Al Belson calls it a camera club without dues, but the photography meetings, held on the second Friday of each month, are a combination lecture and print-critique session. They're also a good place to exchange ideas with other photographers and drink coffee.
It's a relaxed atmosphere in which Belson, owner of a custom black-and-white lab and studio in Costa Mesa, can expound on various technical and aesthetic aspects of photography, including new equipment, composition and lighting.
The evenings usually begin with Belson holding court. A photographer for 40 years, Belson never hesitates to offer his opinion.
"It's very difficult for anyone who is trying to establish themselves in photography to get information," says the 65-year-old London native. "Even if you want very simple advice on a piece of equipment, where are you going to go? If you go to a camera store, they are always going to have a vested interest. They will try to sell you something they are overstocked on or has a big markup. You can make some very expensive mistakes."
Belson, the former owner of the Newport School of Photography, offers a simple reason for continuing to teach. "I discussed this with Ansel (Adams) at great lengths years ago. Morally, you just have to put something back, and that's the way I feel. It keeps people motivated. The more they're motivated and the better their work is, the better it is for everybody.