Second chapter sweet spot: members of Finger Lakes Photography Guild in Canandaigua take the time to find the perfect angle
By Melody Burri
Retirement. It’s the finish line you spend decades running toward and the starting line that launches a radical and rewarding “new normal.”
With 180-degree changes in routine, commitments, finances, social network and sense of self-worth comes newfound freedom from distraction, obligation and the high-speed pace of career and family.
Spare time? You can have as much as you choose.
How are you going to spend it? That depends on what sparks your passion — on who you want to be rather than who you’ve been.
Members of Finger Lakes Photography Guild in Canandaigua have found their second chapter sweet spot. Attending seminars and instructional field trips, adding to and upgrading their gear, visiting new and varied locations and venues, swapping stories and techniques — retirement has reignited and fueled their passion for creative and sometimes money-making photography.
Regina O’Loughlin Muscarella of Victor is a 68-year-old retired English teacher, current fitness instructor and Nikon D800-carrying force of nature. Through her 28-120 f/4 lens she captures nature and wildlife, passionate people, urban and street moments, macro, astro and night photography.
“Life moves so quickly,” said Muscarella. “Photography allows me to freeze special moments or places.”
For most of her life, Muscarella has carried a camera with her. But her busy family and work schedule meant she was always on a time clock.
“Now, I have time to take my time,” she said. “If I’m at a beautiful scene, but know that in 30 minutes the lighting will be perfect, I can wait so I get a better shot.
“If I’m driving to a particular location to shoot some photos and I come upon something that begs me to pull out the Nikon, I can pull over,” she said. “Best of all, I have time to shoot every day — and I do. I get in the car with my camera, just looking for that National Geographic shot. Sometimes I get lucky; sometimes I have a wonderful drive.”
Joann Long’s resume is a lot like her name. The retired computer systems consultant/mounted police/horse trainer and current photographer is 64 and a Nikon girl all the way. Her D500 and D750 and 17mm-35mm, 28-300mm, and 15-600mm lenses focus on “mostly nature and wildlife, but I’ll shoot anything interesting,” she said.
“I enjoy trying to capture the moment with a different view that creates an emotion in the viewer,” she said. “I love photography because it gets me out more trying to find that unique vision. I can be any place and be happy with a camera in my hand.”
Since retiring, Long has developed multiple interests, but photography is one of her favorites.
“I look at the environment around me from a whole different perspective,” she said. “And now that I’m retired, I have more time to go hunt for that interesting image. The added benefit is visiting places and events that I may not otherwise have thought of without my photography friends.”
Keith Kappel of Canandaigua is a retired manufacturing accounting manager and corporate auditor. The 80-year-young photographer said he likes to shoot anything and everything with his Nikon D800E camera and Nikon 28-300 and Tamron 150-600 lenses.
“I love the creative challenge of seeing a photo opportunity and experimenting with it to create something that friends and family will enjoy,” he said.
Kappel is an active person, but physical issues have curtailed his ability to participate in a number of things previously enjoyed, like golf, hunting and skeet shooting.
“Photography affords me the chance to remain active both physically and mentally,” he said. “While somewhat limited in my walking and hiking ability, the use of a mobility scooter has opened many doors and opportunities.”
At 66, Diane Dersch is a retired music educator and an avid photographer. Her specialty is macro, flowers “and just about anything that is in nature,” she said. Her go-to camera is her Nikon D750, with a 28-300mm, a 105 macro and a 150-600mm lens.
What sparks her passion? Discovering a different angle, a different perspective that others may have missed.
“I took up photography when I retired,” she said. “I’ve been able to really work on it by taking numerous photo workshops all over the country and Canada.”
The stories they can tell
For FLPG members, and for any avid photographer, a camera bag, fully charged batteries and a few empty memory cards are all that’s needed to embrace a new adventure.
Muscarella keeps her post-career schedule jammed with photography outings and easily finds her share of fun.
“I had driven the 45 minutes to Owls Woods at Braddock Bay Park six days in a row to get a shot of the saw whet owl,” Muscarella recalled. “The day I saw him, I cried. He was so tiny, staring down at me as I fumbled with my equipment. How exciting to see such magnificent creatures in the wild! And getting a photo? A bonus!”
Then there was the time she stepped out of her car in Ireland to find the night sky “alive with stars,” and the Milky Way “trailing down over the golden lights of the village of Ballyvaughan.”
“It capped off a special night with my family and the photos provide a memory of a wonderful evening,” she said.
Muscarella jumps at the chance to photograph musicians and actors, many of whom are family members.
“I respect the work that goes into any type of performance art and am thrilled when I can capture their passion with my camera,” she said.
A New York City photo safari with award-winning photographer, Zim Pham, ramped up Muscarella’s skill and passion exponentially.
“She helped me photograph the Big Apple in so many different ways: seeing the intricacies of architecture and the beauty of street photography,” Muscarella said. “Zim and I still email frequently, and I look to her to critique my work. She’s a tough cookie, but I learn so much from her and value her expertise.”
Long said shooting the Milky Way at 1 a.m. on an August night ranks high on her list of breathtaking moments.
“I would have never stood on the edge of Hemlock Lake in the middle of the night to view the incredible sky if it hadn’t been for my photography buddies suggesting we get together to shoot this amazing galaxy,” she said. “I even set up a tent to create a unique view. This is one of my all-time favorite images!”
In Kappel’s case, Civil War reenactments and other events at Genesee Country Village in Mumford keep his shutter finger busy. Likewise with the World War II Air Shows at the National Warplane Museum, Geneseo.
