How to stop your camera club dying a slow death

I teach photography online to more than 10,000 beginner photographers every year. Every single one of them has thought at some point about joining a local camera club. I can count on one hand the number who have actually tried a club, stayed, and now look forward to their meetings. That's a lot of disappointed beginners who have had their confidence knocked, and a huge wasted opportunity for thousands of photographers who would benefit from having a local support group. 

Imagine how it would be to have a thriving club, with new members queuing up to join, recommending it to their friends and finding a new outlet for their creativity. What if you could pass on your knowledge in a way that isn't intimidating, but encourages everyone to try things, make mistakes and have fun? 

I know that it is partly up to new members to make an effort to join in, but I do think that camera clubs are doubly intimidating: already struggling with the idea of taking control of their kit, beginners then have to walk into a well-established group with all the social challenges that presents. 

If your club has a waiting list, is forward-looking and doing fine, you don't need to read on. But if not, try some of these ideas to tempt new members both to try out your club and more importantly, to stay with you and enjoy themselves.

I asked my students what they'd like to see camera clubs do differently for new beginner members:

1. Have a buddy-up system

Pair up a new member with an existing member. One who is prepared to do the introductions, show them how the club works, and answer any questions. 

2. Competition policy

Not all clubs are the same. Have a website that makes it crystal clear what your priorities are when it comes to competitions. Are you completely focussed on public competition success? Say so - not everyone is. Do you never do competitions, either public or private? Do you do a monthly internal competition? How is it judged? 

3. Are you social online?

Do you have a Facebook group? If new members can join you online first it can be a great way for them to meet existing members and get a feel for the club. If you do have a FB group, make sure someone is checking regularly for new members, to make them welcome. 

4. Photoshop policy

Are the old-guard all keen Photoshoppers to the exclusion of all other software? This one comes up a lot with my students and we don't have an easy answer. I think if all your editing advice is PS-exclusive, you should make that clear before anyone pays a membership fee. But even better - why not get people who use different software to do demos so people who can't afford PS can join in. My students have persuaded me (kicking and screaming) that Affinity is a great alternative to Lightroom for those who don't want to pay a subscription. It really is - it's not bad at all. 

5. Have "complete beginner" nights

Do you remember what it was like not knowing you needed to clean your lens? Or not to take your card out of the camera when it was switched on? Or that you can't disable the pop-up flash on Auto mode, only on Program? Ask everyone (new and old) to write down (anonymously) their most basic questions, and have an evening where they are all answered. 

6. What's your website like?

One of my students recommended her local camera club as being very welcoming to photographers of all levels. This comes across in their website - it's aimed at helping members rather than promoting the committee. Look at this helpful repositary of advice from Hagley Camera Club: Hagley CC tips and guides 

What does your website need?

- frequently asked questions page

- how to join (including "try before you buy")

- photos of members in action

- contact page 

- links to social media pages

Think twice about putting all your members' best shots on your website. Many potential new members will be put off by seeing something they can't manage yet, rather than being encouraged that they will be taking shots like that in the future. 

7. Do you always end up at the pub?

Not everyone likes a drink (really). Can you switch it up a bit?

8. How much do you talk about kit?

Please don't make beginners feel bad because they "just" have a bridge camera. The physics is exactly the same, and it is so, so offputting to think you might never take a good photo unless you can spend £1,000 on kit. Can you have a policy of "all kit and all abilities welcome"?

 

Have your say

Do you help run a camera club? What would you like to say to new members? What could they do to help themselves and the club? Let me know below and I'll do a follow-up post:


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Emma Davies