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Empty nest, now what?
Stormy Sky, sunrise, Atrani Italy. Stretching about 30 miles or 50km along the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula, most famous for the town of Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana) is one of Europe’s most breathtaking. Cliffs terraced with scented lemon groves sheer down into sparkling seas; whitewashed and pastel colored villas cling precariously to unforgiving slopes while sea and sky merge in one vast blue horizon. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"] Photographer, Jerrry Patterson, autumn colors, golden aspen, Square Top Mountain, Green River Lake, Pinedale, Wyoming[/caption]

Imagine, your nest is newly empty and only one kid left in college and you can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. You are fifty or sixty, and you don’t like chasing a little white ball that resembles a nest dwelling egg, what do you do? Photography has become the answer for many.

Digital photography has democratized the photographic process making it easy and accessible to all. Instant gratification is there for you to see on the back of the camera, and soon thereafter, on your computer screen. No more waiting for an hour at the photo mart or a week for slides to come back from Kodak.   Right away you see your results. Hours later your kids on the other side of town or the country sees them on your Facebook page. This ease of use is driving many empty nesters to buy DSLRs and getting off the couch.

I am a photography guide in Grand Teton Park and Yellowstone and every day I guide new photography aficionados to the best places to stand in front of great landscapes. Many have better equipment than I do, but most have their introductory camera kit and a gleam in their eye. My guests often lament that although there is plenty of subject matter in Grand Teton and Yellowstone to shoot, back home there isn’t much to photograph so, they say, it makes it hard to practice. I beg to differ.

Near home, we often no longer recognize the everyday beauty “everywhere” has in its own way. Social networking is a great way to find what is to be seen in everyone’s neck of the wood, plains or seashore. I steer my guests to Flickr photo sharing (, not only as a place to share their photos, but also as a tool to learn of their treasures close to home they may not be aware of.

Most communities have a group on Flickr, for instance mid America’s Peoria Illinois ( the first community that came into my mind that I know nothing about, has a group on flickr Peorians can join. Every community has one started by a Flickr member who lives there. By joining a community group you see what other residents of your area post and their photos will surprise you. You will discover cool derelict buildings, beautiful farms, wildlife refuges you have never visited, all shot by locals who have learned to seek out community gems. Locals who have been polishing their craft knowing what time of the day, month year to shoot these respective subjects. There are also groups for cool destinations and every interest; the "Fish and Fishing" group; for example,

You comment on the photos of others, and they comment on yours, they make you a contact; you make them yours.   When your contacts travel, you see where they went by the photos they post –often it makes you want to go there. It might be across the state or on the other side of the world, but it plants the seed of wanderlust, and wanderlust is fun. I often go out shooting with friends I have made on Flickr.

Did I mention it makes us get off the couch that is the best part? Photographers almost always have something to do.   After we discover the magic that we can capture twenty minutes before the sun comes up, we get out of bed to capture it. Upon finding the magical light of a super cell thunderstorm, we go out to meet the light. We learn to turn off the game to drive to the lake for a sunset. Soon we are often checking our Photographer's Ephemeris to see when the moon will rise above that lake. Inclement weather facilities dramatic photos so when the weather goes south, savvy photographers smile, and grab their gear, while everyone else curls up on the couch with a book. Reading is fine, but photographers find it a vicarious pleasure instead of a participatory joy.

None of us like the inconvenience of photographing during bad weather but for those of us that brave the elements we are rewarded with dramatic skies that enhance our subjects, snowflakes that add punch to our wildlife photos and overcast skies that remove harsh shadows improving the saturation of our photos. I love to photograph while the sky is leaking or threatening to. Inclement weather often times is a photographer's gift from God. Bluebird days are beautiful for walking around in, but they rarely provide dramatic photographs. I know many photographers who won’t shoot on a bluebird day. When others are bemoaning the weather, we are grabbing our gear.

Like the proverbial camel’s head in the tent, soon you are making your photos better with newly acquired computer skills. Incrementally, with little effort, you polish these skills and before you know it, you know stuff. To heck with crossword puzzles, nothing will sharpen your mind like post processing a photo.

Other joys to be had are checking off photo destinations off the bucket list. There is a perverse joy to be had when you post a photo of Italy’s Amalfi Coast or Banff’s Moraine Lake to your Facebook page, and our adult children squirm, as their inheritance becomes your portfolio.

Although many end up with thousands of dollars of professional equipment without the need of photographic income, many of us are goal driven. We would like to achieve professional level photos like our neighbors would like to break 80 in golf or catch a seven-pound bass. Slowly but surely affirmation on Facebook, Flickr feeds our desire for more, an occasional sale helps offset equipment expense. Affirmation brings satisfaction.

A man I admire immensely, and is an inspiration for me is my friend Grover Ratliff. Grover lost his wife when he was 80. He then started spending his summers in Jackson Hole, Grover filled the hole in his heart with his love of photographing nature.   Today at ninety, author of “Roaming the Wild, ” he isn’t’getting around as well as he once did. When Grover drives into the field he packs an oxygen tank as a part of his gear, since he can barely walk he needs and electric cart. When Grover gets to a beautiful vista, moose, elk or bear, and then he lowers his electric cart to the ground then goes to work shooting. Photography is still inspiring Grover to get off the couch.

The purchase of my first camera was the beginning of an inadvertent money abatement program, but I believe that I am ahead of the game in the tradeoff. I have a portfolio that I will be able to loop as a slide show on my HDTV after my mobility days are over. When I’m stuck on that fluffy couch I stayed off, I now will be able to relive in vivid color my encounters with grizzly bears and far flung destinations that beckoned to me after becoming aware of a world through the lenses of other photographers via social networking.

Wherever I travel, whether across town of across a continent, I am always on the lookout for beauty and the ever-changing light, nuances I never noticed before my photo education made me aware of them. It doesn't have to be a beautiful day; it can be an ugly day as long as there is a beautiful rectangle that you can isolate out of the chaos of life. Photographers can find that window on an ugly day because we have been trained to see. Therefore photographers see more beauty than everyone else. That is rich!


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Daryl L. Hunter