What IS a camera club? I think the simplest definition would simply state that it’s a club focused on cameras, or photography. Obviously everyone has their own reasons for thinking about club, and I can only talk about mine.
A while back, I joined a camera club. I was getting more into my photography, working hard to improve my results, trying to find the right type of photography for me, and honestly, didn’t know too many people (or anyone at all) in the area. Joining a photo/camera club seemed like a great thing to do.
What I was looking for can be summed up like this:
- Social (I wanted to meet some new people)
- Education (I wanted to learn more about photography)
- Inspiration (I wanted to see other peoples examples to inspire myself)
To me, it seemed fairly reasonable to assume a club would offer these things. After all, these are all things I was getting online. I used to use flickr regularly where I saw thousands of photos, and met (virtually) many people. I visit blogs all the time which offer tutorials on pretty much everything you can think of. I was under the impression that these things would be vastly improved by the simple fact that you’re meeting those people in person, looking at proper prints, and having experts come and talk to you about their supposed field of expertise. Sadly, it just fell short. Not entirely, and obviously the way it works is probably great for some of the other members, but for me, it just falls a little short. Why?
- Upon arriving, you have about enough time to get a drink, and find a seat before having to be quiet for a speaker/judge.
- In the break, you have about enough time to get a drink, go to the loo, say hello to someone, and find your seat again before starting up.
- At the end, everyone wants to hurry off home (understandably, we all have lives to lead)
So, socially, it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for (again, it might be perfect for some of the others).
- Listening to judges will teach you how to win competitions, and rob you of any personal creative choices you made along the way.
- Many speakers are more interested in telling you about the journey they took with their camera than the choices they made in taking a particular photo.
I think here it’s probably quite important to clarify my points as they’re a little broad and quite easy to misunderstand. So,
Listening To Judges:
Judges often come in the form of great photographers. They have usually done some kind of course which qualifies them to judge. So their input isn’t useless. In fact, it can be incredibly valuable. The fact remains though, that they cannot see what you could see, they don’t know about the cliff you’d have fallen down if you’d taken the suggested step to the left, and they don’t know that you wanted hard lighting to add more drama to a shot.
The point is, Judging is hard. In order to have some kind of level playing field for everyone, you have to make some generalisations, and sometimes cling to the “rules” a little harder than you would otherwise. You don’t have a chance to look up the subject of the photograph to see whether the final portrayal is a good emotional representation.
Getting feedback IS important, but getting bland “these are the rules” type of feedback is no more useful than the “great shot” comments on flickr. Much more useful is sitting down with a couple of other people, and talking through your photos, why you shot them the way you did, and how the other person might have done it differently.
The Speakers Journey:
This is another hard one, because as a viewer, we want to have some kind of emotional connection to a photo. Knowing the photographers mindset, and the journey they have taken can sometimes help us with that.
On the other hand, when you’re there to learn, and to improve your photography, I don’t need to know all about your holiday. I don’t want to know anything about the journey at all unless it’s a demonstration of the lengths you go to to get the perfect shot or something that can tie me to the photo on an emotional level. I’ve heard stories of people getting up at 3a.m. climbing a mountain with a tripod on their back, traveling far from the beaten path in order to get the best angle, at the best time of day. That kind of thing tells us so much about the dedication of the photographer, and also how much of the shot was pre-planned or visualised in advance. Hearing a story about the hotel you were staying in, does not.
Occasionally a speaker finds a nice balance between the two, but more often focuses far too heavily on their own journey.
Inspiration. It’s the one thing you can guarantee at a club meet. There will be lots of photos to see, from types of photography you’ve never even thought of trying or want to but haven’t had the chance. Sadly, if this is the only thing that’s working, then it’s not really worth it is it? For inspiration, I can use flickr. I can browse explore to see lots of different things, or I can use the map and browse certain areas. I can look through groups for different types of photography, or any mixture of those. I can do similar with 500px, even google images. Every time I see an advert, it’s inspiration. Every time I watch a film, every single frame is inspiration
Maybe a photo club is perfect for you, and if that were it, I still get enough out of going to make it worth while, so I’d probably still be going. As it is, I’ve lost interest because aside from the above, I’ve found that when I can’t make it, and the other half can, I get insults through her, asking her if I think I already know it all, despite occasionally wishing I wasn’t too busy with actually taking photos.
So, how can a club remain relevant to today’s photographers? The only advantage it has over all the amazing resources available online, is the face to face interaction. It seems reasonable to me that capitalising on the social side is the way to go. Don’t fill a room and then isolate everyone by filling the room with silence. Give people the time to talk. Give people a reason to talk. Give people related subjects to talk about. Try to foster some kind of community spirit. Try to grow friendships, because once that happens, people will be hooked and never want to leave the club.