When I picked up my first DSLR, I was 27, working in the non-creative side of advertising, and I had no idea what I was doing. All I really wanted to do was capture some better-than-iPhone shots of the work I’d done in my new house. So, I borrowed a Canon 60D from the tech desk at my then-agency, and went to town.

That was about a year ago. I’m still working in the non-creative side of advertising, but I’ve gained a massive amount of confidence behind the lens that I didn’t have even 10 months ago. And I credit a lot of that to the meet-up group I joined shortly after my first couple of sessions behind a DSLR.

The Richmond Photography Meetup Group has a home on meetup.com, and its membership is comprised of people from all sides of the industry, from pro to “what does this thing do?"

  • You learn FAST. I’m lucky that the group I chose is lacking in snobs or cliques. In fact, if I walk up to someone who clearly knows what they’re doing and say, “I’m getting flustered because I can’t seem to get my settings right. Do you have a minute to see if I’m on the right track?” the answer has always been a very kind “of course!” Members also hold workshops on a regular basis to expose others to their particular niche, so you’re really never at a loss for learning experiences and willing mentors. I haven’t taken a single photography class because, between experimentation and these brief mentoring sessions, I feel like I’m learning much faster and with more depth than a traditional student.
  • You avoid boredom and stay limber. Now that I feel like I know more about my equipment and what I like to do, I tend to get a little stuck. If you’ve done this for any period of time, I’m betting you know the feeling. It doesn’t mean I don’t love the niche I picked, but sometimes I need something else to cleanse my palate, so to speak. This is another time when those member-hosted workshops come in so handy. In fact, a couple weekends ago, I entered the world of macro photography for a few hours. Did I find a new passion? Not really. But being consistently thrown into new experiences helps me bring a fresh eye back to the work I do on a daily basis, and that makes my job even more exciting.
  • Networking. I LOVE this aspect of the meet-up group. I spent an hour walking around Hollywood Cemetery on a night shoot talking to a photographer I’d never met before — just swapping stories, gear reviews, and the like. He talked about the challenges of shooting his first wedding. I talked about how much I loved snapping pets. Members will also often send out announcements about upcoming contests or shows, which is a great way to get publicity for individuals as well as for the group. And then there’s just being able to say, “Guys, here are my social accounts. Can you give me some love? Share my stuff?"

 

Have you ever been part of a photo club or meet-up? What was your experience like?