Sean McCormick Photography

Saving the beauty in this moment for the ones that follow.

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An Uphill Battle

Bridge & Power Plant Before Dawn (Closer View), Walterdale Bridge, Edmonton, AB, 2023-11-12, Samsung Galaxy S23, 6.3mm, f1.7, ISO 1000, Nigh Assist.

I had a struggle this weekend with getting some shots I wanted that helped me put into perspective what it is like to age as a photographer. I am finding that in my mid-fifties, shots that were easy for me to get in the past now take me to the very edge of what I am capable of.

My friend Ray and I walked partway down the hill above Walterdale Bridge in Edmonton, AB, Canada, for some blue light shots. I stopped about two-thirds of the way down as I was not sure if I would be able to make it back up the hill from where I was. I was born with a congenital heart defect that is causing the right side of my heart to wear out much faster than the left side. I can feel the wear these days whenever I exert myself and I have to be very careful of my limits.

Ray kept going the rest of the way down and got some shots that I would have clubbed him with my tripod for if I wasn’t mostly concerned with conserving my remaining energy. I shot what I could from where I was and we headed back up the hill.

Center Attraction (Ilford 400 XP2 Super), Walterdale Bridge, Edmonton, AB, 2023-11-11, Canon EOS R5, 1/5, ISO 400, Auto Sears MC 50mm 1:1.7 manual lens at f/8 and focused to infinity.

I did make it back up the hill after, but I didn’t feel wonderful. It was pretty obvious to me that making it all the way down to the bridge for sunrise shots and back up after the following morning was going to be problematic, to say the least. It was at this point that I was kicking myself for not packing my Circooter Raptor Pro eScooter into my vehicle for the trip. It folds in half, so it would have fit into my trunk without issue. Riding down and back up the hill with gear would have been a breeze as it has two motors and is powerful enough to go straight up a brick wall.

Circooter E-scooter Sunset, Gray Park, Strathmore, Alberta. 2023-05-03, Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. This is mine, my own, My Precious.

Not having my own eScooter with me, I looked into renting one. There were Bird rideshare scooters scattered all over the area. I had noticed they only had a single front motor, but I had seen them at the bottom and top of the hill and figured I could use a rental instead and let it carry me slowly back up. The following morning I paid my money, unlocked the scooter, and…

…immediately got a geoblocking notice at the top of the hill. The scooter powered down and I had to walk it back outside of the geoblocking zone to park it. I can only surmise the hill was geoblocked because the cheap-ass Bird scooters aren’t powerful enough to climb the hill.

Well, fuck it. I wasn’t quitting at that point. I tightened up my sling bag and trotted down the hill to get my shots. I would just have to take more breaks going back up, right?

Foreground and Background Interest, Walterdale Bridge, Edmonton, AB, 2023-11-12, Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

I got some shots I was happy with and headed back up the hill. It only took me six minutes to go down the hill, but it took me nearly forty-five minutes to make it back up with breaks. It was then another fifteen minutes before I felt safe driving as all but the center of my vision had gone white and I had to wait for it to come back. It was another hour after that before I was walking without feeling shaky.

Grace Under Pressure, Walterdale Bridge, Edmonton, AB, 2023-11-12, Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

It is becoming obvious to me that I am going to have to change how I do things if I am to keep rolling as a photographer. Here is my growing list of problems:

  1. Hand shake, most likely non-genetic Parkinson’s Disease according to my GP. I am still waiting for the neurologist to reach out on this.
  2. Limited range on foot when hills are in the mix.
  3. Limited ability to carry heavy gear between my heart condition and an old back injury.
  4. Difficulty bending over and standing up. This is mostly my fault due to inactivity. I am working on losing weight and will be getting back into exercising and stretching once I drop past the point where exercise doesn’t stress my aging knees.
  5. I badly injured my right shoulder when I was younger. Lifting heavy gear is becoming increasingly painful unless I can get something done here to knock down the pain in this shoulder.

I don’t know what I am going to do about all of this. Right now it is more of a case of becoming realistic and admitting what I can’t do now. I am figuring out how to adapt as I go. The changes so far are:

  1. I have gone from carrying a large pack with a good lens selection and a backup body to a smaller sling bag with one body and just the lenses I need for the outing. My Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra phone is now my backup body.
  2. I parked my very heavy tripod and replaced it with a lightweight aluminum model that is more easily transported. I’m going to have to use a combination of tripod shooting, image stabilisation, and higher ISO to combat hand shake. I know I will be hand holding less as I age.
  3. I am swapping out heavy zoom lenses for lighter prime lenses when possible.
  4. I am going to plan shoots more carefully. I will exercise as much as possible like my doctor asks, but I am going to be realistic and make sure I have my eScooter or some sort of motorized aid handy if something is beyond my range or capabilities and I can’t park a vehicle where I need to. Or I may just have to pass up that shot. Pushing past my limits and suffering an hour of chest pain is not something I should be doing again.
  5. I have a photography drone with a good range. I will have to use it more aggressively to get into the places that I can no longer get to myself on foot.

A good start to the day, Lower Gray Pond, Strathmore, Alberta, 2023-08-20, DJI Mini 2, 4.5mm, 1/15, f2.8, ISO 100. 0.75 km from my front door and shot from a place that is inaccessible by foot.

So that’s where I’m at and I’m not sure where I’m going next. I can’t quit photography because that is a death sentence for me. If I can’t keep shooting I won’t be able to keep living. I know this about myself.

I guess I’m going to have to figure out how to keep going as I keep bumping along.

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