As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about cutting costs to attend events, I’ve outlined a general description of the conferences, workshops, and seminars I’ve attended in order to help introduce some ways to invest in yourself.
WPPI (Las Vegas – End of February-ish)
This is the biggest and most-well-known conference for photographers, and I feel it’s a “right-of-passage”. Almost all things related to wedding and portrait photography are discussed, and there’s a trade show that features products to help you in all areas of your business.
I personally feel that it’s a bit overwhelming, and it sometimes feels like trying to get a glass of water from a streaming fire hydrant. There are speakers that come from all sorts of backgrounds – both modern and traditional, and they offer concentrated presentations based on their expertise. There are also fine art print judging competitions, and panels of speakers discussing certain areas of interest. The difficult aspect about the conference is that there are multiple presentations going on at the same time, so you have to pick and choose which talks you’re going to hear. It’s also difficult to compare experiences with other attendees since there’s over 14,000 people registered.
I always go each year (mainly to see friends and a select few presentations), but I’d suggest going at least once in your career.
This convention has been one of the most pivotal experiences I’ve had, as it’s also led me to discover the Fearless Photographers Network. It’s a 3-day conference featuring well-established and NEW speakers that go over a variety of content. In 2015, they’ll feature one day on wedding photography, one day on portrait photography, and one day on the business elements of photography.
I love this conference mainly for the following reasons:
-the variety of perspectives: one presentation could be all about SEO marketing, while the very next placing an emphasis on in-person rapport in order to gain more clientele. Dialogue, discussions, and often times – disagreements can provide great insight into helping someone figure out which approach is best for them.
-the lack of ego: despite having disagreements, everyone understands the idea of alternative strategies having the possibility for success. Additionally, the concentration of people (both speakers AND attendees) holds a ton of value. It seems that each year, the speakers for the following year are attendees within the audience. And speakers from previous years even come back as attendees! Everyone there I’ve met comes from a place of experience, and I’ve learned just as much (if not even more) from attendees than I have from the presentations themselves.
-the community: during the first year (it’s on year 4 now), there were about 100 people that attended the conference. It felt like a family, and the relationships that I built developed into long-lasting friendships. It’s hard to do that at WPPI with 14,000 attendees and multiple presentations happening at once.
-the on-going value: throughout the year, CPC (Canada Photo Convention) puts out an email blast with helpful articles, contests, and interviews. Hearing interviews from well-established photographers is really cool as it allows you to get to know them more personally prior to meeting them at the conference. They also have a private group on Facebook called “the Wolfpack” which is awesome for asking questions or providing value throughout the wedding season.
If there was anything I’d suggest attending to the over-all photography industry, it’d be this one. Jasser (the founder) curates his list of speakers very particularly and the content they provide is consistently useful, creative, and fresh. I’m working on becoming more involved with this conference – not sure how, but I love what it stands behind in being something ‘different’.
Foundation Conference (Charleston, SC Nov 15-16)
Foundation conference has a very distinct value to me as a photographer, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. I feel that those that are TRULY passionate about making great, authentic, and extraordinary images will find significant value in attending this conference. The kind of crowd that attends this conference generally has an in-depth focus towards the quality of their imagery, so you can rely on the idea that the attendees come from similar mindsets.
While Canada Photo Convention is diverse, and has appeal towards a wide range of photographers – Foundation Conference has a strong presence of photojournalists, and the ‘editorial’ photographers that attend have a very particular style. Dramatic lighting, complex reflections, and what seem to be ‘impossible’ angles. For a better sense of the type of photography I’m referring to, check out this gallery.
I’m also working on getting more involved with this conference in a way that lets me get to know more of the attendees. Really, it is an amazing group.
While I won’t go into too much detail in this brief review (if I find the time, I’ll write an entire post about this conference and how it’s impacted me) – the insights and perspectives of these photographers have made a HUGE impact on the way I view my work, and have helped me articulate how to understand the ‘impact’ of a photo in a way that delves into the feeling it creates.
*Note, it can be very intimidating to compare your own work to a lot of the people in this group. I can wholeheartedly say that the speakers (as well as the attendees) are some of the most impressive photographers I have ever come across. A very humbling experience to say the least.
Mystic (Portland, OR – January Late-ish)
I had the chance to attend this past year (2015), and I had an awesome time. One of the really cool things about Mystic was how Walter partnered with the speakers to offer discounted workshops for attendees. I of course took advantage of it and attended Sam Hurd’s workshop.
