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Retired Electrician's Image "The Yellow Tulip" Selected for Smithsonian Exhibit

Joe Senzatimore never expected his photo of a yellow tulip to be anything special.

The retired East Meadow electrician was experimenting with Mylar reflection, capturing abstract effects cast onto the plastic by various objects. But after glimpsing the flower on his digital camera's electronic screen, Senzatimore decided to use natural light.

"If I was shooting with film, I would've been more prudent with my shot selection," said Senzatimore, 62, whose "The Yellow Tulip" was later selected for inclusion in the 2006 Nature's Best exhibit at the Smithsonian, alongside nine other entries from the Nature and Wildlife Photographers of Long Island. "The camera made me take the shot."

Senzatimore, who switched to digital five years ago, is among a growing number of people over 50 who are packing away their traditional 35-millimeter film cameras in favor of newer technology. Specifically, photo-sharing Web sites saw visitors age 55 and older jump 53 percent last year, according to comScore Networks, a research firm. And PMA Marketing Research found that spending on digital photography in general grew 11.2 percent to approximately $11 billion in 2006.

Why go digital?

For older people, the benefits of digital models range from their compact size for traveling and potential for infinite numbers of photos to high-tech tools, such as autofocus and image stabilization, which experts say have been improved with the advent of digital photography.

"The most common problem for older people is our eyesight and mental agility," said Jerry Small, 67, the owner of Photographic Creations Inc., in Bellmore. "But anyone can take a decent photograph now, because the camera does all the work. And if it's no good, you can delete it right away. The instant gratification factor is huge."

Other advantages of going digital include avoiding high film and developing costs. "Film is expensive and most retirees have fixed incomes," said Stephen Mastrorocco, the president of Long Island Photography Inc. "In the past, you'd get the photos back and say, 'Oops, I missed.' But with digital, 'film' costs nothing and most people pick it up off the bat."

One such fast learner is Alida Thorpe, 58, of Bayport, a retired teacher who's been a photo aficionado since the early 1970s, when she bought her first single-lens reflex camera. But it wasn't until her husband gave her a Nikon D70 for Christmas three years ago that her passion exploded. Since then, she hasn't looked back.

Her popular photo blog, "Long Island Woman," is visited by current and former Long Islanders searching for images of their hometown or local landmarks. Some visitors purchase a print, while others simply post a comment.

"Digital photography allows me to communicate with people all over the world," stated Thorpe, a featured photographer on "I've also improved my skills, because I'm able to view the results right away and I'm more willing to take chances."

If it's your first time

For first-timer buyers, experts suggest a simple pocket-sized, point-and-shoot model, which can range in price from $200 to $500 for popular brands such as Nikon and Canon. Older buyers should also look for vibration reduction, a feature that compensates for minor movements during handheld shooting. Most important, make sure the camera has at least five megapixels, Mastrorocco said, which are tiny dots that measure resolution.

Read reviews in camera magazines or online stores, such as Amazon, to help narrow the field if you're unable to settle on a brand or model.

"A mistake I see some buyers making is getting sucked into buying cameras that are beyond what they really need," explained Small. "Take the time to do a little research. Don't just rely on the salesperson, who may or may not know anything about cameras."

Mastrorocco advised first-time buyers to shop at a small, mom-and-pop camera store, if possible. "They'll take the time to teach customers," he said.

Still, misconceptions that prevent some from joining the digital movement are a fear of technology and a belief that rudimentary knowledge of computers is needed. While aptitude for computer software, printing and scanning can be useful, it isn't entirely necessary due to recent innovations.

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