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Midwest Photography Enthusiast Group (MPEG)

Deer Lake, Michigan UP - Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

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.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park, W. Virginia; copyright 2011 Andy Richards

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.


4 Responses

  1. Hey Andy. Two points about “groupshoots.” First, the rest of the photo internet world calls them “photo walks.” 🙂 The first one that I participated in was Scott Kelby’s international photo walk which he runs through NAPP and Adobe. I actually won the walk in my region. I almost never when contests.

    How? This leads me to the second point.

    Over the years, you’ve been very kind in discussing my pictures usually using words that basically mean something about my vision. My vision isn’t all that great. It’s just that I seek uniqueness rather than the “spot.”

    I watched it happen during that first photo walk. I lead the pack. I really never want anyone to find my “spots.” When the group saw me and headed toward me, I headed some place else, often using a bit of mis direction and subterfuge.

    I suppose if I started teaching workshops, I’d have to give up my spots. But… my spots are almost impossible to find since they usually correspond to whatever the music in my head happens to be when I’m working. At the end of the day, I try to photograph the feel of a place as encapsulated by the phrase, “what does it feel like to…”

    I don’t often achieve that, but when I do those are my best pictures.

    Best, Ray

    • Ray: Thanks for your comment. I always appreciate when you comment here, and am flattered that you come an look :-).

      I haven’t actually participated in a lot of the “groupshoots.” I like to do my own homework about a place and prefer to shoot either alone, or with a very small group (one or two others) who are comfortable with each following our own intuitions and not having to “stay together.” I am sure that some of my own best work has been when I have been all by myself and immersed in what I was doing.

      I use the word “vision” for lack of any better one. Don’t want that to be misleading to anyone and suggest that you haven’t worked very hard for what you have accomplished. I like the way you describe it as “whatever music is playing in your head.” However we characterize it, your quest for unique work has been very successful!

      Best regards and thanks again for your input here.

      • Interesting thoughts. I’ve come to believe that photography is a solo pursuit at whatever level you pursue it. It’s the being in the zone thing, I suppose. It usually tell those folks who aren’t photographers that it all comes down to practice, practice, practice… and sometimes just like anything, that’s really hard to do. It’s gotten easy for me while we are in New Orleans because I shoot 16-32 gigs of new material a week. Easy place to photograph. But, we’ll be going back to HK after Christmas and in time for the new school year and things get harder for some reason. I’m not sure which place is really my real life.

        I usually read your blog. Sometimes I just don’t have much to say.


  2. I appreciate that a lot, Ray. The original “inspiration” for my blog being anything more than about places I go and photos I make was when I began “tutoring” my sister and then later, another beginning photographer, and decided to starting putting some of my ideas and musings out there. Doubt you would learn anything from me — I always looked at that the other way around :-). But its nice to have you among my readership and when you do have something to say, its always a plus for the blog!

    I think both of your U.S. “homes” in NO and in NM, there are seemingly endless photographic subjects. You should try spending a week in Saginaw, MI sometime, LOL. But then, I have no doubt you would come away with some compelling images!

    best regards

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