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Virtually picture-perfect: Camera clubs incorporate online meetings

Amateur photographers on Long Island have been staying connected via online meetings, but on Sept. 9, Barbara Crane, president of the Wantagh Camera Club, held the club's first socially distanced gathering since the pandemic. Credit: Johnny Milano

When New York’s "pause" order went into effect in mid-March canceling nonessential in-person gatherings, the Huntington Camera Club’s board wondered whether the COVID-19 pandemic would challenge the existence of its nearly 55-year-old photography group.

"When we first shut down and we were no longer permitted to meet at the Huntington Public Library, we weren’t sure how to move forward and we thought we might not meet until the world started up again because many of our members are older and fall into a category of risk," recalled club president Deidre Elzer-Lento, 62, of Asharoken. "But our board said, ‘We can’t stop. We need to find a platform to keep going.’ "

Several board members had used Zoom for teleconferencing and training sessions at work and wondered whether the software program would be right for the club’s photography meetings and competitions. After the board held three successful virtual test meetings, it gave its approval for the club’s technology committee to roll out the program for its nearly 110 members, she said. The group’s Zoom meetings launched April 7, and its first online competition was Sept. 15.

Likewise, pandemic precautions prevented the Wantagh Camera Club from meeting at the Wantagh Public Library, where it had gathered each month between September and June for the past 50 years. Anxious to kick off the club’s 2020-21 season, president Barbara Crane held its first socially distanced meeting on Sept. 9, al fresco, in her Massapequa Park backyard. Among the topics on the agenda: pivoting to remote-only meetings and competitions.

"We are trying to stay together to keep going until this COVID problem passes," said Crane, who is also a marketing and communications executive. "…It’s been a horrible situation for everyone worldwide and we don’t want to ruin what has been in existence for decades, so we are trying to come up with a way to keep people engaged because we are an award-winning group of passionate photographers."

Holding a Zoom tutorial

While some of the Wantagh Camera Club’s 20 members may not have grown up with computers, Crane says, they are "up on the latest operating systems and software," such as Adobe Photoshop, to edit and retouch their images. Yet, she says, a few members at the meeting raised questions about how to use Zoom, so she plans to host a tutorial for the club on Sept. 23.

Many camera clubs across Long Island, like Huntington’s and Wantagh’s, that held in-person gatherings before the pandemic hit may soon see their meetings shift online, said Robert Warshauer, president of the Photographic Federation of Long Island, a nonprofit organization of 22 camera clubs from Long Island, Queens and the Bronx. Virtual meetings keep club members socially connected while apart and help reduce the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 among people with underlying medical conditions and older, more vulnerable adults, which make up the majority of camera club memberships.

Because of social-distancing mandates, the main objective of the Huntington and Wantagh camera clubs in the coronavirus era is to bring members together virtually to "foster an interest in photography," said Robert Guido, 77, delegate, or interim, board member of the Huntington Camera Club, and to share ideas, knowledge and insight to improve members’ skills and abilities.

During weekly meetings, seasoned club members and guest speakers teach the group the nuts and bolts of photography — from composition, proper lighting, and editing software to discussing the nuances of camera equipment and tripods.

"Our club feeds your passion and allows you to have access to other people who can answer your questions and help guide you to whatever direction your photographic passion may take, whether it be photographing your travels, your grandchildren or street scenes in Manhattan," said Huntington’s Elzer-Lento. "We can all lift up our phones and take a snapshot, but can you lift up your phone and take a photo that is worthwhile to hang on your wall? That’s what we show people."

Since Margaret Tumino-Mills of Huntington joined the Huntington Camera Club last fall, she says she has already learned how to photograph crisper images and aspires to become a quick study in editing software. "I’ve been exposed to amazing photographers and have already learned new techniques," she said. "It’s really inspiring and nice to be part of a group of like-minded people."

Club leaders say their members relish the social aspect of the meetings that remote platforms can continue to provide well beyond a pandemic. After retiring from a career in school counseling, Mary Ruppert, Huntington Camera Club’s historian, says she had lost touch with her former colleagues and that the club provided "a new group of people to be social with and talk to. You feel like you are part of something," said the Huntington resident. "We not only help each other [with photography], but we have become friends."

For Richard Hunt, 84, of Levittown, Zoom provides a virtual connection with fellow photography enthusiasts that won’t be broken by COVID-19 isolation. "The club is a huge social exercise," said the two-decades-long member of the Wantagh club who specializes in zoo photography.

Expanding horizons

Online platforms also open up opportunities to host out-of-state guest lecturers who "we could not get into the Huntington Public Library because they are sitting in their homes in Florida or Montana, but now they are accessible through Zoom," Ruppert said.

