2021 Learning from/with the Peer Mentors

Sorry for the long FirstAnAmateur delay.  I don’t have an excuse, but I do have a New Year’s Resolution with some help from my peer mentor colleagues.  If you have followed my blog from the start you know that I began a Peer Mentor Program (PMP) in March 2016.  I have referred to the PMP many times, but my 2021 resolution is to bring the PMP and the peer mentors into the blog.  The peer mentors have had a big impact on my photography and also helped me explore how a group of amateur photographers can work together to improve their photography … and enjoy it along the way.

During a crazy busy January, I have given a lot of thought to how the peer mentors and the PMP have changed just about everything I do in photography.  I probably could have improved my photography by myself in South Bend IN (where I lived for 37 years).  But living in the beautiful Teton mountains and having many wonderful photo colleagues have completely changed my approach and my photos.  During 2021 I plan on sharing with you how our PMP has impacted our photography by including our photos, describing the strategies we use at our monthly meetings, and revealing the personal support we give one another even in a pandemic year.

During 2021 I plan on sharing many of the strategies we have used over the past five year including how I “tweaked” these approaches and how they impacted our interpersonal relationships as well as our photographs. Today I’m going to begin by sharing a strategy we have used for about a year that has worked out well in our “Zoom-Life”. 

Starting in April 2020 the Teton Photography Club decide to move to a Zoom approach to continue our “interactions.” The Peer Mentor Program moved from two meetings a month to one Zoom meeting.  I was worried that we might lose a lot of our peer mentors.  It turned out that the attendance wasn’t as large (some people were concerned about social distancing) but we continued with 15-20 peer mentors attending our on-line meetings.  We continued our monthly “Theme Challenge”, which we have used at our meetings for a couple years and I integrated more feedback/critiques into our voting and discussion.

In the past year it has been quite clear to me that the majority of the peer mentors do not prefer competition.  In 2020 the TPC decided to have competition with prize money that was determined by judges.  A clear majority of the peer mentors preferred feedback to a monetary prize, and from a discussion we had it was clear to me that I should integrate more feedback into our meetings.  Rather than simply voting on which photo was the best photo for the theme, I integrated more feedback into our voting before the peer mentors knew who the photographer was for each photo.  As the year progressed I have tried to encourage more “information” into our feedback.

At the beginning of each “Theme Challenge” meeting, we discuss what the attendees would be looking for in the photos that had been submitted.  After the first year of reviewing and voting on “Theme Challenge” photos we realized that most of us were not voting on whether an image “met the theme” but rather we voted on which photo was our favorite.  Early in 2020 the theme was Negative Space and after the voting and the discussion we realized that the winning photos (we usually pick at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place) did not really fit the “definition” of negative space. 

Since that meeting I have started the meeting with a discussion of the Theme Challenge to encourage the peer mentors to think about, and base their vote upon, what we should be looking for in our voting.  In some meetings the theme has a fairly clear “artistic definition” (e.g., Vanishing Point, Symmetry, or Natural Framing) while in other there is no clear artistic definition (e.g., Shadow, Weather, or Ice).  But to start each meeting we discuss what we should look for in our voting decisions.

This month I received 15 ICE Theme Challenge photos.  The voting begins with everyone having 5 votes which then allows us to narrow down the field to 5 finalist photos.  Since I recognized how important feedback was to our peer mentors, I present the top 5 photos to the group (using Lightroom) and have a discussion.  For a theme like symmetry, we discuss how each of the 5 photos meets the “artistic definition” as well as other aspects like composition, lighting, etc.  For a theme like ICE I encourage the peer mentors to share what they like about the composition, lighting etc in the image, and then each person has one vote.

This January our theme was ICE and I received 15 very different photos of ICE.  In the space below are the top 5 photos but they are in no particular order.  Take a few minutes to “review” these five photos and in the comment section at the bottom of the blog, vote on what you believe to be the #1 photo AND explain why you have chosen that photo.  I will wait about a week until I have given all of you a chance to vote, and then I will let you know the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and tie for 4th place in the voting of the peer mentor.  The peer mentors LOVE to get feedback and I am sure they would like to hear feedback that goes beyond “Beautiful” or “Awesome” … Tell us WHY you like that photo!  What is it you like about it?

Peer Mentor #1

Peer Mentor #2

Peer Mentor #3

Peer Mentor #4

Peer Mentor #5


Our January Peer Mentor Zoom Meeting began with 15 ICE photos.  About 20 or 25 peer mentors each received 5 votes and the outcome was that these 5 photos were given feedback and then each peer mentor in the group voted for 1 on these photo as the best ICE Photo.  Which do YOU think is the best ICE photo AND WHY.  Please vote on your choice and explain why you believe it is the best photo !