Where can you meet and learn from the most well known photographers? Touch, try, and drool on the latest and greatest photography gear? Meet other like minded photographers and talk and share ideas and stories? At a Photography Convention or Conference. In this post I am going to talk you to about a few of the great learning opportunities that exist each year in different parts of the world and I will help you decide which event is best for you. Stay tuned!
Hey gang! If you watch my live shows on YouTube, you already know I regularly talk about the big photo conferences and expos like WPPI – the Wedding and Portrait Photography Conference and Imaging USA that is put on by the Professional Photographers of America. And of course there is PhotoPlus Expo in New York and the big kahuna – Photokina which takes place every two years in Cologne, Germany.
Along the way, quite a few people have asked me what the big deal is about these shows, and if it is really important for them to go? After all, they could use that money on camera gear so they want to be sure it’s really worth their while.
The short answer is – it is a big deal. Just so you don’t stress out – do you need to go to all of them? Of course not, but you should make it a point to go on a regular basis as your photography skills develop and as you grow your business if you turn pro.
The Photography Conferences
I had the pleasure of attending the recent WPPI conference at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, so let me use that as the backdrop to describe to you all of the learning opportunities that exist a these events.
Let’s start with the Expo. Just like a trade show, WPPI had over 240 exhibitors who were displaying their cameras, accessories, services, software, print labs, props, backgrounds and the list goes on. Some of these displays like Millers and Bay Photo Labs were as big as a house, giving people the chance to touch and sample their complete line of products. The major players like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Ricoh and of course Sigma, Tamron and Tokina have all of their gear on display and it’s usually available for you to try it out – as long as you promise not to drool on it.
The major camera retailers like B&H and Adorama as well as some smaller ones like Samy’s and B&C Camera had booths where you could actually buy much of the equipment that was on display. In fact a lot of companies run specials which involve extra discounts if you buy the gear at the show.
And let’s not forget the FREE learning opportunities. At WPPI companies like Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Panasonic, Adorama and many others had speakers like Joe McNally, Lindsay Adler, and Tamara Lackey doing live presentations at their booths – all at no cost.
WHY GO TO A PHOTO CONFERENCE?
Now all of that should sound like an awesome reason to attend but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of these shows offer loads of other learning opportunities like lectures, classes, workshops, photo walks, even opportunities for portfolio reviews. These opportunities come at an additional cost and it varies by event – but it is usually much cheaper than attending a workshop.
At WPPI there were classes by Lindsay Adler, Joel Grimes, Jose Villa, Joe Switzer, Zach and Jody Gray, Ben Sasso, Matthew Jordan Smith, Jerry Ghionis and many, many more. Topics covered everything from on and off camera flash to studio lighting, infant and toddler photography, high-end retouching, environmental portraiture, sales techniques for portrait and wedding photographers, fashion and beauty techniques, video and cinematography and the list goes on.
And then there are the photo walks that are sponsored by the camera companies and hosted by well know photographers and even some of your favorite YouTubers. A lot of the manufacturers also hire models to pose in their booths during the show.
And of course it’s Vegas so WPPI had some great nightlife opportunities. I mean what could go wrong with a few thousand photographers in a place like Vegas????
I almost forgot the print competitions. If you like the competitive aspect almost all of these events sponsor print and digital competitions and create big galleries that allow you to view the images during the show. Even if you aren’t ready to compete – the galleries are a great source for inspiration – so be sure to check them out while you are there.
SO HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE ONE THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Don’t just go for the sake of going… Consider the following:
- Does the event have a theme? As an example WPPI is for Wedding and Portrait Photographers, so you won’t find much for landscape photography at that show.
- What do you want or need to learn?
- Are you planning a large equipment purchase soon and want to be able to handle the gear and speak with the people who know it the best?
- Are you contemplating a new processing lab and you would like to take a first hand look at the actual quality of their prints and add-ons?
- Do you need access to mentors to help develop and grow your business?
- Look at who is speaking? If you don’t know who they are – look them up on YouTube to get a sense of their teaching style.
- Where is the event located and what will it cost you to attend? Places like Las Vegas may be some distance for you – but it is actually really cheap to fly to and stay in Las Vegas from practically anywhere in the United States.
- What are the networking opportunities like at the event – will you have access to the speakers?
- SHOW TIPS
When you go – I strongly recommend giving your wallet to someone who is not attending the show if you’re like me the temptation can be overwhelming!
Set aside at least one full day to visit the Expo. For me – I usually spend at least a day and a half covering the expo floor. I would encourage you to make a trip around the entire floor first and then double back to spend time at the booths that interest you. A lot of these events have mobile apps now so you can have an exhibitors list and a trade show map right on your phone and even add notes for each exhibitor. It is a great planning tool to make sure you can maximize your time.
Arrive early. Crowds grow during the day.
Register at least a month in advance so that you can attend for free! Many of the exhibitors will be advertising free two or three day Expo passes at NO cost. If you wait until the last minute you will generally pay around 30 dollars or even higher if you just show up and register on site.
EXTRA CONFERENCE TIP
In most cases if you join the organization that sponsors the event, your first time attending one of these conferences is either FREE or at a greatly reduced cost – because they want you to experience all that the organization has to offer. So be sure to look into the organization because in many cases, they offer some great benefits that more than pay for the membership fees. As an example, if you join PPA which is the Professional Photographers of America – your membership includes up to 15,000 dollars of equipment insurance at no cost. That combined with the free legal services and many other benefits – a PPA membership is practically a no-brainer and all new members get to attend their first ImagingUSA at no cost. Next year’s ImagingUSA is in Nashville Tennessee. I hope to see you there!
Bottom line… there are tons of great learning resource material online. I really wish it all existed when I was a kid learning photography. As much as I wholeheartedly encourage you to watch videos – especially mine and read blog articles – there is no substitute for being able to get out and see this stuff, handle it, and use it first hand. Plus it is great to be able to meet your photography idols in person. So don’t limit your learning to your own practice – which should be number one on your priority list. And don’t limit it to the internet. Make it a point to experience an event like this from time to time as you grow with your photography.
So there you have it… almost overwhelming right? It is — but don’t let that deter you – these events provide a ton of learning opportunities and if you are passionate about your photography remember that the learning NEVER stops – because your BEST shot is your next shot – so keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting, Adios!