By Diane Berkenfeld
Meetup.com’s mission is to “revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize.” Meetup believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.
Currently more than 7 million people are Meetup members. There are over 250,000 monthly meetups by 79,000 local groups in 45,000 cities, covering 46,000 topics. There were over 800 photography Meetups last I checked.
The Meetup platform provides organizers with tools needed to build and sustain special interest communities, such as: backend administration for email list creation and management, event creation and promotion tools, PayPal payment, tracking how active a person in your group has been (how many times they RSVP), or who attends what event, calendaring events, showing and sharing photos produced when working together as a group, as well as SEO and analytics.
When a member joins, Meetup asks that person to list interests. When a new group starts, the Meetup system will send an email to general members in the immediate geographical area. Say you signed up and listed photography as one of your interests. You’ll receive an email that says: “Hey, you said you like photography. Well here’s a new photography group you should check out.” This can help a new group get off the ground, because you’ve now got ready-made participants with an interest in– and who have been alerted about– a new group.
Jason Etzel, a photographer who also works in the photo industry in a sales/marketing capacity, has attended Meetups in the past. “The concept of the Meetup is by no means new,” he explains. “The Meetup does everything that photographic groups have done for years, but the Meetup.com website is where technology truly enhances what was [done in the past]. Photographers used to meet to share ideas, their work, and of course network.”
“With the Meetup.com website these events can happen at any moment of the day and your work will be seen by more than a room full of people,” Jason says. “In many ways Meetup has given photographers the thing they crave and dread the most…instant praise or criticism. We all need another set of eyes and our peers to bounce ideas off of,” he adds.
Bay Area Renegades
Martha Blanchfield, (www.renegade-pr.com) photographer and PR professional uses Meetup to bring San Fransisco photography professionals together. “I set-up a Renegade Photo Shoots Bay Area (http://www.meetup.com/Renegade-Photo-Shoots-Bay-Area/) in September 2009. At the time, the Bay Area had at least 20 photography groups. Now it tracks more than 45. It’s crowded here, but interest is strong. Renegade Photo Shoot events occur about twice a month and 90% of them have an education backbone to them—an educational workshop, a panel presentation, a software tips and tricks session, etc.,” she says.
Martha adds: “The Meetup system holds the group together on the Web, but it’s up to the organizer to deliver a quality event or meet-up. As groups mature, there is a reputation to manage; word gets out about great programs, speakers or organizers. Going in, Renegade already had a ‘flavor’ to uphold. Within this online community of Meetups, Renegade has been able to carve out a strong identity that really sets us apart from other photography Meetups. It’s great when a new person joins and comments, ‘I’ve heard about your group’ or ‘I love what you are doing and I want to be a Renegade!’”
At Renegade Meetups, pro shooters are brought in to share with the group what they do. It allows members to try new things in a familiar framework with their peers. Martha says it is imperative that Meetup attendees have take-away education points, a chance to work aside a lead instructor, to mix and learn from peers, and to walk away with a variety of photos the member would not otherwise have had the chance to create. “But the biggest kicker for our group is to be sure there is a ‘Renegade’ component in every program,” she adds.
One example is “Arm Candy on the Tarmac”—a campy high style strobe lighting workshop held in a hangar and tarmac. In this instance, not only was the group granted permission to shoot at a place where few can get access (in a hangar and working airfield), but we also had a world speed record-breaking plane in the background. After a few set-ups, the pilot actually offered to let the model hop inside. Then he volunteered to do a flyover—the Renegade gang standing just off the runway photographing and nabbing video as he fly a few feet over the model’s head.
Long Island Photographers
Roni M. Chastain, RN, FACCE, LCCE (www.customphotonotes.com and www.nursingbabies.com) joined Meetup.com in 2003. When she found out that Adrienne Brand had started the Long Island Photography Meetup (http://www.meetup.com/LI-Photographers/) group in October 2005, Roni joined. In the beginning there were only five members, but the group has since grown to over 300 members. Roni became the assistant organizer in 2007, and this past June, she became the organizer of the group.
Roni says the group was even written up in Newsday as the most active group on Long Island.
“We meet about two to four times a month,” says Roni. Warm months take the group on shoots to various locations, and in the colder months, workshops are given by members with photographic knowledge to share. “We often go to a location to shoot, then go to lunch, then we all post our photos on our site,” Roni explains.
“We have done ‘photograph the photographer’, Photoshop/Lightroom workshops, as well as photographing air shows, lighting workshops, a private sunset tour of the Fire Island Lighthouse, a vertical tour of St. John the Divine, Snug Harbor in Staten Island, the Coney Island mermaid parade, and many more locations,” says Roni.
In addition to the photographic shoots, the Long Island Photography Meetup also gets together for social gatherings, including an annual dinner party to celebrate the founding of the group on the anniversary of its launch.
“We are currently working on our third annual photography exhibit. It will be held at Molloy College, with an opening reception on September 16. Ellery Samuels, one of our members, has organized the entire exhibit,” Roni explains.
“I started my Meetup to develop more connections with photographers in my own backyard. Aside from the group being a super circle of friends, we can tap one another when faced with camera and photography challenges,” Martha says.
“I have had great experience with doing the Meetups,” says Roni. “I have met some wonderful friends through this group, and personally, my photography skills have soared since joining the group. “I always find it amazing that we might have 15-25 members photographing the same area…yet we see such different things as photographers. I just love this group of passionate photographers.”
Go to meetup.com to learn more and to find Meetup groups in your area.