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In the last three years, my life has been transformed – by my camera. For the first 25 years of my life in Western New York, I used my camera for one purpose only: to take head shots of my graduate students, so I could learn their names via “flash cards.” Now, instead of being a functional tool, it has become a companion. Never arguing, always pleased to go wherever I suggest, my camera has enhanced my life.

Western New York contains a wealth of diverse options for beginning photographers. The changing seasons allow the photographer to see the same sights transformed. The same cherry tree – blooming, heavy with cherries, as a lush August bird refuge, and stark against the snow – is like a face seen in light, then in shadow, anew. Variety is not just seasonal. Outdoor sculptures benefit from visits at different times of day, with backdrops illuminated by nature. Instead of driving or walking by our amazing architecture, I contemplate unusual angles for a new photograph.

Another resource for local beginners comes through camera clubs. Becoming a member of any of the Niagara Frontier Regional Camera Clubs (www.nfrcc.org) gives photographers – beginners as well as those who are advanced – opportunities throughout the year to get together and learn. As each link to the 11 clubs shows, individuals can attend meetings without joining the clubs. One could be busy nearly every evening from September through May, attending free club events.

The camera’s companionship opens up travel – local day trips, or far away. Instead of traveling alone, I now have my chum with me. Loneliness is no more. As I journey, I consider whether (and then, how) the view might be caught. Much like other kinds of temporary capture, the way I get the shot does not disturb what I am viewing.

Two recent trips to Ohio gave me more opportunities than I could use to investigate color, shape and subject matter at the Museums of Art in Cleveland and Toledo, the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In each setting, the photography-friendly policies and variety of objects allowed me to wander, snap and discover pieces that tantalized mind and memory.

The beauty of digital photography is its encouragement to try, without fear of costly failure. In the days of film, amateurs did not know what they were going to get until the envelope of prints was unsealed. The grading policy of film was harsh. With digital, we have immediate viewing of a photograph, and editing tools that range from the basics to more elaborate products that clean up mistakes, tease out colors or even redefine the image into fantastic new photographic schemes.

Does this mean that anyone can take an impressive photo? Does this level the playing field too much? What does it matter? If you are open to finding new binoculars for the world around you, and a mute friend who will both encourage and challenge you, pick up a camera.