This week’s blog is about encouraging old dogs to learn new tricks

My father enjoyed photography. From the late 1940’s to the mid 1960’s he developed and printed his own black and white photographs. I have clear and fond memories of “helping” him in his darkroom (or “bathroom with the window blacked out” as other people might call it). The prints he produced were usually tiny by today’s standards. Often no more than about 5cm X 3cm. I think this was because photographic paper would have been an expensive luxury in the post-war years when his photography habits developed (ha-ha).

Receipt snapped by iPhone

Although it’s illegible here, this receipt is perfectly legible in its saved format for viewing on-screen or printing.

When I bought my own first camera (with money from my paper round) I also had to pay for my printing and developing costs. But I don’t think it would just have been schoolboys who found the hobby was still quite an expensive business in the mid to late 1960’s. As well as the cost, though, there was always the inevitable delay between taking a picture and seeing the results (even if you had your own darkroom).

All of this has changed enormously with the advent of digital photography and, especially, cameras built into mobile phones. I suspect that young people who have grown up with this technology automatically take photos of things that wouldn’t occur to older people, for whom photography was an expensive business that usually only happened on “special” occasions, and that required a bit of a rigmarole to produce visible results.

Whiteboard Shopping List

The photo is straight, the writing isn’t.

I may be wrong about this, but I think that older people may be more rigid in thinking about when it is appropriate and useful to take a picture. And I also think that the mental process that triggers the impulse to take a picture may often be started by the social situation. So, an older person would deliberately take a camera to a wedding or a christening and would expect to take pictures of happy couples and bonny babies. But would that same older person spontaneously think to take a picture with their smartphone of something that could be useful in the future but which may be more prosaic – a receipt for a taxi fare, for instance?

As you have probably gathered, I definitely include myself in the category of “older people” – as far as photography habits are concerned, anyway! I’ve been trying hard to create new habits of using the camera on my iPhone and I’m finding that, slowly, those habits are beginning to form. Here are some situations where it’s useful to remember you’ve got a camera – with no processing costs or hassle:

  • I’ve got a whiteboard in my kitchen and I jot down shopping items as they occur to me. Some brain cells must have jumped into action one day when I realised that I can simply photograph the list on the board before tripping off to Sainsbury (or Waitrose – we’re now getting posher in Clapham).
  • When shopping, I take pictures of items I’m shortlisting. This helps if I want to think about the choices later.
  • Also when shopping, I have taken pictures of labels with measurements (on storage items, for instance) to check later whether the item will fit.
  • On the underground, I take pictures of event posters (forthcoming exhibitions, for instance) so that I can remember to follow them up.
  • I have sporadically photographed items for insurance purposes (all of the toys I carry in my work bag, for instance, such as netbook, iPad, computer glasses, and so on). You can imagine other insurance situations – such as snapping the damage for which you are making a claim.

I’m also getting better at remembering business and computer applications – for instance:

  • Photographing licence numbers, usernames and passwords (yes, I know, these must be transcribed later and the photos deleted).
  • Taking a picture of the current wiring situation at the back of a computer so that I know what goes where before unplugging everything.
  • Just last week, a computer client snapped her computer screen and emailed the result to me because she wanted advice about what she could see on-screen. Great. Simple and effective. As I’ve mentioned before (see “Snipping and Snapping”), this is particularly useful if you’re seeing an error message that needs to be followed up and you want to record exactly what it looked like (and exactly what it said) before doing anything that could risk removing it from the screen.
  • Possibly the most useful occasion is to use a smartphone camera on all those occasions when you need to scan a piece of paper just to have a record on the computer, but when you don’t want to go through all the hassle of scanning. A smartphone camera may not give you the quality of a scan, but the result will be legible and will still provide that permanent record. I was discussing this with a client just yesterday. He already has a business-quality printer and was thinking that he needed a business-quality scanning solution to permanently store all the receipts he collects on his numerous global trips. His eyes lit up when I suggested trying the camera on his phone. He’s going to give it a whirl. If it works for him it will be a free and effective solution.

And then, of course, there are those spontaneous moments when you see something you just want to record and you remember you’ve got a camera with you! Here’s a couple I prepared earlier:

Billy Fury Way

Billy Fury Way – snapped in West Hampstead just last week. I know, I’m showing my age just by remembering him.

Excalibur arising from Long Pond, Clapham Common

Not a very good photograph, but it gives me a smile to remember the day I saw Excalibur arising from Long Pond,Clapham Common.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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