Thursday 29 October 2020

Club Photography - Post Covid

In this post I want to discuss club photography and what you could expect from being a member of a club now and perhaps in a post Covid-19 future but firstly a little background into my own photo society on the Wirral Peninsula. 

Hoylake Photographic Society is one of six clubs on the Wirral Peninsula of Merseyside and is affiliated to the Lancashire and Cheshire Photographic Union (LCPU) We are also members of the Photographic Society of America (PSA) and we run our own Hoylake International Exhibition competition which brings in much needed revenue. The society is outward looking with about 50 members who average over 60 yrs of age and are probably atypical of other photo clubs across the UK.

Getting younger members enrolled is a major problem. I suspect the reason is that photography can be an expensive hobby and your middle aged retiree usually has more disposable income to spend on camera gear and the time to dedicate to photography once their children have left the home. 

In contrast every young person uses their camera phone these days and the image quality is so good that some Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB) salons now have a phone camera section in their competitions. 

I bought my daughter a Sony A6000 camera and kit lens a few years ago because she is artistic and likes photography. It doesn't get used. Whenever we're out together she uses her Samsung phone and the excellent JPEG's are instantly uploaded to Instagram. Photography on the go and a free spirit. I'm often shocked at how good her JPEG images are straight out of camera compared to my Sony A6400 Raw images. Perhaps this is where younger club members will spring from if they're encouraged.

Of course club photography may not be suitable for everyone who owns a camera. People enroll for different reasons; to gain knowledge, to test their skills in competition and for the social benefits of joining a club. 

I sometimes become disillusioned with my photography and threaten to sell my gear, then realise that since retiring from work 15 years ago everyone I know is either a photographer or a local artist that I've befriended through selling my prints at local fairs. I've made 100 new friends through club photography.

Hoylake Photographic Society Christmas Meeting

Whether you enroll as a member of your local club depends a lot on your photographic background. Are you already formally trained, a professional photographer or a free spirit in the "art" of photography? 

Phone camera users unconstrained by the rules tend to be free spirits in the art of photography. I say "art" because photography is an art form and most artists don't like to be constrained which club photography can do if you're not careful. It's so easy to fall into the habit of taking photographs with competitions in mind.

I've sometimes mistakenly stayed at home on a nice day as I'm unlikely to photograph anything that is worthwhile entering into the club monthly competition instead of just going out with my camera and shooting what I see for my own pleasure.

If you're serious about winning the club's monthly competition or gaining distinctions through entering national and international competitions then you must conform and present images for competition which meet the expectations of the judges. Those judges have likely been through a training program which can shackle them to certain rules of thirds, composition, removal of distractions, sharpness at the expense of the art of photography. Prints may be marked down for not being tack sharp despite the photographers intention to produce a soft focus image. The rules are there to be broken, right? 

Brian Magor receiving his monthly competition award

I encourage everyone to view the London Salon of Photography which accepts images into it's competition based on artistic merit rather than conforming to club photography judging criteria. The salon often produces unconventional award winning images that make you think.

Hoylake Photographic Society - Annual Competition Trophies

You will certainly gain knowledge from being a member of a society. I've always attributed my growth from a novice to advanced amateur in our society through being inspired by the photography of our expert speakers, picking up their tips from tutorials, getting critique from the monthly competitions and talking to more advanced club members.

Film Noir workshop

Film Noir Workshop

Our Program Secretary has been having a very difficult time booking expert speakers for our club nights in recent years as the available pool of speakers is generally limited to the (LCPU) region. Good speakers are reluctant to travel large distances from outside of the area on a Friday evening and travel home again after 10pm during the Winter months when the society meets. We compensate by filling in empty dates with "members nights" where a club member will present their own photography or give a tutorial. Strangely though, Covid-19 could solve this problem.

Covid-19 has placed severe restrictions on photography as a hobby. Travel restrictions are in place, events are cancelled and venues are closed to the public. Due to the average age of our membership, Hoylake Photographic Society stopped meeting at the village hall in March 2020 and we restarted our season in September with guest speakers giving their talks via Zoom. Is this the future? 

When the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and club life eventually returns to weekly village hall meetings, the club program in theory could involve speakers giving talks and tutorials from anywhere in the World via Zoom projected via a laptop onto a screen. Perhaps it would be possible to watch a Youtube tutorial and finish the evening with a practical session. If only the village hall had internet supplied.

We are entering October 2020 and hopes of getting Hoylake Photographic Society meetings back in a village hall by New Year are fading. Scores of photographic societies across the UK will undoubtedly be in the same boat, but the Covid-19 pandemic gives club members the opportunity to meet via Zoom and plan for a physical return. Perhaps a future which encourages younger members, embraces changes in photographic trends and uses new technology to enhance the club photography experience.