If you want to become a better photographer, learn more, get and stay inspired, meet others who share your passion, and make new friends, well, nothing beats a camera club (also known as a photography club). Joining a club might even help lead you to a new career. I know it did for me and many other photographers.
The idea of photographers getting together to share tips, techniques, and camaraderie stretches back to the early days of photography. In the US, the Boston Camera Club and the Camera Club of New York got their start in the early 1880s. In the UK, the Royal Photographic Society got its start in 1853. Today, there are hundreds of camera clubs and photo societies in countries around the world.
What Camera Clubs Do
So what happens at a pohtography club? All kinds of things related to photography. Most clubs meet one to four times a month. Some meetings may feature a guest speaker, a competition, image sharing, workshop, photo shoot, or some 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 whatever. The members decide the tone and direction of the club.
There’s a social element to clubs, too. It’s great to hang out with people who share your interest in photography. I’ve made many new friends through my local club. You never know where things will lead. Years ago, a bunch of us from the club would set up a big tent at a local art show and sell prints. This whet my appetite for “show business” and it morphed into a business for me. I now spend about half my year selling prints at art shows.
Club Photography Competitions
Some people love club photography competitions 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 benefits. First, you’ll get an objective (more or less) appraisal of your work. Your friends and family may tell you that you are great, but a competition – or critique – will point out strengths and weaknesses in your images. It’s invaluable input. You may pick up a few technical tips during the discussion, too. Most importantly for beginners, you’ll learn to evaluate images and see them as photographs rather than just pictures of things.
Competition judges look for a combination of technical proficiency and overall visual impact. On the technical side, things are pretty objective. Is the subject in focus, properly exposed, and so on. However, there’s a lot of subjectivity involved, too. While a poorly executed image is easy to spot, scoring several high-quality photographs can be a challenge. One judge may score a well-executed image higher or lower than another judge. It’s just the way it goes.
When evaluating your image, a good judge will offer a few constructive comments on what’s working and what’s not working, and then give it a score. After you get a few competitions under your belt, you’ll start to anticipate a judge’s comments as he or she reviews your pictures and those of other competitors. Sometimes you’ll agree with the comments and sometimes you won’t. Regardless, you’ll be developing your eye and will be able to apply that experience and skill when you evaluate your own images.
Don’t let the prospect of competing intimidate you if you’re a beginner. Everybody has to start somewhere. Many clubs try to level the field a bit by sorting members into groups based on skill level such as beginner, intermediate and advanced. This way new photographers aren’t competing against experienced pros.
And don’t take it too hard if you get a low score or the judge says something negative about your picture. Live and learn. Win or lose – handle it with grace. Remember, too, that judges are human. Sometimes they make mistakes. Take away whatever you find useful from a competition and leave the rest behind.
In-Person and Zoom
The pandemic changed the way photography clubs operate. Clubs used to meet in person, but COVID-19 moved things online for a while with meetings being held via Zoom. Clubs are now starting to drift back to in-person meetings or with hybrid meetings where some people gather and others attend via Zoom.
Ironically, one advantage of the pandemic is that it has opened up clubs to the possibility of inviting speakers from all over the country, or even the world, to the present via Zoom. Beaming in speakers via Zoom has opened up more opportunities for clubs and for presenters. This probably won’t change.
How to Find a Photography Club
Finding a camera club to join is very straightforward. Just do a Google search for “camera clubs” in your area. In addition to looking for traditional camera clubs, check out Meetup.com for photography meetup groups.
How to Start a Camera Club
If you can’t find a local club you can always start one of your own. All you really need are a few photo enthusiasts and a place to meet.
Enlist the help of a few friends as a core group to help get things up and running. Find a venue. Libraries, churches, local art centers, and other civic groups often have space available, sometimes for free or a modest fee. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
Create a plan. How often will you meet? What will you do? Have a guest speaker? Competitions? Image sharing? Will you need equipment like a digital projector? Your local library may have one 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 from around $20 to $100 or so a year. In addition, look into other fundraising activities. For example, you could organize a print sale with proceeds going to the club or split between the photographer and club. Some clubs sponsor a photography exhibition and charge an entry fee. After paying for awards, the proceeds go into the club’s coffers. Another way to raise money is to host a big-name speaker and charge admission.
Publicize your club at a local camera store or anywhere people meet. Create a Facebook page and get your friends to like and share information about the club. Post a notice on Craigslist and any other community website. Send an announcement to the local newspaper. Do that a couple of weeks before each meeting.
Photography is a practice. A good photography club will give you the support and opportunities you need to help develop your practice. You’ll learn, grow and make new friends. Considering the relatively low cost of membership, a camera club is the best value in photography.
About the author: John Tunney is a fine-art photographer and instructor living on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. His work has been featured in a solo exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography and in many solo and group shows in galleries and other exhibition centers. His book, The Four Seasons of Cape Cod, was published in 2016. He is the past president of the Cape Cod Art Center Camera Club and co-founded and chairs the center’s annual CLICK! Photography Conference. A photography instructor, he teaches programs on the Cape, in Maine and Iceland.
Image credits: Header photo by Andreas Riemenschneider and licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0. Stock photos from Depositphotos