ONE EASY STEP………… a thought provoking argument.

New And Potential Members And How To Scare Them Off In One Easy Step

Let me set the scene for a moment. It’s your clubs periodic competition night. The room is a hive of activity. Seats are being setup in neat rows, the screen is being put in place, the projector calibrated, score sheets written up and pictures hung. There is an air of expectation:

“Who’s tonight’s Judge?”

“I hope they like my picture of Pt. Willunga Jetty/ Pelican/Meerkat….”

Off the street, 2 potential new members walk in. The ever diligent president goes over and introduces her/himself and does her/his best to make the guests feel welcome. They talk about their mutual love for photography and how they have been trying to find a group of like-minded people to join. They are impressed by the pictures being hung and the activity in the room – yes, it looks like this club could be a good fit for them.

The meeting comes to order, formalities are done and the judging commences:

“Hmmm, I have seen too many Meerkat’s in these competitions, 5”.

“It would be a good photo, apart from that white spot in the top left hand corner which I find distracting, 7”.

“Pt. Willunga Jetty can look magnificent, but I am afraid that this picture is far from that. I find the colours boring and monotonous, 5”.

“10” (nothing else is said…).

And on it goes.

Then it happens – 45 minutes into the judging, you hear the distinctive sound of 2 chairs being slid backwards from the last row. You look up to see that your 2 new potential members are trying to quietly slide out the door unnoticed. They politely smile at you and leave…to never be seen in a photo/camera club again.

Now, put up your hand if this has happened at your photography/camera club? Thought so…. I know, from the perspective of Blackwood, this has happened to us on more than one occasion.

OK, easy you may say – ensure that new members come on a night that might be more interesting to them. How do you manage that – no visitors on competition nights? I don’t think so.

And what about the new members who decide to be involved with competitions for the first time? When you receive email responses from your newer members very shortly after their first time in a competition with comments of “I feel very disillusioned…” and “(the Judge) at times seemed to swing wildly into what seemed unnecessary and at times unkind territory”, you have to wonder whether a competition is an environment that helps to promote and foster improvement in an individual’s photography, especially new members (even if they are experienced photography enthusiasts, just not necessarily experienced photography club members).

Maybe they were just unlucky to hit the wrong judge on the wrong night? Should we be telling newer members that they shouldn’t come on night X, because Judge Y is a cantankerous bugger? Should this even be a consideration? I think you know the answer to that…

Maybe we should tell members that it is the judge’s opinion only and take of it what you will, because another judge may score it differently (which is generally mentioned every competition night) – having nearly been a new member who never came back, I can tell you from personal experience that the 1 that you receive is still a very hard pill to swallow, regardless of what anyone else says.

Maybe Photography Clubs are not for everyone? True, they are not – many amateur photographers like to work on their own and many others get enjoyment out of informal groups that mean that they don’t have to pay a membership or be pressured onto a committee. But, surely, we should be able to offer programmes that can and should appeal to any enthusiastic photographer who wishes to join.

From time to time, I think we have to ask ourselves, “What might new and potential members want out of a Photography Club”?

Approximately 12 months ago, I posed this question on the Australian Photoholics forum, which can be read via the following link:

http://www.ausph.com/showthread.php/17867- Affiliated-Photography-Camera-Clubs-a-bit-of-astraw-poll

For those of you who don’t want to read the above thread, the general consensus was:

  • They had the impression that photography clubs were a bit stuffy and stuck in their ways.
  • They didn’t particularly like the overly competitive nature of photography clubs, both when it came to gear and competitions.
  • They felt that the internet was a far greater and better resource to learn from and share their photography with.

Yes, some of the opinions in the thread may be a bit misguided, but it does indicate that, maybe, traditional photography clubs at times fall short of what new members may want. Look at it this way, digital photography is one of the more popular past times of the current era – should our clubs be not bursting at the door every meeting?

Now, I am sure you are probably asking yourself, “If you are so passionate, what are you doing about it”? Glad you asked.

In mid 2012, our current committee decided that to move out of the traditional photography club mould, we needed to start making some changes to our programme. The Blackwood Photography Club took what could be considered a bold move and reduced their competition nights by a 1/3 and replaced them with what we are calling “Peer Review” nights. This gives the membership an opportunity to discuss and analyse their photographs amongst their peers. While it is quite early days for us and a return to this concept (and we do have to iron out a few bugs here and there), we have been quite encouraged by the responses thus far. Will it be an out and out success? Who knows, but we are willing to give it a try.

We are also trying to listen to our members more and attempt to provide a programme that is better balanced.

I also think that many new initiatives that the SAPF have promoted and introduced over the last 12 to 18 months are very much a leap in the right direction. It is up to us, the established membership, to both promote and participate in these many new events. It is important that we don’t lose sight that photography clubs should be about enjoying our hobby in many and varied ways, just not about merits and 10’s.

Would we ever drop competitions fully? No. I do understand that many get great enjoyment out of them and they too are a very valuable tool to gain knowledge and recognition. Regardless of what was implied above, there are more good judges involved then not and there are a substantial number of people who make competitions work week in and week out.

There is a lot of great untapped potential out there. Photography clubs CAN and SHOULD be able to offer an additional outlet for those of the internet age.

Ashley Hoff ash.j.hoff@gmail.com

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