Photoclub stories.

Today I'll try something new. Today I'll actually write a story, a fiction heavily inspired by real events. My story of what goes on in a photography club. 
Let's be clear, this is an aggregation of 3 different events so those of you who recognize themselves, don't email to say "that's not how it went!", because indeed, that's not how it went. I will voluntarily bend reality for the purpose of making stronger points and having a tad bit more fun. Also if you recognize yourself and don't like the way you've been pictured, don't cry: 95% of who I'll describe here I can't recall the name of, or even the face. It's really not personal. Also It is meant to be sarcastic and mean, otherwise it's less fun. I've also met people with real talent, but if I ever mention them in would be as one of my "Inspiration" post. In case you don't read until end, I am in no way pretending this is an accurate description of every photography club. I'm sure there are plenty around that are totally worth it. So take it easy :)

Anyway, this is the story of why I am not part of any photography club. Yet. 

My first attempt at being part of a photography club was motivated by raw enthusiasm: I was boring the hell out of people who had to listen to my photography talk when clearly, they didn't care. I needed an audience that did, and who would talk back with passion. Then a couple of fellas sent an email to other employees of my company: "hey how about we create a photography club? let's meet and brainstorm". Yeah ! I'll go to that! So I enter the room, hands in my pocket and happy to talk about influences, composition, places where we could go to shoot landscapes etc. My first surprise came from the fact that a half of the attendees carried a fully loaded photography equipement bag; and those bags look ed heavy with tripods and strobes, the full package. And it's only guys. Are we going to shoot anything?  Is it the wrong room where they do a gay porn amateur casting?
15 minutes later my pants are still on, it appears it is the photography club room indeed. The hosts have kicked off the conversation by a rather normal "what do you expect from that club" but it's still going all over the place, little structure which it's understandable after a long day of work. Who wants another boring meeting. Then I asked 
-"hey what's with all the gear?". 
Boom baby! Bad idea... That's when I was made aware of the segmentation of this audience.

1. The dudes with the heavy bags. 
Those were craving for the "what's with the gear" question. They had from 5 to 15 G's worth of gear with them and oh boy did they want to show it off. It was a matter of social positioning, like in a high school reunion when you can't wait for someone to ask
-"so what do you do now?
-I'm riiiich I'm so fuckiinnnnng riiiicchhhhher than all of you!  Ok now I can go home, boy that feels good". Those guys rushed on their bag opening it proudly like they were making an offer to get the King's daughter's hand. Also they were looking at each other's bag to figure out who was the alpha, ready to throw a judgmental comment in a faked nice tone. Those guys had really funny combinations of gear: the starting point was usually a Canon 5D. Then, according to the rules of compensation, the 400mm huge white telezoom was the one piece to own. Shooting safaris? No no, but in a street they could point at stuff and say "look look how well I can see it". Also shooting a couple of homeless dudes without having to come too close. We never know, you could catch poverty. Also a couple of exotic lenses, like a 3000$ 6mm fisheye (???????). Those guys made their point, other guys in the rooms should look up to them.

"Hey man look at those nice pixels! wow nice dude, wait i'll go get a bigger lens in my Hummer" Apologies to those guys who might be actually shooting wildlife, but some meetings looked the same.
2. The complete beginners. 
Coming to learn out of others, with a large range of motivations behind them. From the ones trying to understand the gear they got, to the ones with no gear but who just really enjoy a photo exhibit and would like to give it a go. Half those guys entered worship mode when the first category above mentioned opened their bags of candy. The other half was like "oh come on, you guys can compare your dicks in the other room where the gay casting is". 

3. The in-betweeners
Those with a decent camera but too ashamed to show it  in public. Those where the ones who could clearly feel their limitations and they came here to learn. I'm not saying they were limited talent wise. They might have just lacked motivation, opportunities to shoot, skills on how to use their gear, etc. A large chunk of those guys unfortunately believed that they were mostly limited by the fact that they needed the gear displayed by the show offs. Hence they became the main audience of those guys.
-"Oh it's a 5Dmk XXIV with a 970mm f0.015 lens ! Can I touch? Does it take nice pictures?".
Oh now the lens takes the pictures? That's new. In that case I'll just tell my camera to go shoot stuff and I'll  stay home to play Borderland 2. The problem is that this specific segment of the audience still has a chance to be educated into paying attention to the right stuff: composition, exposure, framing, getting inspired by great photographs, etc. But no matter how you put it, the gear conversation seems more interesting. I assume that's because there is no uncertainty: if you pay, you get it. It's not like being inspired or talented. And even when you are, it doesn't mean you're going to pull a good shot anyway. Doisneau used to say "If I knew the recipe for a good picture, I'd only take good pictures!"

   Anyway, after 15 mins of peni... photo equipment show and tell, some one reframed the conversation. 
-"Ok we get it, you guys want to be able to have gear try outs, check. What else?" 
At this moment, my naive sense of hope leads me to think that the conversation on great reporters of the 60ies will start, that we'll speak of the parallels in composition between painting and photography -I exaggerate a little here to sound arty and intellectual- that finally it'll be about pictures. Oh wait, some guy wants to project on the big screen ! Yes we're about to see a picture. Screen turns on...aaaaand...vomit.

