On Thursday, the Wichita Wildlight Photographic Society will have its first in-person meeting and photography class since July.

The society has attempted to resume meeting in-person several times over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this time, Clem Wehner, the president of the society, hopes for a normal year.

“We’re optimistic,” Wehner said. “I leave it up to the members whether or not we keep it up or what we do later on.”

For its return meeting, the lesson plan is to instruct attendees on ways to solve lighting problems presented by outdoor photography. The focus will be largely on finding ways to reduce glare and exposure problems by experimenting with different angles and found objects to block and direct light. After the lesson, there will be a photo show-and-tell, where members of the organization and any other interested people in the area can submit photos and get tips on how to shoot differently in future.

Teaching photography at the monthly meetings is something Wehner believes has been key to the success of the photographic society over its 30 years.

“The formula of fun and learning is important to us,” Wehner said. “How many meetings have you been to where you left thinking, ‘I just wasted 20 minutes of my life?’”

Before the pandemic, Wichita Wildlight had at least 200 members on their roster, and a regular meeting attendance of 50-60 people. Now, with meetings over Zoom, attendance has been cut in half.

“Some people hate Zoom,” Wehner said. “I’m not sure why.”

As well as the lowered attendance, all payment of dues by members has been suspended since the early part of the pandemic in spring of 2020. Dues payment will start again with the resumption of in-person meetings, and will be $10 for one person, or $15 for families.

Wichita Wildlight is a member group of Lawton’s Arts for All, which is where a large portion of the money they get to operate comes from. The organization has been active in Lawton since 1991. As long as the organization has existed, Clark Smith has been a member.

Smith is the treasurer for the group. He said that the group’s original seven members had a level of passion that helped it to grow quickly after achieving tax-exempt status.

“We didn’t have a lot of members, but we had a lot of interest,” Smith said.

Smith said that the organization, as small as it was, might not have been able to get its tax-exempt status without the legal expertise of one founding member, Judge Sam Joyner, who understood the legal process of getting the designation. Smith said this was essential in the early days for the organization.

“Without the tax-exempt status, we wouldn’t have survived,” Smith said.

Smith said he’s excited to return to in-person meetings, though he’s unsure whether or not to expect them to continue.

“We’re all still existing under this thing, and it’s hard to predict,” Smith said. “Zoom meetings are good, but they’re so remote. It’s tough to really exchange ideas.”

While meeting over Zoom had negative effects on meeting attendance, it also opened membership to a wider audience. Wehner said that people began attending meetings and workshops from all over the country, and he hopes to find a way to hold hybrid meetings in the future.

Until then, meetings are going to be in-person only until further notice, with masking strongly encouraged.

“We’re fortunate to have a big meeting area,” Wehner said. “So distancing can be done easily.”