Two years ago, while “surfing,” I discovered Mark Perry‘s, MPEG Forums. Over the years, I have participated in a number of photography-based forums, dating back to the old AOL photography forums. Some of them have come and gone, like so many other things in life. I have found them to be good resources, and a base for making some good friends. Some of them are free to join (depending on advertisers for their cost of maintenance). Others have found it necessary to charge a fee to maintain their desired content standards. Mark’s has a very modest fee in comparison to other current forums of like quality (currently $20, but will increase in January). Like any forum, your own mileage is going to vary, but I also believe that it has great potential to be what its members make it. On one high quality forum that I have been a paying member of for some time, there has been a recent significant decline in member participation for reasons unknown to me. MPEG has good member participation on the forums, but a less obvious value is how it serves as a resource for other photographic activity. There is one in particular that makes it, in my view, worth the price of admission. Two years ago, MPEG coordinator Scott Mitchell and I were in daily e-mail contact in early October about conditions in the Michigan Upper Peninsula (we “Michiganians” call it “the U.P.”). I had been trying for years to get a fall foliage reflection on one of the National Forest Lakes up there and he was able to help me “dial in” the ideal time. My result was a beautiful, full color foliage reflection shot, near Scott’s town, Munising, Michigan. It might not have been possible without the forum connection.
MPEG‘s self-styled, “chief enthusiast,” Mark Perry, came up with a great concept, early on, that he calls “Groupshoots” (abbreviated, “GS”). These are organized trips to photo destinations for members. They are led and coordinated by either Mark himself, or other members/coordinators who have local knowledge of the particular area. Some of them have become much anticipated annual events (like the Michigan U.P. Fall Foliage shoot in October each year, led by UP coordinator, Scott Mitchell who lives and photographs, on a daily basis in the “heart” of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and knows place and conditions that most people are completely unaware of).
I have not participated in group shoots to the extent that I would like (and should, given their benefit). As a concept it really is a great idea. Not to denigrate photography workshops here (there are photographers who make a significant part of their professional income conducting workshops – some of them are my friends). Workshops have their place and I have attended some and will probably attend more in the future. But the group shoot offers what I think may be the most valuable and sought after component of most workshops for most advanced enthusiast photographers. It offers an opportunity to go to a sought-after photo destination and have a local guide show you the “spots.” It gives you the insights about when and where to be in each destination and other issues of local knowledge. Because they are organized by persons with knowledge of the site, they are set during the proper time of the year for the best photographic conditions. They offer the opportunity to “network” with other photographers (for some that is a value). But there is no “fee” paid to the leader or coordinator; no “classroom” style programs, critiques or other reviews. The leader, coordinator will usually be shooting right along with everyone else.
Obviously for someone who is seeking some instruction, having the workshop leader looking through your viewfinder and giving compositional tips, as well as the “classroom” portion, these will not meet expectations. That is not to say that there won’t be an exchange of techniques, ideas, etc. Only that it will be informal and there will not be someone assigned to do that. OTOH, the cost of the group shoot is normally exactly equal to the incidental costs of a workshop (i.e., travel, lodging and meals). Pretty good arrangement and a great idea, Mark!
There are many other advantages to the MPEG forums. My participation there has lead me to several “back-channel” private conversations and relationships with other participants. None better than my budding relationship with professional photographer, James Moore, who is a regional coordinator on the forum. Jim has been a resource for me for professional critique, consultation on some economic matters, and more recently some insights for one of the group shoot locations. He has given of his time, expertise and talent freely on the forum, which is a benefit that cannot really be appreciated until you look into pricing of one-on-one workshops, critiques, etc. There are other professionals on the forum who I have not had the pleasure to get to know yet. But they all freely contribute. This October, I met Jim at a Group Shoot location and he was able, again, to help with the decision process about timing and some insight about location for a shot of the Glade Creek Grist Mill, in Babcock State Park, West Virginia.
I strongly encourage enthusiast photographers at any level to sign up. The forum is a friendly place, offering advice and assistance to new photographers and seasoned image-makers alike. I am not sure exactly what qualifies as the “Midwest,” I do know that Mark is friendly, approachable, and very responsive and I imagine any new member is welcome, no matter their own geographical location.