Photography is not a “team sport.” When making an exposure, it’s you, your camera and the moment. It’s much like golf, a sport which can be entirely a solo activity if you choose it to be. But, like golf, if you practice it entirely on your own you’ll be missing out on the fun that comes from sharing the moment with others.
Who are you making photographs for? “Myself” is a good answer; you need to be true to your vision and not making photos with the main objective being to please others. Yet if you make a photo and never share it with anyone else, is it not like the tree that falls in the forest with no one there? Or if you sink a 20-foot putt and only you are there to see it, who are you going to celebrate with (and who’s going to believe you when you tell the tale later?) If you practice photography solely with and for yourself, you’re missing out on so much! That is why I get so much from my participation in a camera club and why in this article I will give you ten reasons why you should consider joining one.
I live in Meridian, Idaho, a suburb of Boise and have belonged to the Boise Camera Club for about eight years. The club has a rich history, starting in 1934 and with over 80 years in the community, it is one of the older organizations in the area. We now have over 100 paid members. In preparation for this article, I asked some of them to tell me what they gain from participation and I’ve included some of their quotes. Here are a few of the reasons they gave:
Someone wise once said: “If you want to improve yourself, surround yourself with people smarter and more experienced than you.” All the smart people in the two camera clubs I am a member of have definitely done that for me.
– Robert Riddle
Join almost any organization and you will find some people who know more than you and some who may not know as much. That is a good thing. You can learn much from the more experienced and accomplished photographers in a club and, if you will “give back,” you can teach the less experienced what you know.
Our club meets four times a month, one of those meetings being “Workshops Night.” We teach camera, lighting, editing, and all manner of other photo techniques. It’s hard to always find a subject or level of teaching that will appeal to everyone, but I’ve always felt if I come away from such a workshop having only learned one thing, I’m better for the experience.
Most clubs, (and some call themselves “Camera Clubs,” others “Photography Clubs” or “Groups”, and all manner of other variations), will have an instructional component in their meetings. You can only learn so much from online tutorials. Interactive participation in a live group can give you so much more.
I would highly recommend joining a camera club. I found people who talk my talk and are willing to share information. This year I'm joining a second area club as well. I just can't get enough of it!
– Patty Sharp
The more you get into photography, the more you learn we have our own lingo. If you are a new photographer, you may not initially understand many of the terms and certainly not the advanced techniques more skilled practitioners of the craft use. How great it is when you find someone who is willing to assist, explain, and help you along in the process. You will find that in a camera club people share your passion for photography and are happy to help others learn and grow.
It could also be that you are looking to start a photo business or find ways to make money with your photography. While some might fear that fellow club members with businesses of their own might shun you as a “rival,” I have rarely found that happening. Instead, some will even allow you to learn from them as a “second shooter” or watch while they do a shoot. They may also be happy to share the do’s and don’ts of making a new photo business work.
3. EQUIPMENT ADVICE
It could be that you are thinking of buying new equipment. In a club, you are almost certain to find people that already own the equipment you are considering and are happy to tell you what they like or don’t like about it. If you are researching gear, more experienced photographers can make recommendations, help you decipher specs and features, and assist you in making a more informed decision.
Our club sometimes has “show and tell” sessions where members are invited to bring new equipment and tell others about it. (Usually, these sessions wind up costing me money too as I learn of equipment I had no idea about, but now must have!) A good example; the Canon Pixma Pro 100, (see Jim Harmer’s review), has almost become the “Official Printer of the Boise Camera Club” so many have bought, liked, recommended and shared information about it with other club members. It’s also great that when we have questions or problems there are other members who know what to do.
I have also found club members willing to loan, (or at least rent cheap), equipment they may have which I’m considering buying for myself. What better way to research a purchase than with a “hands-on” session aided by someone who knows the gear?
How about buying used equipment? Buying used photo gear is always a bit of a gamble, especially if you are buying it online, sight unseen, from someone you don’t know. In a camera club however, people with gear to sell have a ready pool of potential buyers. People looking to buy can see, try and often buy from someone they know and trust, even knowing what kind of care that equipment might have had.
4. CRITIQUE, FEEDBACK, AND COMPETITION
I enjoy showing images for critiques. I frequently present images in new areas I am trying to learn or show photos I’m not entirely happy with but not sure why.
– Ken Miracle
Most of us post our photos on social media and while we might enjoy getting a bunch of “likes,” how much does that grow our photography? Not only that but how photographically knowledgeable is the audience there? If you want to learn how to improve your work, you want critique and feedback from people who know good photography.
Our club devotes two of our four monthly meetings to such an activity, one meeting for prints, the other for projected images. In both we have a panel of three judges who score the photo, there is commentary by a critiquer, and then open comments by members of the club. New photographers unsure of their work can find the process a bit intimidating at first, but like jumping off the high board, once they try it they find they really do enjoy it and learn so much.
The club is a place where I can get honest, constructive feedback on my images. A single ah-ha moment from a critique is worth way more than 200 likes and compliments on a social site.
