Photography Club Fundamentals: Why You Should Join a Photography Club
If you want to become a better photographer, learn more, get inspired and stay inspired, meet other people who share your passion and make new friends, well, nothing beats a photo club (also known as a photography club) . Joining a club might even help steer you towards a new career. I know this has been the case for me and many other photographers.
The idea of photographers coming together to share tips, techniques, and camaraderie dates back to the earliest days of photography. In the United States, the Boston Camera Club and the Camera Club of New York began in the early 1880s. In the United Kingdom, the Royal Photographic Society began in 1853. Today there are hundreds of photography clubs and photography societies in countries all over the world.
What do photo clubs do?
What happens in a photography club? All sorts of things related to photography. Most clubs meet one to four times a month. Some meetings may feature a guest speaker, contest, image sharing, workshop, photo shoot, or other photo activity. Some clubs are into competitions while others are more interested in education. Some focus on nature or landscape, while others may be more interested in portraiture, street photography or something else. Members decide the tone and direction of the club.
There is also a social element in the clubs. It’s great to hang out with people who share your interest in photography. I made a lot of new friends through my local club. You never know where things will lead. Years ago a group of us from the club were setting up a big tent at a local art show and selling prints. It whetted my appetite for “show business” and it became a business for me. I now spend about half my year selling prints at art shows.
Club Photography Contest
Some people love club photography contests and some people hate them. I see them as learning opportunities. As a teacher, I encourage my students to join camera clubs and participate in competitions.
There are several advantages. First, you will get an objective (more or less) evaluation of your work. Your friends and family may tell you how great you are, but a contest — or a review — will point out your images’ strengths and weaknesses. It is an invaluable contribution. You can also get some technical advice during the chat. More importantly for beginners, you will learn to evaluate images and see them as photographs rather than just pictures of things.
Contest judges are looking for a combination of technical skill and overall visual impact. On the technical side, things are quite objective. Is the subject sharp, properly exposed, etc.? However, there is also a lot of subjectivity. While a poorly executed image is easy to spot, scoring multiple high-quality photographs can be a challenge. A judge may score a well-executed image higher or lower than another judge. That’s how it goes.
When evaluating your image, a good judge will offer some constructive feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and then give it a score. After a few competitions under your belt, you’ll begin to anticipate a judge’s comments as they review your photos and those of other competitors. Sometimes you will agree with the comments and sometimes not. Either way, you will develop your eye and be able to apply that experience and skill when evaluating your own images.
Don’t let the prospect of competing intimidate you if you’re just starting out. Everyone has to start somewhere. Many clubs try to level the playing field a bit by sorting members into groups based on skill level, such as beginner, intermediate, and advanced. This way, new photographers are not competing with experienced professionals.
And don’t take it too badly if you get a low score or the judge says something negative about your photo. Live and learn. Win or lose – handle it with grace. Also, remember that judges are human. Sometimes they make mistakes. Remove everything you find useful from a competition and leave the rest behind.
In person and Zoom
The pandemic has changed the way photography clubs work. Clubs used to meet in person, but COVID-19 moved things online for a while with meetings held via Zoom. Clubs are now starting to return to in-person meetings or hybrid meetings where some people congregate and others attend via Zoom.
Ironically, one of the benefits of the pandemic is that it has opened up clubs to the possibility of inviting speakers from across the country, if not the world, to present via Zoom. Transmitting speakers through Zoom has opened up more opportunities for clubs and for presenters. That probably won’t change.
How to find a photography club
Finding a photo club to join is very simple. Just do a Google search for “camera club” in your region. In addition to looking for traditional cam clubs, check out Meetup.com for photography meet groups.
How to start a photography club
If you can’t find a local club, you can always start your own. All you really need are a few photo enthusiasts and a meeting place.
Enlist the help of a few friends as a core group to help set things up and make them work. Find a place. Libraries, churches, local art centers and other civic groups often have space available, sometimes for free or for a modest fee. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
Create a plan. How often will you meet? What will you do? Do you have a guest speaker? Competitions? Image sharing? Will you need equipment like a digital projector? Your local library may have one that you can use in their meeting room. Maybe one of your members has one you can borrow.
Will you charge dues to offset expenses? If so, create a budget. Most clubs charge dues of around $20 to around $100 per year. Also, consider other fundraising activities. For example, you can hold a print sale with proceeds going to the club or split between the photographer and the club. Some clubs sponsor a photography exhibition and charge an admission fee. After paying the rewards, the profits go to the club coffers. Another way to raise funds is to host a high-profile speaker and charge admission.
Advertise your club at a local camera store or wherever people meet. Create a Facebook page and ask your friends to like and share information about the club. Post a review on Craigslist and any other community website. Send an ad to the local newspaper. Do this a few weeks before each meeting.
Photography is a practice. A good photography club will give you the support and opportunities you need to grow your practice. You will learn, grow and make new friends. Considering the relatively low cost of membership, a photo club is the best value in photography.
About the Author: John Tunney is a fine art photographer and instructor living in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Her work has been featured in a solo exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography and numerous solo and group exhibitions at galleries and other exhibition centers. His book, The Four Seasons of Cape Cod, was published in 2016. He is past president of the Cape Cod Art Center Camera Club and co-founded and curates the annual CLICK! Photography conference. A professor of photography, he teaches programs in Cape Town, Maine and Iceland.