WHEN was the last time you reached for your phone to snap a picture?

From expensive cameras complete with bells and whistles to smartphones and tablets, most of us think nothing of using digital technology to capture and share those special moments. But it wasn’t always like that.

Halstead and District Photographic Society was founded in 1957 when a group of friends who shared an interest in photography met in a room at the White Horse in the town.

Long before the advent of digital, the sought after cameras of the day were made by the likes of Nikon and Canon (both still widely used) or the German maker Contax.

The early members of the society would have used film, available in reels of 12, 24 or 36, which had to be carefully loaded into the camera, wound on after each shot and, when the film was used up, developed in a home darkroom or by a professional processor.

This slow, laborious and time-consuming process is a million miles away from photography today, as Jacqueline Wisby, a member for 31 years, ten as chairperson of the club, explained: “When digital was first introduced it was greeted with caution.

“Many of us thought it would never catch on.

“But the benefits are so many.

“You can view your image as soon as you’ve taken the shot, make tiny adjustments to the focus and exposure, and then - if you wish - get creative with photo manipulation software.”

But the advent of digital has led to some disagreement over where the boundaries of photography lie.

Are computer-generated images, even when made with photographic components, still true photography?

Should photos be ‘messed about with’ at all?

Gill Beckett, the society’s secretary, thinks this is an argument that has been raging since the 1830s when photography pioneers Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox Talbot took their first images.

“In the 1800s there was a big debate as to whether photography was art or science,” she said.

“Today, we view it as art and computer software gives us scope for creating a unique image.

“Even back in the darkroom we were ‘dodging’ and ‘burning’ or creating multiple exposures.

“Now we do similar things but on the computer instead.”

Among the club’s longest serving members are KenStanhope, who at the time of the club’s 50th anniversary was given honorary membership of the Halstead and District Photographic Society to celebrate his service to the club, and Derek Collis.

Derek been with the club for more than 46 years and has served in every position on the committee at one time or other and as president since 2004.

Current chairman Phil Wiseman explained what the society offers.

“Our club welcomes those new to photography as well as those who have been taking photos all their lives,” he said.

Brian Fleming, a member for 34 years, and until last year a long-standing committee member and secretary, added: “We encourage members to share their work and we regularly see photography that is innovative and creative.

“It’s terrific to see so much divergence in photography styles within one club.”

Some members aim for official recognition of their skills through a qualification such as Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and help is on offer from those who ‘have been there and done that’.

The Halstead and District Photographic Society is a member of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain - a body which also offers accreditations for high standards of work.

The club, which meets on alternate Thursday evenings in the Methodist Church in New Street, regularly hosts speakers on subjects as diverse as Photoshop techniques and the landscape of Iceland.

There are competitions, club outings and social events, as well as slightly less formal meetings held monthly at the Five Bells in Colne Engaine.

Most of all, the society - which is open to everyone - prides itself on its inclusivity and friendliness.

New member Mark Stanbury said: “I’ve been made to feel very welcome indeed.

“It can be a bit scary entering a competition for the first time as you are inviting someone else to critique your work, but there is a lot of encouragement from other embers and people are so willing to share their knowledge and expertise.”

For more information about the society, visit halsteadphoto.org.uk.