The value of a photography support network

Photography and wellbeing

Photography can be a lonely hobby. Finding other like-minded individuals to surround yourself with, can create a support network that will offer encouragement and enrichment to your photographic journey.

Let’s face it, photography can be a lonely hobby at times, and that is why many of us choose it; a chance to get away from the rat race and people, and have some introspective quiet time to balance life out. I am one of those individuals who much prefers to go out with my camera alone, however, I do love to support myself with others who have the same outlook as me. Because, at times, I need support to encourage me to get out with my camera, and it is the encouragement or inspiration from others that makes this happen.

Lone photographer standing barefoot on a beach

Space and time alone are essential for my well-being – but I also need the support of others. (Photo kindly made by Lesley Chalmers)

I have been lucky enough to facilitate the most amazing group through 2023. The culmination of their year-long journey together was an online exhibition. With much delight, on completion of their year with me, they all said they enjoyed each other’s company so much, that they wanted to continue another year (with me included) together. They are a group who have shown me what it is to find a place where you feel so safe as to share not only your success, and super images you are proud of, but also the darker moments; those times of self-doubt, and loss of desire to pick up the camera.

Screenshot of Zoom meeting participants

An online Zoom meeting of the 2023-year-long Project mentoring group

I have personally experienced the benefit of being part of an online ‘buddy group’ in the past. A group who came together principally to support each other with their photography journeys and entries into a monthly competition held by the Guild of Photographers. Another sharing and supportive group experience I experienced was via a series of online workshops with Paul Sanders during COVID-19. Starting with one initial 6-week course, we decided to stick together for 3 consecutive courses, because of the benefits we felt not only in our photography but our mental wellbeing at a time when life was pretty difficult. I believe that having the support of like-minded and non-judgemental individuals can enrich and strengthen your photography journey so much.

In a life where social media platforms offer so many sharing opportunities, it’s really important to recognise how being part of these communities and groups can affect you and your confidence… And it’s not always positive.

I am not going to drag this post down with negativity or any fingers pointed at specific groups, however, you need to recognise and identify what it is that you are hoping to gain when you join a group. And be honest with yourself. Do you want feedback when you ask for it, or are you secretly hoping for likes and loves to boost your self-confidence? There are groups out there to cater for every desire – you just need to find the one that fits your needs.

Guild of Photographers formal buddy group image at the annual awards ceremony

The Guild of Photographers annual awards – our amazing buddy group (Photo by Samantha Jane Saddler)

When you choose a group to join, consider the following:

Group size

Smaller groups are more intimate, they allow you to get to know others on a more personal level. Feeling like you know the others in a group as individuals rather than just group members may help. Equally, you may love larger groups, where you keep your anonymity.

Facilitation or free posting?

Is the group facilitated (taught or with a mentor to guide) or is there a moderator, or is it just a free-for-all? In my experience, I much prefer to have a facilitator in groups that I belong to. You may have to pay for this privilege, but they will ensure the group’s safety and offer support and often kick-start discussions and encourage posting. This is something that will not happen if there is no one willing to take responsibility for the smooth running of a group.

Purpose of the group

Some groups are established purely for the sharing of images, whilst others encourage learning and sharing of information between members. Just as an example, the ICM Photography Magazine (Group) on Facebook has some 21,000 members! To have posts accepted (and every single one is moderated before appearing – I was a moderator for some time with this group, and it’s a mammoth task) you must provide camera settings and tag with a useful hashtag to search. The whole idea of the group is sharing your images but sharing info as well to help others. It’s a valuable group to be part of if you love ICM photography. Conversely, I have been part of other similar groups, where posting rules are unclear and moderation seems non-existent. The latter are the groups I dip my toe in and leave fairly fast!

I am a member of various groups across Facebook (love it or hate it), it does offer a unique way to get groups of people together from all over the world to share their life journeys. A couple of note you may like to look up are Sheclicks (a women’s only photographic support group of nearly 13,000 members). The Camversation community Facebook group and The Guild of Photographers community (this is open to paid members only but is a super resource within the membership). The links shared here go directly to the respective websites, but each also has its own community if you search for it on Facebook.

In addition to groups on Facebook you will find many courses including a community or support group as part of the course – in my experience, these are extremely valuable, For all my longer courses I offer a dedicated small and private group to encourage friendship and support during the course. I also offer all participants access to a bigger online community that is invited only for those who have completed a course or mentoring with me. If you are a member of a club or society, see if there are any groups offered to be part of.

In-person or online?

In the last few years, online has become the new normal. Online groups offer massive diversity, and individuals from the world over can interact freely, unrestricted by boundaries. I do 90% of my teaching online at the moment and love how many people I can connect with all over the world. That said, meeting in person is something special. There is something about face to face contact that can simply not be replaced by an online interaction. I have been lucky to meet many of my online acquaintances in person at awards events and workshops.

Group photo taken on the phone at an awards event

Meeting some of my creative online group in person at The Guild of Photographers annual wards this year (Excuse the awful phone photo)

It is my strong belief that you get out of being in a group what you put in. So many groups fall by the wayside after being set up through lack of posting, or members assuming they are either not qualified enough to get conversations started or believing that it is up to others to do it. If you post, don’t just post and lap up the comments, reply and get conversations going, it creates a much richer experience than just posting to get likes and loves or self-affirmation.

So, I will leave you with my top tips for finding a group that will offer a support network on your photographic journey

  • Ask yourself what you want from joining a group.
  • Think about what you would like support with – photography technique or confidence or creativity. Some groups cater for these, but it may not be just one group that covers all bases.
  • If you join a group – get stuck in – post, ask questions, encourage discussions comment on posts.
  • Be supportive of others – if you want to gain support, you need to give it (sorry, but that is the way life works).
  • Don’t be scared to ask questions – you can be sure someone else in the group will benefit from your inquiring mind.
  • Do be kind, and courteous – in my groups, I have very few rules, but this is one of them.
  • Read and follow any rules or guidelines for groups. In all my groups I have an important rule that you never give critique on an image unless it is specifically asked for in a post, this stops unrequested confidence-knocking comments if someone wants to share something they love without feedback.
  • If a group is not working for you, let the organiser or moderator know in smaller groups, and in bigger groups just leave – no need for drama and looking for sympathy.

If you can’t find a group that is right for you – why not start your own – just know that it requires leg work and interaction to make it happen, they don’t run themselves!

A black and white photo of Charlotte Bellamy

Hi, I'm Charlotte

Creative Artist