I believe that continuing education is incredibly important: it keeps you sharp, makes sure that you aren’t becoming stale in your work, and revitalizes low spirits and energy after a long wedding season. With my work season jam-packed into four or five short months every year, I can tell you that a dose of inspiration is essential to my spring! That being said, there are a gazillion workshops and conferences out there to choose from, from the small to the massive. Choosing the right photography conference for you is a hard task. How do you know where to focus your energy and hard earned dollars? Where do you put your focus?
The first thing that matters to me when choosing a conference is WHY and I have three of them. They very rarely overlap in the conference world. I’m either going: 1) to put my hands on products, 2) to master or learn a new skill, or finally, 3) for inspiration and networking.
1. Go to photography conferences to put your hands on products.
Every three years, I head to one of the big two, which are Imaging USA and WPPI, simply because their expo is the easiest place to source out vendors for client products and new technology. From USB drives, to album companies, to camera manufacturers, you’ll be able to touch and feel anything you can dream up out of the thousands of exhibitors at these expos. With quality face to face time with the brand reps themselves, you can often purchase new gear on site at a discounted rate, and secure lower pricing for bulk orders from print labs and product manufacturers.
While the big 2 certainly offer a wealth of
networking drunken debauchery and parties, along with “conference” sessions intended to impart photography wisdom on you, I’m a pretty firm believer that the best learning isn’t crammed into a giant convention hall and a one hour talk, nor is the best networking done at an event where there are thousands of people.
2. Go to a photography workshop to master or learn a new skill.
Small hands on workshops lend themselves to more in depth dissection of key skills. A few years ago, I attended Azulox Photography’s Anytime Light workshop in Austin, TX. With only 8 students and a full day dedicated exclusively to difficult lighting scenarios, I walked away feeling significantly more comfortable using off camera flash and strobes to make sure that I could handle anything.
Last year, I attended the Missouri Photo Workshop in Perryville, MO for hands on learning in photojournalism. Guided and mentored by world renowned freelance photojournalists and photo editors, I came away with a better understanding of gaining access, shooting, and creating photo essays.
I try to narrow down what I want my focus to be for the year in learning and choose a small format mentorship, workshop or online resource that fits that ideal. If you’re interested in pursuing family lifestyle sessions, I would recommend looking into mentorship by Kristen Lewis. If you love my moment-filled portrait and wedding work and want to improve on drawing the same reactions out of your own clients, I would recommend starting with Candice Cusic’s Moment Driven Workshop in Chicago.
3. Get inspired and network
There is no conference more inspirational to me than Fearless Conference Europe. (Tip: to save a buck or two, there is one in the USA every November as well). Huy with Fearless Photographers has made a pointed effort to create conferences that are diverse, filled with women, and welcoming. It’s incredibly easy to network at Fearless Europe – everyone is so incredibly open. I walk away every year with nuggets of incredible inspiration and a new stamp on my passport to boot.
What to Take With You
Don’t forget to fill your pockets with business cards, branded koozies (a must for me), and lots of smiles. Remember that everyone at a photography conference is there for the same reason: to learn, to grow and to meet like minded people. As such, open yourself up to opportunities. Say yes to new things, new people and new conversations. Don’t sit with people you know: find someone new every day. Be welcoming, smile, and make it a point to open up conversations to include strangers who happen upon your group. Introduce yourself to others and extend invitations and you’ll walk away with a lifetime of laughter, friends and perhaps some new skills.
Eventbrite makes it easy to attend and organize events. So easy, in fact, that there are dozens of small format photography classes and events on there near you. Take a portrait photography master class! Learn how to get started in bird photography! Learn the ins and outs of food photography! I just ended up in a rabbit hole of options and I barely even got started.
Where will you find me next?
I’ll be at Mystic Seminars this January because I’m desperate to hear Pete Souza speak, and the Fearless Conference Europe in Split, Croatia this March. As usual, you’ll also find me running amok, networking, taking photos and basically drunk everyday at SXSW 2018, which is like everything the photography world has to offer on steroids.