When I retired, my main occupations, apart from my job which I loved, had been housework, gardening and anything outdoors, I decided now was the time for a new challenge and a new hobby. My husband suggested photography to fit in with my love of nature and the outdoors and bought me my first camera….a basic Nikon D40. This was to be the beginning of my journey into photography. I had no computer skills as such and being an idealist, the images I took with the camera were to be my final photographs…..anything produced on a computer were not true photographs in my opinion! My next step was to find a camera club, and a friend who was already a member of one, took me along with her. And so began my learning curve.
The club was, in essence, a small non-competitive social club but with the occasional visiting speaker and workshops. But it did not offer me the tuition and the challenge to progress which I was after. Another friend found Stratford Photo Group (SPG) on the internet. He had past experience of larger photographic clubs, which he found could be unwelcoming and unsympathetic to beginners. Nevertheless we went along as prospective members and immediately were made to feel very welcome. We joined the beginners section the following week. That was three years ago and I haven’t looked back since! The club was delighted to learn that my special interest was Wildlife as this broadened even further the scope of membership interest which already covered a wide sphere of photography from mono to creative colour. At this time I also succumbed to my wanderlust and began travelling - especially to Africa, my second home. This offered wonderful opportunities to photograph wildlife.
SPG meet on three out of four Tuesdays a month. I found their programme very much suited me as a complete beginner, giving me every encouragement to progress. This was the challenge I was looking for to improve my photography when I saw the standard offered by other members! Although the club membership is predominantly male I have never felt intimidated by this - quite the contrary. I have received every encouragement from the Chairman, Members of the Committee and Advanced Section. I have been able to discuss freely my inhibitions regarding my lack of photographic skills and basic knowledge of the digital camera with all the buttons and what they did! I feared it would be embarrassing to admit my confusion regarding my lack of understanding of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed and their relationship with each other. I need not have feared as I found I was not the only unknowledgeable beginner!
A valuable contribution to my progress was the critique sessions where members are encouraged to ask other member’s opinions and advice on images they have taken. Also the club competitions themselves where work is shown to visiting judges who give advice and encouragement on how to improve the style or composition of photographs put before them. It was some time before I had the courage to participate in a competition but what I learned about my own skills and the advice I received on how I could improve those skills has been immensely valuable to me.
A natural progression on my photographic journey, having begun it with Nature and Wildlife, is to explore taking images of the people and the places I visit so expanding my ability to see ‘outside the box’. Joining a camera club has enabled me to capture the picture I see in my mind. It has given me a working knowledge and the practical skills to capture that special image.
While I have not compromised my purist approach to photography, another part of my learning curve has been to recognise when and where to use the tools that Lightroom and to a lesser degree Photoshop have to offer. This I have also learned during my membership of SPG.
Joining SPG has given me the knowledge and confidence to share my work in National and International competitions with growing success. While the Club gives every encouragement to participate in these competitions there is absolutely no pressure to do so. Belonging to a club not only gives the opportunity to learn and expand on an interest, but also gives the enjoyment of being with like minded people; it is immensely rewarding. I am certainly thoroughly enjoying my new challenge and my new hobby!!