When members of the Long Island Photography Meetup get together, they often take road trips to picture-worthy locations. But on a clear night in August, the social group is focusing closer to its home base in Glen Cove at the city’s waterfront Morgan Park.
The reason for the shorter trip is an opportunity to pursue the group’s other favorite photographic pastime: using digital cameras for “light painting,” creating abstract images by photographing spinning LED lights and flaming balls of steel wool. But before tonight’s artificial pyrotechnics begin, there’s a natural light show about to start on the horizon that also draws interest.
“I came to shoot the sunset,” says Michael Chachkes, 73, of Deer Park, a retired sales representative for a lighting company. He’s one of 10 club members, most of them retirees with no morning wake-up call to worry about, who’ve come to the parking lot at the appointed hour — 7 p.m. — with their Sonys, Nikons, travel tripods and other photography gear.
Bonnie Forman Franco, a retired audiologist from Jericho who is in her mid-60s, was also lured by the natural light show. “I’ll do sunset with the boats, and try and get something in the background, maybe a lifeguard chair,” Franco says, taking her Nikon D750 to the beach.
By 8 p.m., swimmers and anglers have left the shoreline, and Sylvia Goldkranz and Arlene Krassner, both of Merrick, and Laurie Ellis of Glen Cove, have set up their tripods in the sand. They wait as the sun begins its descent for their most satisfying images. “The best time for color is after the sun goes down,” says Goldkranz, 52, a mammography technologist, snapping photo after photo with a wide-angle lens.
“The colors evolve,” explains Krassner, 67, a school nurse, who operates her Sony digital camera with an iPhone app.
“I call it the afterglow,” adds Ellis, 59, a real estate broker who’s been taking photos since she was a kid. She joined the meetup not only for the photo ops but also for the chance to hang out with good friends who have matching interests. “I love the camaraderie with fellow photographers,” Ellis says.
If you have a camera, a computer with internet service and a yen for creating photographic art, the 280-member Long Island Photography Meetup welcomes more shutterbugs to fill its ranks. For a $6 fee when you join and annual dues of $6 thereafter, you can learn about photography in workshops and put your lessons to practice at meetups in the tri-state area. You’ll also be encouraged to share your images with friends and family on social media sites.
“We’re all on social media,” Goldkranz says. Club members go beyond Flickr and Instagram to post on lesser-known sites such as 500px.com, the photo contest site viewbug.com, the Ugly Hedgehog photography forum (uglyhedgehog.com) and dpreview.com.
They thrive on the informal gatherings, where members talk about their hobby and share helpful tips as they envision the picture-perfect moment. Meetups are “a great way to meet people who share a similar passion,” says Roni Chastain, organizer for the Long Island Photography Meetup for the past six years. Most of the two to four meetups announced each month attract 25 to 30 members, and as many as 50 have shown up at larger venues, Chastain says. Members RSVP on the club’s website and, when only a limited number are allowed, the first members to accept are the ones who get to attend, she says. (The Morgan Park session was not an official meetup, but rather an unofficial gathering for “light painters,” she says.)
Chastain, who retired from nursing after 32 years, brings decades of work and photographic experience to her volunteer position. She grew up in Massapequa Park and graduated from Farmingdale High School. Chastain, who declined to give her age, bought her first single-lens reflex camera, known as “SLR,” in 1975, and eventually turned semipro, starting her own business, creating photo invitation cards for schools, hotels and country clubs. With a natural aptitude for photography, she completed a three-year online course in 18 months with the New York Institute of Photography in Manhattan. “They bought two of my images, and I got merit awards from them,” she says.
Chastain also found a way to combine her nursing career with her interest in photography — with a bit of educational activism thrown in for good measure.
“I worked in a maternal and child health program as a certified Lamaze instructor, and I started photographing women who were breast feeding,” she says. She created a slideshow, showing “the normalcy of breast-feeding,” which she marketed to a lactation consultant and childbirth educators around the world. “A doctor wrote a book on breast-feeding, and he bought some of my images,” she says. Her pregnancy and breast-feeding images, which feature infants, toddlers and twins, as well as nursing animals, are posted online at nursingbabies.com.
Chastain’s love of digital photography found another outlet 11 years ago, when she became one of the handful of original club members.
Her specialty is finding unique, historic and even iconic meetup locations, a task that can require some finesse to turn a standard tour into a photo tour.
“I spend a lot of time on the phone” making arrangements, she says. “When we did a tour of the Brooklyn Army Terminal and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, most of us were not as interested in hearing the stories and history of the facility. We just wanted to photograph it.”
Gravestones were the subject of a recent excursion to Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and there was also a meetup at the Wolf Conservation Center in upstate South Salem.
Chastain’s persistence has also helped members tour an exclusive male enclave — the men’s rooms at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan — while the historic theater was closed. “All the bathrooms are different, and they are all Art Deco,” Chastain says, explaining the photographic value of a lavatory.
Chastain, who is divorced, has two daughters — Aimee, 45, a pediatric occupational therapist and a yoga instructor who lives in Stamford, Conn.; Lindsay, 30, who lives in Maryland and works as a project manager for Lockheed Martin in Washington, D.C. — and two grandchildren. “When my kids got a little bit older, seven years ago, I went to Africa for the first time, to Tanzania,” Chastain says. She’s presented her slideshow about the trip at a number of public libraries on Long Island.
On a return trip to Africa in June, Chastain almost crossed paths with Franco, when both were on separate photo tours of Namibia, a nation in southern Africa known for abundant wildlife.
Back home, at the Morgan Park meetup, their tripods are lined up in the dark at a corner of the park. Club-members wear protective gear and take turns creating the effects for what they call “burning steel wool photography.” To create the fire, steel wool is put inside a holder shaped like a wire whisk. The holder is ignited with a lighter and spun on a chain, sending off sparks and resulting in photos resembling abstract art.
When an auxiliary police officer cruises by and informs them they have to leave in 10 minutes, they take the time to click off a few more shots in the dark.
Chastain, who says she has captured some spectacular scenes in her travels is still impressed by the abstract image in her viewfinder. “Wow,” she says, “it looks like a spaceship.”
Pick your shots
The next Long Island Photography Meetup in this area will be 1-5 p.m., Oct. 29, at LongHouse Reserve, 133 Hands Creek Rd., East Hampton. The entrance fee is $18 per person. If you are not currently a member of the group but want to attend, email organizer Roni Chastain at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the group, go to meetup.com/LI-Photographers
— JIM MERRITT