Now that I’ve been in the wedding industry for several years, it was cool to see a lot of my friends delivering their presentation. Brianna and Ewan of The Last 40 Percent Boudoir invited me to introduce them on stage. This was a huge privilege not only because I’m a fan of their shooting style (they do boudoir the way it NEEDS to be done), but rather because of how proud I am of them for changing the world’s views on sexuality (Myself included. Our talks are scary, confusing and frustrating – but extremely insightful). They’re partnering up with Walta next year and pairing a boudoir conference with the regular schedule – so if you can afford the time, I’d say this experience would be one of the best investments you can make.
I personally know several of the speakers for next year, and their presentations have been regarded as some of the best people have seen. The content of the main conference, paired with the boudoir, and then the crowd of attendees that are present – hell, *I* will give you your money back if you don’t think it was worth it. (I’ll also probably give you a punch in the face because I’m damn sure it will be. I haven’t checked the cost but I’d wager the value would be close to $1500-$2000.)
One last thing worth mentioning is the *kind* of attendees that go to Mystic. They are some of the most creative, unique, and friendly & open photographers I’ve met in the industry. I felt like I could be myself. One photographer in particular – Jacklyn Greenberg - made me feel this sentiment especially. We talked about all the weird things we do and it was a point at which I felt accepted for who I am. And *that* feeling is one that’s distinct to Mystic. Can’t wait for next year’s event.
-WPPI would be like the “photography 101, 102, 110” courses
-Canada Photo Convention would be “Wedding Photography Marketing 201, Boudoir Photography 202, Family Photography 301”
-Foundation Conference would be like “Wedding Photojournalism 295, Creative Wedding Portraits 370, and Technical Photo Composition 401”
Hope that helps.
OTHER CONFERENCES OR NOTABLE EVENTS
While I haven’t been to these, I’ve wanted to go – and I’ve heard good things about them:
Photo Field Trip (Santa Barbara, CA – March 1st-ish)
I’m kicking myself for missing this one. At first I really doubted it, and the idea of glamping made me want to projectile vomit – but I’m a big fan of how they’ve really broken the mold with the structure of how content was delivered. Instead of presentations, they had campfire sessions and small group discussions. People went on bike rides with innovators of the industry. What initially caught me off guard was how they included a HUGE variety of photographers, ranging from well-known instagrammers to commercial portraiture photographers. I had a few friends attend the first annual event this past year, and heard nothing but good things. I’ll be making it a point to go next year.
WORKSHOPS AND MENTOR SESSIONS I’VE DONE (in chronological order)
Jasmine Star Creative Live (April 2010)
Jasmine is one of the most caring people I’ve met in the industry. I can whole-heartedly say that her workshop – and the friends I met during the experience, were responsible for sparking the idea in my head that I can do things *differently* than the rest of the industry, and that I have a right to my own path. It was ironic that it took attending her workshop to realize I didn’t want to shoot like her, or talk about fashion and small dogs – but her faith in expressing one’s individuality gave me that first boost of confidence I needed to go in my own direction. Can’t thank her enough.
Luna Photo – One on One Mentor Session (Dec 2010)
This served as an all-around learning lesson on how to take my work to the next level. We went in-depth into pricing, marketing, destination weddings, and several different elements of the business. It definitely helped bring me to the next level from my introductory years.
Tyler Wirken – One on One Mentor Session (Dec 2011)
After Partnercon (Pictage Conference that no longer exists), I luckily came across his work during a presentation. I scrambled what money I had at the time, and spent 2 hours the very next day talking about technical aspects of photography. I was at a point in my work that I was frustrated with my composition and the lack of ‘feeling’ in my photos. Tyler broke the limitation on that plateau for me by bringing me back to earth and critiquing my work. He also scared the shit out of me with how intense of a photojournalist he is. I really appreciate that about him. If there’s anything that I look back on and think had the most dramatic effect on my work as a whole, it was this meeting with him. I finally felt like I could ‘see’ better.
The Youngrens Workshop (April 2012)
The Youngrens have a really strong understanding of marketing to ideal clients, and I learned A TON about how to focus on my target clientele. While we have very different types of ideal clients, the principles and strategies they teach about relay to all types of photographers. Jeff and Erin are good friends of mine, and I have a ton of respect for them. It’s awesome being able to talk about business with friends that target very different types of clients, but share the same passion for marketing principles related to ideal clientele, audience, and cultivating a “tribe”.
