The Big Picture: How photographer Gerald Markhoff successfully managed his Parkinson’s symptoms

Photo of a ladybug about to take flight by Gerald Markhoff
Photo of a ladybug about to take flight by nature photographer Gerald Markhoff, who has Parkinson’s.

In today’s connected world where a growing number of people have access to a camera, more and more people can relate to just how hard it is to capture an image at a significant zoom while holding your hand steady.

It gets more challenging when your subject is a living, moving thing. The realities of Parkinson’s mean that tremor and other motor symptoms make holding the camera steady a difficult task.

Parkinson’s doesn’t stop Gerald Markhoff of Newmarket, Ontario. Like so many, he uses creative expression as a hobby and a means of helping to manage Parkinson’s – and like all those who continue to do what they love despite a diagnosis, he simply adapts his approach to make it work.

“Taking many pictures of one subject increases your chances of having a winner. Digital photography is great because the pics you discard cost you nothing. So take 100 pics of one flower!” Gerald said.

“I have taken photography as a hobby which demands I go out in the fresh air and get some exercise. It’s amazing how you see so much more things when you take up photography. Your eyes change. You see things others miss. You stop and smell the roses. You hear birds you never noticed before.”

He admits despite being devastated by the diagnosis,  the support of an on-site psychologist at the movement disorder clinic helped bring needed perspective. The conversation still stands out to Gerald. “You cannot change the hand you were dealt, but you can control how you play them. You can spend your next year’s dwelling on the negative, or you can choose to live life at its fullest and do things you can still do and enjoy life,” his psychologist said.

While the journey has had its challenges that’s what Gerald is trying to do. Photography helps, and so does a renewed focus on exercise. He rides a recumbent exercise bike regularly while watching TV and is intentional about getting out and walking, including for taking photos.

Photo of an insect hovering beside pink flowers by Gerald Markhoff
Photo of an insect hovering beside pink flowers by Gerald Markhoff.

You may have seen his work featured by Parkinson Canada throughout the years, including a photo of a cedar waxwing on this year’s electronic holiday card. While he takes a range of natural photos, most of Gerald’s work focuses on wildlife, which requires patience and a steady hand.

“There are several ways of photographing without a tremor causing an issue,” he said. According to Gerald, you can use a tripod and remote shutter release for no shake at all. You can also use a really fast shutter speed if the lighting is good enough. Also, if you have something to rest the lens on, it steadies the shot.

“For the snowflakes, I rested the camera on the car door frame to shoot the snowflakes on the window. Perseverance also helps. Many are spoiled by the shake, but if you keep at it you will have a few good ones,” Gerald said of the patience it takes to capture the right shot.

The notion of celebrating the achievement at the end of a struggle is a big part of the No Matter What message that you see so often within the Parkinson’s community. No Matter What speaks to the resilience it takes to live well with Parkinson’s and it celebrates the strength of spirit that leads to victories like the perfect photo of a flower. They acknowledge that it is okay to struggle, but important never to quit.

With Spring on the horizon, Gerald shares a few ‘macro’ shots taken in the outdoors to enjoy.

Selected gallery of photos by Gerald Markhoff

2 thoughts on “The Big Picture: How photographer Gerald Markhoff successfully managed his Parkinson’s symptoms”

  1. I would defiantly take part in the study, but live in Camrose, I would like to know what type of Parkinson’s I have , I don’t have the shakes , But do have the shuffling walk , sticking to the floor,can’t write anymore , and my speaking is very weak , my Parkinson’s seems to be progressing very quickly .

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