Photography Clubs, Meetup, and Themes

I joined a photo club many years ago and, in all honesty, I can’t say it was a hugely enjoyable experience that I looked forward to. I joined largely to make friends with other photographers, but while there was no hostility, no one went out of their way to make me feel especially welcome. I remember my first September evening of the new season. I sat at a table on my own for the whole night. There was no unfriendliness, but there was no effort put in to make sure I wasn’t feeling isolated.

Another problem I had was with the club competitions. I was taking largely 6x7cm slides at that time so most of my best work was in that format, but competition classes only accepted 6x6cm slides because they had a projector for those. Model nights were a bit of a free-for-all with no guidance for beginners and at that time I’d never done any studio work and so felt totally out of my depth.

After I left I felt little desire to ever get involved in anything like that ever again.

But 20 years on I found myself heading off, with a little trepidation, to meet a group of strangers for a day of photography in Chester. I’d come across them on the Meetup site and thought I’d give it another go. The group was supposed to be nine people, five showed up. Mind you, this seems to be the nature of Meetup groups. Lots of people say they are going and around half turn up.

The theme was reflections and I headed off with two strangers, who provided me with companionship for the two hour photo challenge. The obvious place to start was shop windows I thought, so I won’t do that. It would have been great if it had been a wet day, but it was bright sunshine. Chester has a river so I headed in that direction. The wind was fairly brisk so I wasn’t expecting mirror like water; what I wanted to photograph was ripples and the beautiful way the light reflects. I had in mind something a little abstract, rather than an identifiable reflection.

I headed off along the river bank, took a few shots of the river – nothing very exciting.  But I find that it is essential to get warmed up. By this I mean looking through the viewfinder taking a shot or two and then inspecting the results on the viewscreen. For me this provides stimulation and once I see what I don’t want I get a little clearer about what I do.

The river bank in Chester is full of mature willows with little in the way of access, but I spotted a small dry patch where I could get down to the water’s edge. There was a log bouncing about making interesting ripples at one end.  I took a few shots of this, and in Lightroom tried playing with the colour version and it was okay, so I thought I’d see what it was like in B&W. That was better, but it still lacked a little oomph. That was when I did just a touch of split toning and I had something I was happy with.

1/2000 f4.0 ISO 400 Canon 6D EF24-105mm F4 L IS

Then it was on to the park where I knew there was a pond. This was not a very attractive setting and although I took a dozen or so shots of ducks and a weird-looking sculpture of two herons, nothing got me excited.

After that we headed back through town towards the canal. On the way I spotted an interesting piece of pavement with golden studs reflecting the light. This had possibilities. A little work in Lightroom to make the studs stand out a little more and I had my second useable image.

1/125 f16.0 ISO 400 Canon 6D EF24-105mm F4 L IS

 

From there it was on to the canal. Here was the first thing I actually got quite excited about. The water surface had gentle ripples – just about the size I was looking for when I first thought about using water. Reflected in the surface was a latticed pattern from the bridge above. The pattern was in a constant state of movement so I used a fast shutter and took several shots in an attempt to capture something that appealed to me.

1/2000 f4.0 ISO 400 Canon 6D EF24-105mm F4 L IS

 

The next bridge gave me the shot I was looking for – a dark frame and a sunlit brick building. The oranges looked amazing and I even had a green tree to frame it. I especially liked the way the ripples broke up into isolated blobs of colour towards the bottom of the frame.

1/160 f11.0 ISO 400 Canon 6D EF24-105mm F4 L IS

 

Then it was heading back to the café to meet up with the others and have a chat about photography. For me it was an enjoyable experience. I liked the coffee and chat part at the end, and I was pleased that I was able to come up with some images that pleased me on a theme that I wouldn’t normally bother to think about.

What I am aware of is that having a focus is so important to improving the images you create. Many years ago when I was shooting slides to illustrate articles, in a magazine I was writing for, my photography improved dramatically in a short space of time and the reason was simply having a purpose, having a reason, to take the pictures.

I also want to draw your attention to the idea of working your subject.

There is a world of difference between just snapping away, hoping you’ll have something useful when you check them later, and purposefully working with a subject. I find that as I work around a subject I’m getting closer and closer to what I want. It is rare that the last shot I take isn’t the one I eventually choose to use.

So explore angles and shutter speeds and apertures, stand on something to look down, and crouch down to look up.

Most of all, enjoy the process and have some fun.

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