If you had the motivation, the money, and the time to work with a challenging mentor, it is likely you would improve your photography fairly quickly. But most of us don’t have the money. And even if you are retired, you probably don’t have the time to do the “homework” your mentor would give you every day.
But what if you were able to meet with a group of motivated amateur photographers? What if your group were committed to working together to improve their photography? The Peer Mentor Program of the Teton Photography Club is a group of advancing amateur photographer that has grown significantly over the past five years. We started with 8 photographers and now have more than 40, although the Covid-19 has been a social hurdle for us.
Our Monthly Theme Challenge helped us get motivated in a new way a number of years ago. And during this “zoom-year” the theme challenge has kept up going. We start each monthly peer mentor meeting with a discussion and vote on the best photo for the theme challenge. The winner then gets to choose the theme for the next month.
The person who chooses the theme also sends me a number of Monthly On-Line Articles which I put on our club website. The purpose of the articles is to help the peer mentors explore a variety of ways to take photos that are in-line with the theme. I must admit that not everyone explores the ideas presented in the articles – heck, I was a teacher and I know that “students” don’t always do their homework 🙂 But the articles can be very helpful for some members. I will begin to share them on the Resources Page of the FirstAnAmateur website in the near future to encourage readers to join our monthly challenge. More on that later.
So why does a monthly challenge motivate advancing amateur photographers? How many photos did you take in January & February (in 2020 I took 284) and how does that number compare with the number of photos you will take in June & July (I took 1,115)? Ah-ha, if you are like me (and don’t live in Florida or South Carolina or somewhere in the south), I suspect that you take 3 or 4 times as many photos in the summer than you take in the winter. And maybe you don’t take any photos in the winter. But if you have a Theme Challenge every month, and you have a personal connection with a few peers, you are more likely to get off-the-couch and get some photos for the monthly challenge.
I must admit that I don’t always take lots of theme photos every month, but the theme challenge does get me to take some photos, even when the weather is horrible. I don’t mean to suggest that some of you are lazy. But I understand when the season seems non-photogenic, or when you feel like you must stay home (e.g., covid-19 challenges), it is easy to decide to get out tomorrow … and never get out at all. But IF you feel that you have made a commitment to your fellow peer mentors, you will find a way to take some photos … no matter what. And I believe that pays off ! And you may be surprised by the pay-off; you may find a “theme” you decide to include in your photos quite regularly.
The monthly theme will get you to think outside your comfort zone, and maybe find an interesting approach in your composition . When we first started the monthly themes they were topics that most folks included in their photos: flowers, portraits, weather, landscapes, or wildlife. But as we continued to use the monthly themes we added new topics that were more challenging like Black & White, Abstract, Macro, Panoramas, and Shadows. And recently I have added another set of themes that are focused on Photography Composition like Natural Frames, Negative Space, Foreground Interest, Vanishing Point, and Symmetry. The purpose of these themes is to challenge the peer mentors to think, and take photos, outside their comfort zone and to learn new photography approaches. The challenge is working as the winners often are sharing photos that are quite creative.
I will try to post the results of our PMP Theme Challenge every month in the FaA. Sometimes I’ll include what I learned from the meeting, or what the group seems to have learned, and maybe I’ll get you involved if you are interested. Take a look at the Monthly Theme Topic Selection (I’ll probably add it to our FaA Resources) to get ideas about what themes might be of interest for you. And if you are interested in starting your own peer mentor group and have any questions, let me know. I would be glad to help.
In March 2021 our theme was Running Water. That seemed like a reasonable theme to have as the spring approached in the mountains. We have lots of snow (LOTS!) and the weather in March usually results in melting snow with streams beginning to fill, waterfalls running, and many options for running water. Back in the day, we usually had very similar submissions on a topic like this. But as we continue to have monthly theme challenges the entries are becoming more creative and unusual. There were 14 submissions and 20 zoom attendees for the March meeting.
The peer mentors have discussed the value of receiving feedback for their photos, so I revised our theme challenge discussion to ensure that every entry received informational feedback. After the first-round voting, I asked the group to please share their feedback on each of the photos that did NOT make the final photo vote since the all the photos of the final voting are discussed in some detail. We had a valuable discussion of each of the photos without knowing who had submitted the photo. At the end of the meeting the group stated that this feedback was particularly valuable for the person who had taken the photo but also for others in the group. Informational feedback helps all of us, even when the feedback is about a photo someone else took !
The voting resulted in four Finalists and the gallery below has each of those photos, in no particular order. To view more details of these photos, click on one of the photos and then use the arrows to move thru the 4 photos. When you are finished, click on the “X” in the upper right-hand corner to return to the blog. Which of the 4 photos is your favorite and why? Please put “your vote” in the comment section with your feedback about the four finalists. I was not one of the finalists.
I don’t think it would be appropriate to add non-peer mentor photos to our monthly Theme Photo Challenge zoom meetings. But if a few non-peer mentors send me a photo for the theme, I might choose to add it to the blog for the month to give you a chance for some informational feedback. If you might be interested, send me an e-mail.
By the way, I didn’t make the finals for the Running Water but I have posted my submission at the top of this blog as the “Featured Image.” 🙁 Just kidding about the sad-face.
But there is something that is a BIG SMILE for me. I’ve had a wonderful 4+ years to learn with my peer mentor colleagues and I look forward to the future, especially once the Covid-19 is controlled. The peer mentors have helped me improve my photography way more than a professional mentor could have helped me. I’ve made quite a few photography friends that encourage me, give me great honest feedback, and are always there to answer my questions.
Maybe you could start a Peer Mentor Program to help yourself and other advancing amateur photographers !