By Roger (18 July 2014)
I've been absent for a couple of weeks, but I'm back. Maybe, I should try to write the blog prior to Thursday night, so I don't get behind. Naw, that would never work. ;-)
I've met several new photographers, this week, and most seem to be trying to figure out how this “photography thing” works by themselves. I believe photography is more enjoyable as a social activity. I have mentioned many times that it is much more fun to go out making photos when you have someone with you. One of the best ways to find a shooting partner is through a local photography club.
Photography clubs have been around since the camera was invented. Besides the social benefits, they are great places to share your work; learn faster; take field trips; and get advance opinions on gear before you spend your money. They can keep you motivated in your quest to improve your skills and vision.
Look for the club that best fits your personality. You should try them out for a few meetings to see if the group is right for you. I'm lucky because there are several clubs in my area for me to choose from. I travel 20 miles to get to our club, the Fauquier County Viewfinders, when there is another one only five miles from my house. Our club is more about fun and learning than competition, and that is my preference. The closer club is larger and more organized, full of great folks. They have monthly competitions, with expert judges they invite. It wasn't my cup of tea, but it might be what you want.
Here are some things to consider when you look for the right club for you:
Diversity. For me, I wanted to be around people with varied backgrounds. There are many clubs built around unifying themes – single photographers; landscape only; church groups; etc. – and I'm sure they're fine. But I like to be mixed in with people whose life experiences and interests are different than mine. Diversity includes skill level. Beginning photographers bring excitement, new visions, and challenges to a club. I wouldn't choose to be in a club with only experienced photographers.
Longevity. There is nothing wrong with a new group, but, without knowing anything else about a club, you know there must be something that keeps a long-organized club going. If they've been going for years, I'm interested in finding out why. However, newer clubs may be more attractive to you if the older club has worked themselves into a routine that doesn't fit your needs.
Organization. I want just enough of this to beat back the chaos of too many creatives in one room, but not so much that I feel I'm part of some political party. Somebody has to run the meetings; organize the education topics; put out information emails; and collect the dues. I just don't want to deal with a 30-page rule book and a three-hour entrance exam, followed by a closed-room membership vote on whether I'm worthy enough. Pick which end of the spectrum makes you most comfortable. Every club suffers from those who don't participate enough and those who think the club is their personal property. Look for the club where this suffering is minimized.
Cost. The membership dues for photography clubs vary widely. There are clubs that are really corporations, with their own studios and meeting rooms. That is great, but comes at a cost. Our club just raised membership dues, last year. We now cost $10 a year! We meet in a local hospital meeting room. You can find many choices between these two extremes, but you should expect to pay something. Dues help cover expenses like meeting rooms, websites, libraries, and many other legitimate costs to your club. They also help you keep track of active members and those who have left.
Activities. I saved my favorite for last. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog and countless other times, I like to get out and about to practice my photography. Active clubs make it a point to canvas their membership for photo excursion ideas. You can find “photo buddies” in every club. People who are making photos for just the fun of making photos. We invite each other to locations the other might never think of.
All of the photographs in this blog are from our latest outing. Just this past Thursday, we met at the Fauquier County Fair, specifically the rodeo. (You know, when I was supposed to be blogging.) I had never been to a rodeo and, probably, wouldn't have gone by myself. It was an interesting photo challenge: fast-moving subjects as the sun was fading. The fair gave me lots of subjects for my people photography. Where else in northern Virginia can I get a shot of a prize-winning calf and its proud owner?
Look for a club in your area (a simple Google search will probably turn up many) or start your own. There are lots of benefits to being in a club, regardless of your skill level. You can share tips and find new subjects for your camera, with kindred souls who just want to enjoy photography with you.
Our new club website has a calendar we will use to post organized and ad hoc photo trips. (You can see our website here.) Feel free to stop in on the second and fourth Thursday of the month.