Brett Butterstein (July 2013)
One on One Mentor Session – As a recommendation from Tyler Wirken, I inquired with Brett about doing a 4 hour session to critique my images and how to better approach my work. Our conversation about lens choice, light, composition, and ‘feeling’ in photos was really insightful. I found myself arguing with Brett quite a bit during our session – but all in the purpose of understanding the underlying reasoning for his approach. A lot of the concepts were difficult for me to adhere to, and I struggled to change certain technical aspects of my work – but against my own judgement I tried his suggestions…and whaddaya know, they actually made a lot of sense to me. (As an example, one of the big changes was abandoning the practice of taking photos wider than 28mm.) It was a costly 4 hours, but it only made sense for me to do it sooner rather than later – as I’d rather improve the quality of my work earlier on rather than delay my development.
*EDIT JULY 2015* – Brett’s session along with the Foundation Workshop (below) have both still been revealing themselves in the development in my “vision”. I notice ways that I’m improving and recognize that they were ideas presented by Tyler, Brett and the Foundation experience.
Foundation Workshop (Jan 2014)
I should mention that Brett and Tyler are both instructors at Foundation workshop, and attending this was something I had in the back of my mind ever since Tyler had mentioned it back in 2011. It’s an intensive 3 day photojournalism assignment which includes extensive critiques of your entire set of images following each day. It’s a hefty price tag of over $4k, but it was well worth it. I always think back to the movie The Game (if you haven’t seen this movie, do it), and I feel that each person’s learning experience is unique. For some, the technical elements of their work such as light and composition are where they feel they grow most – and for others, intangible aspects such as attention of approach, time management of getting different moments, and connection with your subject are where others get most benefit. Yes, it’s true – people cry and have breakdowns, but those lead into breakthroughs. While I plan to write an entire post dedicated to an in-depth review of this workshop, I would suggest that anyone considering it first attend Foundation Conference prior to going. Get a feel for the instructors (many of them present or attend the conference), and hear feedback from others that have taken the workshop (many of the attendees have done it).
Casa de Chrisman (May 2014)
I’m happy to say that Erin and Ben have now become friends of mine. Their workshop was a learning experience unlike any other. And while I think I signed up initially to get some cool “tricks” – I ended up learning lessons completely unrelated to photography. The style in which they approach their workshops is one that should be embraced by all others within the industry. When considering “who’s” taking your workshop, a lot of times it’s those that are just starting out and need guidance in understanding techniques, customer service, or knowledge about product delivery etc. The types that aren’t shooting in high budget venues but church basements and family homes. Erin and Ben showed how to create amazing photos in *any* space, including their downstairs bathroom of their home. And while a lot of the techniques & critiques I was already familiar with, understanding that approach helped me become a better teacher (and leader) within my own circle. It’s easy to make great photos at an amazing venue, but when you’re starting from scratch…it can help to know the fundamentals. So thank you guys for teaching me how to be a better ‘teacher’ – and thank you on my students behalf for helping them learn in a more effective way.
*Side note – Erin and Ben are also kick ass people to hang out with, and they genuinely care for their students, and earnestly want them to succeed. I know a lot of photographers out there doing workshops for the fame or the money, and it sucks to see that approach tarnishing the industry. Erin and Ben are fighting the good fight, and I’m proud to toot their horn.
Sam Hurd Workshop (January 2015)
As I mentioned above in the Mystic review, I attended Sam’s workshop in conjunction with the conference. To be honest with you, I’ve noticed Sam’s work and how he’s pushing forward and challenging himself to better wedding photography as a whole. I really just wanted to hear what he had to say, and hear about his approach. Sam takes an unorthodox approach to his work, and I found myself realizing which areas I wanted to do the same – and also, which areas I yearned to be different. Sam’s un-afraid of being different and even catches flack at times for some of his ideas, but it comes with the territory of being a trailblazer.
I admire Sam for constantly pushing himself to grow and think differently – truly a fan of his work.
WORKSHOPS WORTH MENTIONING
This portion of the post could get really long, so I’ll try to keep it limited to some of the ones I’ve considered attending or reputable ones mentioned from friends.
If you feel there are some good ones you have done or thought about doing that should be mentioned here, please list them in the comments below! Would love to hear from you!
PS – as a personal recommendation, if you’re looking to improve your work – but don’t know where to start, I’d highly highly suggest going to a conference and talking to attendees about their experiences with workshops. Do some research on your speakers, and check out what they have to offer. If you can’t quite afford their workshop price, inquire with them about a 1-on-1 skype session and get some personally-tailored attention on your business. These kinds of conversations are some of the most valuable.
Here’s a great photo taken by the talented Caroline Godkin during the Foundation Workshop with instructor David Murray, and Elisha Stewart - a very well respected photographer friend of mine. The look David is giving Elisha is so telling.