, I am not 25 years young any more: I need to stop behaving as though I am.

So, what comes next and what are the best practices? Depending on how fit you are rather than how fit or young you feel, you need to adjust your body movements according to its threshold. You might feel fit enough for doing certain things but you should always listen to your body.

Observing my workshop participants adjusting their tripods, I find they often settle for the most uncomfortable position. I have no idea why this is happening, whether it is lack of knowledge on their part or for some other reason. The fact is, whenever I run a workshop, I always return home with a sore back from looking through their wrongly positioned viewfinders.

I always explain that, if possible, they should choose an angle that is comfortable enough for them. To create a beautiful image you need to spend time and, for this, you have to feel comfortable. If you can create the same image as you had envisaged at the outset by setting up your gear in a more comfortable position, then do not hesitate to do so.

However, sometimes we have to compromise, depending on the subject, and this time it was all about the subject and not my comfort.

Every little detail in this composition had to be thought through very carefully and the tripod had to be adjusted to suit the framing. All the pier lines had to lead the eye to the distant light beacon on the top right and the sky had to occupy enough space in the frame to fill the image with these glorious pink, purple and orange hues. On top of that, the bottom left corner had to start with one of the line of gaps in the wood. My obsession with attention to detail is becoming clear now.

If that was not enough, the top of the rails should end up matching the water line on the top right in the frame. As you will realise, all this meant the tripod had to be set at a most uncomfortable position, with painful consequences for my back. How long did I spend on the final composition? I think it was over twenty minutes and yet it seemed like hours; it is not surprising that landscape photographers suffer back and knee pains.

I recommend putting your tripod into a comfortable position whenever possible. It is not just the final result that counts when creating an image; it is also about how much misuse your body can take and for how long. I aim to photograph until I am quite old, and, for this, I need to listen to what my body tells me every now and again.

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  1. Avatar
    Peter Hammer on

    I fully agree with you and also with George. That’s why I dumped my Nikon system and switched to Olympus OMD-EM1. Not only has the weight come down but the image quality has gone up and I can now carry a range of lenses from fisheye to 600mm (35mm equiv). A further benefit is that the incamera image stabilisation is so good I can totally dispense with a tripod other than for long exposures. I could have taken your image without a tripod and used HDR bracketing all handheld and they would have merged perfectly (of course not required for this image).

    • Avatar
      Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      Thank you very much for your reply, Peter. I know of quite a few people who have switched to lighter systems due to age. However, I am not sure I am ready to abandon my tripod yet. I love the idea of setting up, slowing down and really think of composition and so on before capturing the picture. I just need to keep the tripod on more comfortable positions these days.

      • Avatar
        Peter Hammer on

        I don’t abandon my tripod but I don’t need to use it very often. Slowing down and thinking is still very essential.

  2. Avatar
    Craig Macinnes on

    Great article Dimitri on a topic which is close to my heart right now. I’m in my mid 50’s and relatively fit but I’m finding I can’t be carrying the same weight of gear I used to. At first I was in denial but after getting a few “twinges” and finding myself with an aching back for days after a day’s shooting I realised I had to make a few changes if I wanted to keep on taking photos. So I looked at my bag and got ruthless…no more three or four lenses with all the extras, but one or at most two lenses and a smaller camera. I also started using an over the shoulder strap which rests the gear on my hip which reduced back and shoulder strain considerably. The nice thing out of all this is that it has forced me to think about my shots more as I no longer have the lens for “every occasion” with me. I will definitely now look at my tripod setup in a different way too.

    • Avatar
      Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article, Craig. The mark that these problems seem to start is the age of mid 50’s. It is also worth considering that age itself forces us to re-think and re-evaluate our strategy towards photography in general.

  3. Avatar

    I think the only person to whom this doesn’t apply has to be David Hay, who never seems to age and leaves much younger photographers far behind as he does his mountain goat imitations!

  4. Avatar
    George Theodore on

    There’s another thing to consider as we get older and less flexible – the weight of our gear. Pushing 80, I just can’t carry a bag full of f/2.8’s anymore. So, it’s f/4’s for me. And, frankly, today’s “consumer” lenses are so much better than their predecessors, one should not dismiss them if it makes the difference between having fun and an aching neck or back.

    • Avatar
      Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      I complete agree, George. I have already started using lighter equipment and my backpack is now considerably lighter than it used to be.

      • Avatar
        George Theodore on

        By the way, Theodore was originally Theodorakopoulos. Dad shortened the name because, according to him, “the Greeks couldn’t pronounce it properly”. 🙂

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