Back to School…Sort of
If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s education. Going from ignorance of a topic to a working understanding is always great, and certainly what you need to start a career. But as with all careers, continuing that education is important also. Technology changes, techniques evolve, and trends get outdated.
In photography, if you aren’t learning and moving forward, you’re sliding backward.
So where do you start? No matter where you are in your career, there is an answer. Whether you’ve been at it for years, or you just picked a business name, there are unique opportunities that happen all around the country every year. They’re called conferences.
I get it. We’re artists. We’re photographers. We’re creative lone wolves. We work alone because our work is our art and we can do what only we can do. However, we’re also human, and have much to offer each other.
Attending conferences and similar events will raise your game. You just have to participate.
Well, turns out you’re in luck. Because with PhotoExpo 2018 on our heels, I’m going to give you the Cliff Notes on photo conferences so that you too can reap the benefits that come from such events. The following information is coming directly from my experience attending, presenting, and shooting at photography conferences around the country. Hopefully it inspires you to attend one yourself!
Don’t Go it Alone — Make Connections
It’s always a good thing to know some like-minded people who have found success in photography already. It’s like having a teacher as a friend, who dispels wisdom in regular conversation. At a convention/conference/expo, it is literally impossible to not make a connection somewhere…unless you stay in your room the entire time. (That’s weird, don’t do that.)
Of course, there are different types. Two years ago at WPPI, I met two friends that I now talk to daily. This is a connection of new friends who are in similar places with our careers. We’re spread across the continent and run our own businesses, but because of our new connection we can learn and grow through our struggles together. We bounce ideas off each other and provide critiques, insight, and different points of view. (Plus, anytime we want to go back to WPPI we can split the room costs and throw awesome parties.)
YOU might be the connection someone else needs to make! This year at PhotoCon 2018, I spoke about Second Shooting in Wedding Photography. Everyone has to start somewhere right? To this day I still receive questions from some of those that attended that event. Because I met them in person, and in a sense ‘know’ them, I can relate to their passion to learn and grow. It makes me want to help them that much more.
It’s also possible you’ll even run into your favorite All-Stars from social media and the world. Like this year at PhotoCon, I ran into Doug Hoke (who was recently inducted in the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame), who I’d been Instagram-creeping on because I’m a sucker for good photojournalism. I can’t even begin to condense our amazing, hour-ish conversation here, but I still carry his words closely. What I really loved was finding out that we both feel more from the connections we make with our subjects than the images that result from them, which was awesome.
Break Up Your Routine
When you’re passionate about something, you can easily find yourself laboring for love. Love of all the things, the creation of images, the processing of them, the sharing of them. However, after a while this can become routine and even mundane at times. Shooting in the same places, making the same jokes, editing in the same room. One thing that can shake things up in your photography life could be a conference like Photo Expo.
Constantly working to better ourselves as photographers is imperative, but who says if you work hard, you can’t play hard? Obviously, that can come in many forms, but my personal favorite is taking the allotted time a conference gives you to decompress and just converse with other pros in the field. We all have information and stories to share, there really isn’t a better way to party and learn than having a beer or two with others who do what you do.
Even if you have your own training regiment in place, there are so many things going on at your average conference that the pacing and intensity can shake your brain awake and get the creative juices flowing at full power again. One of the most solid takeaways for me is the reminder of why I am doing what I do.
Speaking of the why, I would be lying if I tried to tell you there weren’t days that I’m wondering what it is I’m actually trying to do here. Have you ever felt like your work was leaving you unfulfilled? That maybe you had plateaued? I think that most people can relate and I have to believe I’m not the only one. Conferences are a boon to your inspiration as well!
I am an avid CreativeLive user. I love it, I love anything that can teach me more about my chosen medium. But learning online is completely different. To be in a room full of other people, listening to a keynote speaker who’s delivery and skills on a microphone can raise the vibration of a crowd…that will leave your head buzzing for days. I am still not over seeing Joe McNally. This guy literally climbs to the top of inspiration. (If you don’t get the reference, check this out).
Plus, the massive amount of work you will see if there’s a photo competition should manage to impart technique, subject, or really just any ideas of something upon you. And the conversations you have will likely lead you to think about things you yourself wouldn’t have thought to even research on your own. That’s huge.
Play With Toys(!)
Expos at photog conferences are kind of the best. I love toys, as in all things camera related. You name it, it’s on my radar, from bags, filters, straps, lenses, light modifiers, flashes, etc. With this love comes hours of heavy online and review research. It can take forever to get good info on something. But do you know what’s awesome? (Can you see where I’m going with this?)
At expos, you get to play with all this stuff.