– Dave Fuji
It can also be fun to engage in some friendly competition with your photos, seeing how you stack up against your peers. We compete against one another at the club level. Each year at our annual banquet we have another club competition. Often our better images go on for regional competition in the Columbia Council of Camera Clubs, a Northwest group. Our club also belongs to the Photographic Society of America, which is actually an international organization and our best images compete at that level as well.
Going solo as a photographer will limit your growth. One, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut making the same kinds of photos, sticking to the same subjects, and getting comfortable (and lazy) doing things the same way all the time. Yeah, it’s safe, but as the saying goes, you can’t sail when your anchor is down. Neither can you learn and grow as a photographer when you never try new things.
A real benefit to camera club membership is, (pun warning), Exposure to new things. You will find others shooting subjects that never occurred to you or maybe subjects you do shoot, but in ways you never tried.
Meeting people within the club, interested in the same type of photography as me is fun, but being exposed to new types of photography has helped me grow as well.
– Shane Davila
You may also find club activities that will help you have fun and get out of your rut with something to look forward to each week. Not long ago, one of our members decided we would have “Monochrome Monday” with members invited to post a monochrome shot to our Facebook page. It has become wildly popular, has taken some into a genre they had not previously explored, and gives us all something to look forward to each week.
There is also the inspiration that comes from viewing the images of others. When someone brings a beautiful, well-composed, correctly exposed and technically excellent image to print or projected image night it sets the bar even higher for fellow club members. Not only are we inspired, but we become eager to learn from that member how such a great image was created.
6. THE ART OF SEEING
Photography helps me see better and photography with friends opens my eyes to entirely new things.
– Dale Toweill
You’ve had this experience, whether viewing a shot from a location where you’ve photographed or even later viewing photos a companion took while you were both shooting at the same location. “I was right there, why didn’t I get that?!!” One of the intangible skills of a great photographer is the art of seeing things others miss. That can be seeing the light, working the angle or composition, so many different things that make the difference between a good and a great photo. Learning how others see can make so much difference, something you will never gain shooting solo. Hand me a bell pepper and I might make an ok shot, but bring the eye of a different photographer to the same subject, say Edward Weston, and you see things in a whole new light.
7. TRIPS AND TRAVEL
Our club, as do many others, organizes field trips where we pick a great spot and then all go there to shoot. Sometimes in addition to the photography we will have image review and critique sessions, discussing how various photographers approached the scene or subject and what they might do better. In the field, if fellow members need advice on camera settings, composition, or other tips, there are others to help. Sure, you can pay for workshops with professional guides to take you to such places and those can be very rewarding. In a camera club however you can go more often, go less expensively, and then be able to share the images as well as the fun of a shared experience.
Something I’d like to see more of is interclub cooperation. If I’m thinking of going to shoot autumn in New England I could contact a club out there who would steer me to great spots, give me tips on travel and lodging, or maybe even offer to go shoot with me. Then, when someone from there wanted to go shoot in the Idaho Sawtooth Mountains, well… look us up!
As you get better as a photographer and others see your work, sooner or later someone will ask if you are available for hire, be it for a wedding, family portraits, high school senior photos or any number of possibilities. If you are and feel you have the skills, great. If not however, there’s a good chance one of your fellow club members does have the skills and you’d be happy to recommend them. Of course, you could be on the other side of that scenario with someone in your club referring work to you. Or maybe you do weddings, but know nothing about product photography. Refer it to your fellow club member who does or maybe get them to give you a crash course so you can take on the job. Networking works in many job scenarios and the key is knowing people. Membership in a photo club does that for you.
9. COMMUNITY SERVICE
Belonging to a camera club gives you unique opportunities to participate in your community, giving back. Recently our club held an event we have done for several years, taking holiday family portraits for underprivileged families in our community. This year we set up four portrait stations and an editing/printer station at a local Boys & Girls Club. By the end of the day, over 140 families walked out with a nice 8×10 professional family portrait they could not otherwise have afforded. I overheard one mom looking at the photo of her family say, “Wow…This is so great. We’ve never had a good family photo like this!” Tell me this isn’t one of the great rewards of having a skill and being willing to share it.
10. SOCIAL INTERACTION
They call what we do online, swiping our fingers over a screen “social networking” but is it really? I’m sure you have many “friends” online and like to share your images with them. You probably also participate in online forums where you can post questions, get answers, maybe have your images critiqued and do some of the things I’ve outlined here. But is it a substitute for real person-to-person interaction? Can Facebook compete with real Face-Time? In a world where we seem to be having more and more challenges really communicating with one another, I think perhaps the greatest benefit of belonging to a camera club is the genuine relationships to be built with real people who share a common passion for photography.
Some of my very best friends are people who I have met in the Boise Camera Club and others who have I personally met through other pursuits in photography. As a relatively new writer here on the Improve Photography site, I’m able to broaden my reach and get to know other people, some whom I hope to one day meet in person.
If you are already a member of a camera club, great… I hope you will continue to enjoy photography with your photo friends. If not, check this list on the Photographic Society of America (PSA) which is an international organization with member clubs all over the world. If you don’t find a club near you there, just Google your nearest larger town name and “photo club” and you'll find still other listings. Finally, if you still don’t find anything, consider the Meetup.com site and put the word out you’re interested in starting a club in your area.