“For Christmas this year the family banded together and gave a flight on the C-47 Whiskey 7,” he said. “I’m absolutely looking forward to the photo ops this will present.”
Dersch’s greatest adventure thus far with camera in hand has been photographing puffins in Newfoundland, she said.
There’s gold in that guild
Muscarella said spending time with other photographers in Finger Lakes Photography Guild and other groups is like “going to a smorgasbord.”
“I can see so many different kinds of photography from people with different styles and experiences,” she said. “And like a smorgasbord, I can take from them all kinds of new skills and ideas. They keep my ideas fresh and keep me learning. I love that.”
Kappel said members of the guild “have been phenomenal in providing support and encouragement, as well as technical advice and assistance.”
“There are many advanced photographers, and their willingness to share and assist really inspires and encourages,” he said.
“Speaking with other like-minded photographers has given me new ideas on how to photograph and also with post processing,” she said. “I really like the ability to take workshops FLPG presents as well.”
Online Facebook groups and e-zines are also an option, including but in no way limited to Finger Lakes Photography Center, Montanus Photography Classroom, DR.D Of Photography, WNY PhotoWalkers and Digital Photography School.
Just Getting Started?
Joann Long, photographer and member of the Finger Lakes Photography Guild in Canandaigua, encourages beginners to join a photography group where they can enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded photographers.
“Research all the many free tutorials on the internet to bring you to the next level,” she said. “Bring your camera everywhere and just shoot! You’ll learn by doing.
Regina O’Loughlin Muscarella of Victor seconds the motion to “shoot anyone and anything.”
“Take classes; join groups. Get a photo buddy to go on excursions with you. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas or solve problems with someone else.”
Kappel encouraged newbies not to be intimidated by technology.
“There are a plethora of courses available, many on the internet,” he said. “Dive in. I find that I can turn off the TV and sit down and start editing images on the computer and be amazed by what can be done and how quickly time passes.”
Diane Dersch reminds photographers to take special notice of their surroundings.
“Always look at what’s in your background,” she said. “You don’t want power lines or other things to distract from your photo.”
How about gear?
Muscarella said she started with used equipment and only recently bought some brand-new lenses. Beginners should visit their local camera shop and chat with “the people who understand what would help you get started,” she said. Consignment shops are great for those who’ve done a little homework in advance.
Long said people can expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.
“I would start with a camera that allows you to take yourself off auto mode and allows you to process a raw photo,” she said.
Kappel encouraged newcomers to take some courses first to become comfortable with hardware and software options.
“Then buy the best, most advanced equipment you can afford and don’t be afraid to buy used,” he said. “You don’t need to invest in Photoshop — Lightroom or Photoshop Elements each provide a reasonable start point and aren’t difficult to learn. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play with images — the film is cheap.”
Gaining a thorough knowledge of photography basics and how your camera works can be tough initially. Photo editing software also presents a learning curve. But online tutorials, photography classes and groups like FLPG provide education in bite-sized pieces.
A self-proclaimed geek, Muscarella said she loves the technological aspect of digital photography and can sit for hours, playing with her camera or editing images.
“The challenges are invigorating, and I will stick with it until I have solved any stumbling block,” she said. “Photoshop is such a dense program; there is always so much more to learn.”
When it’s time to edit and refine, she tries to accentuate the details of the image that first captured her attention.
“Sometimes I even get a bonus surprise as I move the sliders and hidden gems are revealed,” she said.
Like Muscarella, Long has a tech-friendly mind, so technology doesn’t intimidate her, she said.
“However, gaining the knowledge to use the extensive editing programs can be daunting,” Long added. ‘FLPG is one of the ways I learn new methods in both editing programs and camera techniques.”
The great thing about challenges like these, Kappel said, is that they “keep the mind and body active.”
You’ve captured all those images. How can you leverage your photographs and equipment to create a legacy for future generations?
“For me, photography is capturing a story,” said Dersch. “Especially when I do overseas mission trips to Africa. Your images help you savor the moment of when you were there and capture the joy on the people’s faces.”
And even if photos of everyday life seem insignificant at the time, they document history and special moments and are priceless, said Muscarella.
“I have created an online repository for my family to contribute photos from family events and have even digitized archival photos that will be there for future generations,” she said. “It is a treasure.”
In addition to sharing images online, Long suggests creating printed photo books for vacations, family outings, or favorite photos to share.
“Travelogues can be created of your favorite photos and accompanying dialogue presented to libraries and senior centers,” she said. “Special photos can be used in calendars for yearlong enjoyment or framed in large sizes for unique gifts.
“There are also many places that will print your photos on greeting cards, mugs, shower curtains, yoga mats, pillows, towels,” she said. “And for the tech savvy, websites can be developed with your favorite photos to share.”
Photography may turn out to be a sweet spot in your second chapter. It may not.
Either way, this is the perfect time to broaden your interests, to control your day, to change direction, to learn more about yourself.
This is the time to fill your schedule with “why nots?” instead of “should or should nots.”
You may find, like Muscarella, that “retirement has been very good to my photography!”
The Finger Lakes Photography Guild (FLPG) is a supportive group of photographers who strive to use digital imagery as a form of fine art. Its members pursue photographic excellence through ongoing professional level training, peer reviews and shared experiences. FLPG is a member club of the Niagara Frontier Regional Camera Club.
How to Contact FLPG
For more information about Finger Lakes Photography Guild in Canandaigua and its members, visit www.facebook.com/FingerLakesPhotographyGuild.
Photo: City Lights from Brooklyn by Regina O’Loughlin Muscarella. A trip to the Big Apple offered two of Muscarella’s favorites: urban and night photography.