EAST COUNTY — A group of photography enthusiasts saw some familiar faces on Monday — only it was the first time they had seen some of those faces in person.
Used to seeing one another in pictures, participants of the Lakewood Ranch Digital Photography Club’s 52-week Photo Challenge met face to face at a luncheon at MacAllisters Grill and Tavern on Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
Lakewood Ranch Digital Photography Club members Patricia Reed, Mindy Towns and Mary Nell Moore started the 52-Week Photo Challenge a few years ago. Since then, it has grown to draw international participation.
The photography enthusiasts share their pictures of relatives, landscapes, bridges and other surroundings as part of the annual challenge. Participants submit a weekly photo that relates to one of the 52 themes.
The photographers who take part in the challenge are as diverse in their photography skills as the locations they call home. To communicate, the participants use WordPress blogs, where they give feedback on each other’s pictures.
On Monday, about 26 of the challenge’s more than 100 participants enjoyed lunch and the chance to chat with one another. They shared stories of how they came up with ideas for entries and discussed which photos they like best.
Meeting in person to talk about their pictures makes the challenge more special, said Ida McBride, a challenge participant who’s friends with Towns and traveled from Panama City for the luncheon.
“It’s nice to be able to put a face to the name I see on my screen,” McBride said. “I didn’t think I’d recognize the others from the tiny pictures I see on my screen — their profile pictures. But I did right away, especially those who comment a lot on my photos.”
Towns also hoped deeper friendships would evolve from the face-to-face gathering, as well as rekindle old friendships.
“It’s exciting to get to meet the people we talk to and see online each week,” Towns said. “We learn so much about their lives, it’s nice to get together.”
Lakewood Ranch resident Reed and London resident Debbie Aitken have used the challenge to strengthen a friendship that began when they were 5 years old.
Although Reed was visiting family in Ohio and wasn’t able to attend the luncheon this week, she will see Aitken when she returns for her annual visit next week.
Last year, Reed persuaded Aitken to join in on the photo challenge,
An amateur photographer who felt intimidated by the quality of the other participants’ entrees, Aitken decided to give the challenge a try anyway. Now she looks forward to others’ posts each week.
For the two women who live about 4,000 miles apart, getting involved with the photography challenge has not only improved their photo-taking skills, but also altered the way they view the world.
“The challenge has taught me to be more observant,” Aitken said. “I’m always looking around for things to photograph. It’s nice to see what others are taking pictures of, too.”
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This photo is of the tallest building in Europe — the Shard — and the White Tower, which was built in 1078.
“I saw the Shard in the background and was struck by the difference of the tower in the foreground,” Debbie Aitken said. “I also wondered what all those soldiers would have thought of the Shard. How times have changed.”
This photo was taken on the grounds of the Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.