I am now facing a 2 by 3 meters horrible piece of HDR pushed so hard that it seems like cell shading in a video game.  Then the question falls: 
-"I want to learn how to do that". 
Yeah. Right. "What's your favorite Twilight movie" would have been a more appropriate question, and probably somehow more related to photography. I look at the audience, for the first sign of hostility. That guy definitely fits  the rules of engagement, somebody open fire please ! 
-"Oh yes me too actually". 

Damnit, this is a lost cause, it's like trying to explain a Justin Bieber audience why Tchaikovsky is awesome (here I am also showing off, coz truthfully by I've been taken to my first opera last week,  Iolanta by tchaikovsky, great stuff).

So here we are, they start projecting things that are essentially a compilation of cheap catchy visual effects, super intense blur, stuff that goes fast but that is sharp, fish eye, HDR, night skies, stuff taken in the dark but where the noise is kinda ok, stuff that was really far away, etc etc. I feel like a bunch of rednecks are being mesmerized by siliconed hookers in an Amsterdam display window, while they would not notice if Natalie Portman walked by them. 

And then, when I though we've hit rock bottom, something I should have seen coming happened: one of the 5Ds guys decided to show us his work. Ok I'll pick that one time when it sucked real bad. I've seen guys taking very clean, academically good shots. But then it's not funny to tell. 
So that guy starts displaying his portfolio. It contains about 500 images, which tells you how satisfied he is with his work and how much efforts he puts in self criticism. We have all the usual homeless portraits, the usual kids portraits, couple of kittens, couple of sunsets, couples in parks loving each other very naturally. All of them have in common that they are sharp (thank you 5000$ camera!), which is actually what qualified them to be in the portfolio. The quality of the above mentioned portfolio having been confirmed on Flickr by "wow, great shots, so sharp!", it is now carved in stone and not open for debate. 
Most of those shots are horribly composed, with things like two subjects one behind the other, both being in focus, no risk whatsoever in the framing since it's totally random anyway, exposition in full auto. Overall you can tell he shot 3000 images and kept the 50 best.
But that's not my favorite part. Here is my favorite part: the "model" photoshoot when the guy convinced the best looking girl he knows among his acquaintances to pose for him in swimwear, in his uncle's garden (because his house looks nicer, he's like the rich one in the family), or on the hood of his dad's car (because what's the difference between a red Mazda MX5 and an Aston Martin). 

Told you ! 

The girl can go from actually good looking to plain comedy. What I love the most is the girl who's convinced she's a super hottie according to our same Amsterdam display windows standards, and who poses like a on a cheap Vegas flyer for his photographer cousin. Priceless family moments. 
The result is usually pathetic poses with subtle attempts at making you believe it's about the eyes (crossing arms under the breasts happens to be accidental), or the usual decors elements that haven't been removed from the scene before shooting (garbage bin in the back etc.) An other personal best is the studio background made of bed sheets. This one is just out of this world ! Here is an example because seriously, I don't possess the narrative skills to describe this shit. Oh and because I had to see a lot of dicks on Flickr to find one, there's no reason you don't get some too:

Finally, there is the priceless reactions in the room: the beginners are looking at it with a mix of suspicion and faked admiration. Wondering when the hell that guy will be done exposing his cousin / sister / wife / wife's sister he secretly wants to bang. 

I could go on and on about how most tend to force contrast, saturation and vignetting like a little girl putting on make up for the first time, but I'll spare you.

Of course, in none of those cases did I stay in the club. One time I even admit I've been lazy and didn't really do anything to level it up. Too much work not enough free time. I should watch my commitments. 
Anyway, here is my advice if you want to set up a photography club in your company, school or group of friends:
  • Forbid gear talk. There is seriously enough of it online to fullfil anybody's needs. If someone wants to try a piece that belongs to an other dude, then can send each other emails. 
  • Temper the show off, encourage the shyest to express themselves. 
  • Have a "shut up and accept the critic" time when people know that they will be facing subjective opinions about their work. It's about fuel for the brain, maybe they agree, maybe not, but it's good to hear constructive points like : "I'm wondering if isolating this part with less depth wouldn't make the story stronger?"
  • Shoot, organize sessions where you start by showing a few inspirational great images to define a theme, then every body out to shoot !
  • You're only as good as your worst picture. When it comes to showing other, only show what you believe is your best. Don't show something just because you like some effect. Or show it if you can explain what you were trying to do, and you still can't tell why it didn't work.
  • Promote shooting in full manual mode with just spot metering. If it's about learning, you need to be able to do yourself what all that engineering tries to do for you. Why? Because no computer can understand what you are trying to capture, don't let technology get in the way. This way everybody will be equal in the group.

see ya next time !


  1. IT would be so funny if it were not so true and I went 'really' wanting to learn something about becoming a better photographer.

  2. This made my night. So funny and cringeworthy true.
    Unfortunately I'm a bit of a gear whore myself, but do limit it to online discussions. It is a curse and if I don't watch out, it'll drag all the joy out of photography and transform it into a fiest of agony where the only thing in focus is the gear and the frantic changing of lenses to get all the angles done and no opportunity wasted. Ah.
    To confess something else, I actually sold my beloved 50/1.2 in one of those fits of "need something new"-madness, "AF-S is tha thing"-stupidity. Lesson learned and baby is coming back to me soon. We'll kiss and make up and walk into the sunset together and I shall never again succumb to the evil that is gear lust. Cross my heart.
    Truly enjoying reading through your blog.


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