A photo club meeting where I give a short presentation on how to shoot panoramic with a telephoto lens.
Joining a photo club can be one of the best things you can do to advance your photography to the next level. But being a member of a photo club isn't just about your skills as a photographer. It is as much about your skills as a creative individual and all round good egg/human being.
Let me explain...
When you join a photo club you will surround yourself with different people from all backgrounds in life, first and foremost, and then with a varying degree of photographic capability. You will somewhere fit in amongst this demographic.
At the photo club meetings you might be sitting next to a complete beginner or an "award winning photographer". Either way, they way you interact with them will pretty much determine your own fate as a photographer. So it's time to take a reality check. Your ego. Where is it?
I joined a photo club initially for one sole purpose. To be inspired creatively. I have a good technical knowledge but because I specialise in a couple of genres, notably wildlife and landscapes, I was keen to mix with other photographers and see how they approached other genres and take images. I was hungry to watch, interact and learnt.
The photo club I belong is relatively new, only in its second year. The club has a lot of potential with some real talent and a lot of people who are very keen to learn and evolve. But we find ourselves with a very broad base of photographer, many have a varying degrees of knowledge meaning their is a disparity in skills. But that's ok. It is to be expected. I've always said there will be always a photographer better than you, there will always be a photographer inferior to you. What's important is to recognise that and then ask yourself one question: what role should I play? If you ask this question you are half way to keeping your ego in check.
Over the course of the first year it became evident some members of the club needed a helping hand. We organise 1 outing per month and this is completely voluntary. You can pick and chose to go depending on the location, theme and so on. This year has been an incredibly turbulent year in my personal life and things have been very trying for me. I've had limited time to dedicated to content generation, blogs, vlogs, videos, and photo outings etc. However I decided to make an effort and go to as many of the photo outings as possible even the ones that didn't personally inspire me. Why? Well first to continue to build a sense of community. Second to see others at work and learn. Third, to help others out. For those who wanted and needed support on some occasions I offered to lead a photo walk within the context of the outing. I didn't take many photos, just a few to show examples of what I was thinking. Mostly I was there to answer questions on how I worked, but also ask some key questions to get the brains working about techniques and skills.
Part way through the year members also asked for more formal presentations on topics to advanced skill levels. I volunteered to deliver a couple of presentations. Nothing fancy, I presented my knowledge on shooting Aperture Priority Mode, and shooting Panoramic images. Both techniques I regularly use because as a wildlife photographer I am using a long lens and these techniques are part of my tool kit. I'll be doing others on an as needed basis.
So why did I do these things?
Simple - to give back. To help. To share my knowledge as best as I could to others who were hungry to learn. This meant I had to put a little extra effort in from time to time in preparing presentations and content.
I'm a self taught photographer who has worked really hard the last 5 years. I've put a lot of dedication in and it has started to pay back. But I had to put the effort in. I had some set backs and many disappointments along the way many of which damaged my own ego.
But the pleasure in giving back to the club has been seeing great images coming from the photo outings were we walked together and shared the knowledge and techniques. It has helped me bring perspective to my own photography and more importantly my own behaviour as a photographer.
I recognised that in the club I was one of a few advanced photographers. What I didn't do is use the photo club meetings to position my photos in front of the club for adoration. What I didn't do is criticise others work, when asked I gave positive and constructive inputs, and on many occasions I asked how the image was taken so I could understand and learn. What I didn't do is blow up my own ego for my own visibility. I didn't need to and it should never be the purpose of participating in a photo club. Remember it doesn't matter how good you think you are...there is someone better - go seek them out, be humble and ask for their help. Then when you've got the knowledge, go help others, and stay humble.
So if you are thinking of joining a photo club, I'd advocate it as one of the best things you can do. Don't be intimidated by other photographers, engage constructively and positively with your own community. Give back when you can and encourage those around you. We are all on a journey to advance our photography and like most journeys it's better when you are not alone, and have like minded helpful people as company to support you on the way. Most of all enjoy it and have fun.