So far, the Huntington Camera Club has hosted a number of distinguished photographers, including wildlife expert Lisa Langell from Scottsdale, Arizona, and Jason P. Odell and Rick Walker, specialists in landscape and wildlife photography, from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Zoom is also changing the face of club competitions. At the Huntington Camera Club, members previously entered either digital or mounted printed images, or both. Before the competition, the judge would evaluate the digital images projected on a high-definition television screen and the printed images would be displayed on the club’s lightbox. "Now, we will do the digital images through Zoom," Guido explained. "They will appear to the judge and club members on their individual home computer screens and the judge will assign a score. It’s different with the printed images, because they need to be viewed by the judge in person, not on a screen."

While many shutterbugs embrace virtual competitions, some older members say the online events have their drawbacks. They argue that digital images lack the color quality of photographs printed on paper that are typically entered into in-person or "live" competitions.

Martin Silverstein, of Woodmere, a decadelong member of the Wantagh Camera Club, has been snapping photographs for most of his 79 years. The grandfather of six especially enjoys entering his portraits of exotic monkeys and apes he photographs at the Bronx Zoo into the club’s monthly competitions. Silverstein still plans to participate in the virtual event on Oct. 14, but he will miss the temporary absence of the "live" competitions where he used to "put his prints up on a lightbox to be judged," he said. "For the digital presentations, the colors are never true from one computer to another. Maybe a novice wouldn’t notice it. To me, prints are a more accurate rendition."

Photographer Joseph Senzatimore, 75, has been judging competitions for the Huntington club for nearly a decade. He agrees that variations in color calibration from one computer monitor to another do exist, slightly affecting the brightness and contrast of a shot. The East Meadow resident explained "it’s a variable in digital photography that has not yet been refined," but added that even before the pandemic, some clubs were limiting print images in competitions because fewer members were entering them.

Despite variations in technology, the digital age has brought Zoom, a platform that Wantagh’s Crane says will drive the club forward, not just during the pandemic but beyond.

"Before [COVID-19], we never heard of Zoom, but business organizations all across the world use it and rely on this technology," she said. "It seems to be working, so why not translate it over to use in a hobby."

Camera clubs on LI

Are you a shutterbug or want to be? Joining a camera club can improve your photographic skills and knowledge — and provide a venue for sharing your passion for the craft with other members. The Photographic Federation of Long Island, pflionline.com/member-clubs.html, features a list of its member clubs on Long Island and in New York City. Here is a selection of those clubs.

Nassau County

Nassau County Camera Club, nassaucountycameraclub.org; Dave Curtin, president, dave@davecurtinphotography.com

South Shore Camera Club of the Friedberg JCC, southshorecameraclub.net; Marty Goldenberg, Martygedi@gmail.com, 516-561-2135

Freeport Camera Club, angelfire.com/ny5/fmcc/; Barry Kurek, president, Barry.Kurek@aol.com, or John Brokos, jbrokos3@verizon.net

Photography Club of Long Island, pcliphoto.org, facebook.com/PhotographyClubofLI/; Dave Wollin, pcliphoto@gmail.com

Island Photo Group, islandphotogroup.com; Ray Shelton, president, drrayshelton@att.net; Fred Greco, membership chair, fg99@aol.com, 516-380-9929

Manhasset-Great Neck Camera Club, mgncc.org; Ronny Hachadoorian, co-president, Ronny108@Optonline.net or mgncc@optonline.net

Syosset Camera Club, syossetcc.org; Frank Kirshenbaum, president, fkirshen@optonline.net, or Barry Goldstein, membership chairman, bg1958@live.com, 516-433-5527

Wantagh Camera Club, wantaghcameraclub.com; Barbara Crane, president, 917-444-0401, bctraveler1@me.com

Suffolk County

Bellport Camera Club, bellport.com/cameraclub/; John Barnett, johneb2@optonline.net, 631-286-8109

Bretton Woods Camera Club, brettonwoodshoa.org/clubs/camera-club/; only open to residents of the Bretton Woods Condominium; Janet Pieper, tenaj505@hotmail.com

Huntington Camera Club, hccny.org; Deidre Elzer-Lento, president, deelzer@gmail.com, or Marty Kesselman, membership chair, mkesselman@optonline.net

Indian Head Photography Club, facebook.com/groups/2640957685970372/?ref=share; Kathy Baca, TheMower@aol.com

Kings Park Photography Club, kingsparkphotoclub.org; Larry Kelly, president, kingsparkphotoclub@gmail.com

Lindenhurst Camera Club; Kenneth Blanchard, president, LindenhurstCameraClub@Yahoo.com

Paumanok Camera Club, paumanokcameraclub.org; Laura Star, president, lfstar@verizon.net

Riverhead Photo Club, friendsoftheriverheadlibrary.org/photo-club/, facebook.com/groups/riverheadphotoclub; Ronald Ondrovic, president, reoimages@optonline.net

Sweetbriar Photo Club, sweetbriarphotoclub.org; Gene Keyes, president, sweetbriarphotoclub@gmail.com

Suffolk Camera Club, suffolkcameraclub.weebly.com, facebook.com/SuffolkCameraClub; Donna Larschan, board member, dragonflies11@gmail.com

— Compiled by Dorothy Levin

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