NEW ULM - The airport was almost completely dark were it not for the one light on in the conference room inside the terminal.
A dark SUV crossed the parking lot and stopped. Its window slid down.
"Is this the Photo Club meeting?," a young man asked loudly from behind the wheel.
Photo by Kurt Nesbitt
Members of the New Ulm Photo Club look at each others photos at a recent meeting.
Yes, it was.
The first Tuesday of each month, at 7 p.m., the New Ulm Photo Club meets at the city's municipal airport. Members share ideas and experiences about all things photographic.
As club members trickled in, one-by-one, an informal conversation about the club's latest outing begins.
A few members traveled to Hudson, Wis., to the Hot Air Affair during the first weekend in February to shoot frames of hot air balloons. They had a wonderful time, thanks to good weather, some accommodating balloonist and some incredibly colorful hot air balloons.
The formal part of the meeting begins with Wally Stadick and Bruce Anderson leading a follow-up discussion of the hot air balloon show. More stories of photographs begin to circulate as the discussion continues. Talk generally centers around individual photographs, the equipment used to take the picture and settings used to capture the image.
That, in turn, segues into discussion about the many different makes and models of digital cameras and what each of them can and cannot accomplish in a particular situation.
The discussion turns briefly into an update on the club's tax status. It is considering a 501(c) 3 non-profit status so it can arrange for donations. Members also want to share its photographs with people who can't necessarily travel by themselves, such as residents in nursing homes and children in schools.
Aside from a donation from Kraft and the $200 that the Council for the Arts in New Ulm gave the club before CANU officially dissolved, members generally felt that the non-profit status would help raise funds and donations.
With the fundraising questions addressed, the discussion turned to ideas for future field trips.
Stadick and Anderson suggested Flandrau State Park or Swan Lake, where both recently photographed wildlife with pleasing results.
A new member mentioned some of the pictures he took of a singer friend in concert. The shots wound up on the website for Janis Joplin's old band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, which is reforming with his friend as Joplin's replacement.
Then comes the monthly lesson. Anderson takes out his laptop computer to explain and demonstrate white balance, which is the process of removing unrealistic color casts in pictures so that the objects in the pictures appear naturally. Another lesson deals with the effect that the 'Kelvin' setting on a digital camera can have on a photograph. The goal is to illustrate how a photographer can get good shots without them being too yellow or too red. Anderson culled tips for the lessons from his camera manual and trade magazines.
Anderson and Stadick presented a slideshow of some pictures from Hudson. As frame after frame flashed by, members offered criticism and compliments on the composition of the photos. Anderson provided information on methods and techniques, including various functions of his camera.
The club finished its meeting at around 9 p.m. One by one, each member left the airport, which was still mostly dark except for the lights in the conference room.
According to a couple of long-time members, this meeting is very much like every meeting of the Photo Club. The sessions are informal and informative.
Dale Bohlke initiated the establishment of a local photography club. He served as president for its first two years .
"It started when I moved to town four years ago. I was in one in the Twin Cities and so I started one through CANU," said Bohlke, who now concentrates on high-definition nature videography. "Photography's an art and it helps to share ideas and get fresh ideas on how to take photos."
The club started in January of 2005. It made its public debut with a handful of shows in the basement gallery of the Kiesling House in New Ulm.
The monthly meetings and field trips were a central part of the club from the beginning. Trips were organized so the club's members could get practical experience with a camera and share ideas, Bohlke said..
Participation in the meetings was - and still is - the only membership requirement. Members can come to as many meetings as they chose. The club is loosely organized to give each member equal value and to make the club a free-flowing exchange of ideas, Bohlke said.
Dan Braam joined the club four years ago at his wife's suggestion after an ad for the club appeared in a local newspaper. He enjoys the club because his participation puts him in the company of like-minded people who share the same pastime.
"It's a way to capture the world and a way you can express yourself," said Braam, describing his passion for photography. "It's a good excuse to get outdoors and enjoy yourself and share how you see the world with other people."
Braam was 12 years old when his parents gave him a Yashica 35-millimeter camera. He saved money from an after-school job to get film developed. He had 'boxes and boxes' of prints at one point. He now embraces digital photography, which does not require film and offers options.
"It's been liberating in a way because you have control over the whole process. I was never adept at darkroom (techniques)," he said. "From the point where you click your shot to the point where it comes out in a print, you're intimately involved in the whole process."
Braam can spend several hours each month finding places to shoot and getting the right shot. Club members typically spend a few hours a month to their hobby. However, some retired members have more time to devote to the hobby.
Many Photo Club members divide their time between taking pictures by themselves and working with the group.
Nature photography attracts the widest interest among members - particularly wildlife and scenic photography. Some members enjoy night photography, where the moon becomes the main source of light. Others are interested in microphotography, which looks at objects in close detail. Some go to local sporting events to shoot action pictures of players. Some members are interested in impressionistic art.
"I think what we find with people is that they're very open to trying new things," Braam said.
Anderson and Braam teach photography through New Ulm's Community Ed program. Class sizes are about 30 students.
"I think I'm like everyone," said Anderson. "Everyone's got different tastes and everyone brings different things to the table."
Different levels of skill are found throughout the club. Anderson started photography 20 years ago.
Because he is one of the last club members to switch to digital, he is still learning many of the programs photographers use to produce their work. His interest in scenic and wildlife photography developed years ago.
Anderson joined the Photo Club at the encouragement of his girlfriend. He wanted to learn something new and to have the camaraderie of a social group
"I'm amazed at how many talented people are right here in New Ulm. The more you get involved with it, the more you get to know it," Anderson said.
Most field trips are to local places like Flandrau State Park and to the New Ulm Battery cannon shoot on July 4. However, the club has traveled to the Butterfly House in Sioux Falls.
Many of the club's regular members began their hobby with cameras that used film.
Now, digital cameras, computer printers and programs like Adobe Photoshop, which allow users to edit and retouch pictures, are leading a resurgence in the hobby, said Braam.
Once a person goes beyond the initial cost of buying a digital camera, the hobby is actually very inexpensive and accessible.