At PhotoCon we were able to rent lenses for photo walks *for free* and test them out. Some of the larger booths even have pros showing off new products in demonstrations, so you can see the results and handling in action. Many of these products aren’t on the market yet, so you’re getting to see them before everyone else (which makes you feel pretty exclusive.)
There are special deals there too. Oftentimes these can beat online or even Black Friday deals. Check out the booths and talk to the reps. It is easy to walk away from an expo with more than just ideas.
I have a feeling that PhotoExpo is going to have some sweet deals.
Always Keep Learning!
I’m a little tired tired of hearing other photographers complain about not booking because so-and-so is charging less, or that the advances in cameras/smartphones is ruining photography.
There will always be someone else who is cheaper. There will always be someone with newer tech. Anyone can take a photo these days, and actually I don’t even hate that. We’re in a glorious age where journalism and historical documentation is benefiting from everyone having a camera in their pocket.
The point is, just be a better photographer.
That’s a blanket statement, but it’s intentional. There are no handouts, and you don’t get better by just reading an article or simply watching a YouTube video. You have to do the work. It’s always been about doing the work.
Give your clients the experience they deserve. The one that Uncle Bob with a fancy camera just simply cannot provide that. Give the experiences and results that comes with having practiced your craft and knowing it inside and out. Learn the communication skills you need to truly connect, the lighting to share their story, the posing to show them off. Conferences have classes for all of this and more, so many you won’t even be able to do them all!
I couldn’t talk about going back to school without assigning at least some type of homework.
Don’t worry, it’s pretty easy, and I assume that you were going to do it anyway. Do some research on photo conferences near you. Or far away from you. Just find some and see what’s going on. Look at the speakers, read their bios, look at their work. You will find something that moves you. Then imagine them talking directly to you because you engaged them in the hallway after a presentation. This can absolutely happen.
The next conference I’m personally looking forward to is Photo Expo 2018, taking place in Memphis, Tennessee on August 3 & 4. It’s coming up quick, and I can’t wait to see everyone there. If that’s not the conference for you for whatever reason, that’s fine too. Just don’t sell yourself short.
If you’re a photographer and you want to move forward, always give yourself the best chance to succeed. This conference is a great opportunity to do just that.
For information about Photo Expo 2018, go to click here.
I would love to see you there 🙂
Keep scrolling to see more photos from conferences or other educational events I’ve attended.
During PhotoCon 2017, I attended Randy Bacon‘s class after being moved by his portraits that lined the hallway. The class had an intimate feel where Randy talked with us and was interactive — almost like talking to an old friend. I still think about his project, and hope to be as inspiring and innovative as Randy one day.
Also, don’t forget to check for local clubs or Facebook groups! We have a group of film-loving photographers that range from novice to pros that get together, shoot, talk about ideas, and of course, show off interesting cameras. What is really cool about this Oklahoma Analog Photographer group is that those that have been shooting film for years are always happy to help out those that are new or just simply have a question. We have everyone from old-timers who’ve been at it since the film-only days, to high school students just discovering the world of film. It’s a very positive and helpful group for sure. I’ve made some of my best friends since we started meeting up!
The image above is from our first Oklahoma Analog meet up where I met James Pratt for the first time. Guys, I can’t tell you how much James Pratt has helped me. Not only did I gain a friend, but also an inspiring and badass mentor.
Sometimes, you just need a break from all the technical stuff and need an inspiration boost. The first year I went to WPPI, I remember seeing Jaleel King present and really being incredibly inspired when I left his class. I ran into him later that week and had a great conversation. Later in the year, I reached out to Jaleel via email about a concept I had an idea for, not expecting him to remember me. I got a response back that was very sincere and helpful. These speakers at photog conferences are truly passionate about helping and teaching just as much as they are about their craft.
The following year I went back to WPPI and while planning my classes I saw that Jaleel was leading a photo walk about photographing strangers and being able to talk to anyone. Approaching strangers or people that I’m not familiar with was something that terrified me, so I can’t tell you how much this walk helped me then, and continues to help my work today. There was only three of us on the photo walk (along with James Day who came to help out,) so we had the opportunity to ask questions about specifics where we struggle and get one-on-one help.
Learning how to communicate with people and put them at east is just as important as learning how to use your gear.
A funny moment from PhotoCon 2017 was during a FotoFacts podcast where I was interviewing Mark Zimmerman (a crazy talented photographer, my previous professor, current mentor and friend). About halfway through the podcast the great Peter Hurly arrived – so I gave up my seat to him. You can listen to that podcast here!
I have to say, my favorite part about conferences and other educational events is the people you meet, and the connections you make.