With so many conference/workshop options to choose from, how do you select the photography conference that is right for you?
[gap size=”3em”]Each year, hundreds of photography retreats, workshops, conferences, and conventions are held around the world. Both amateur and professional photographers attend these educational events to learn new skills, discover tricks-of-the-trade, shoot alongside top-notch photographers, connect with fellow attendees, and be inspired. With so many to choose from, how is a photographer to choose which will be most beneficial for them? Here are 10 questions to ponder when choosing a photography conference that is right for you.
#1 WHAT DO YOU WANT TO LEARN?
What are you interested in focusing on? (Pun intended.) Which photography topics would you like to learn more about? Sit down with a pen and paper or open up an iPhone note and jot down everything you want to learn how to do. Don’t worry about using the proper terminology; just write down what comes to mind.
If you’re a beginner, your list might look like this:
- Want to figure out how to shoot in manual
- Want to make sure my photos don’t look too dark
- Want to learn more about which lenses to use with my camera body
- Want to make my photos look sharper
- Want to learn to use flash
- Want to learn how to focus on moving objects
If your list becomes lengthy, go back through the topics and highlight those that are most important to you. Just by figuring out which skills you want to tackle, you’ll automatically narrow down your photography workshop choices.
#2 WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT SKILL LEVEL?
Would you consider yourself a novice, an intermediate shooter, or a professional photographer? Many workshops are open to all skill levels, while others are geared toward professional photographers. Make sure you understand if the conference/workshop offers classes or sessions that fit your skill level. If you are a beginner and there are only advanced courses you may learn a lot or may find it very frustrating. If you are more advanced and only topics for beginners are covered, you again may still learn something but may mostly have wasted both your time and money.
#3 WHAT TYPES OF CLASSES ARE OFFERED AT EACH WORKSHOP?
Research each workshop that you’re interested in to find out if they will be offering classes on topics of interest. For instance, if you want to learn how to use your external flash, check to make sure this subject will be covered. Or maybe you want to learn more about model posing. Read through the course offerings to find out if this topic will be included.
In other words, what type of workshop format are you looking for? Are you interested in sitting in a conference room and listening to a presenter? Or are you more of a hands-on, learn-by-doing type of person who wants to experience a shoot firsthand? Or perhaps, you more interested in learning how to improve your post-processing workflow by editing images on a laptop.
Do you have a full week of vacation time or just a few days? Keep this in mind as you research possible workshops. If you’ll need to travel to the workshop, remember that two of your days will be spent getting to and from the location.
#6 HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU WANT TO SPEND?
Workshop and conference fees vary greatly, so knowing your budget ahead of time will help you decide which options are feasible. Keep in mind that you’ll often incur travel costs, too. It’s likely that you’ll need to purchase airline tickets (or use airline miles), book hotel accommodations, and buy some meals.
Are any of your photographer friends attending the workshop? If not, invite a photographer friend or two to come along with you. You might be able to share a room, saving you money. That said, don’t be afraid to go alone to a workshop or conference. You’ll meet lots of people with whom you will have something in common: a love of photography. And you never know, you just may leave the workshop with a few new photographer buddies.
Are there certain professional photographers you would love to learn from? Check out their personal photography websites to see if they’ll be teaching any workshops soon. In the fall of 2013, I signed up for the Click Blogger Retreat, in large part because I really wanted to meet (and learn from) Ali Edwards, a talented scrapbooker and photographer, who was slated to present at the workshop.
Would you prefer a local conference or an out-of-state getaway? Clearly, your timeline and budget will impact this decision. You’ll save money by staying local, but it is often fun to visit a new locale.
#10 WILL THERE BE ANY NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES?
Many photographers, everyone from beginners to professionals, enjoy networking with other photographers at workshops and conferences. Building connections with other photographers can be invaluable, particularly for novices who can learn a great deal from established pros. Sometimes after a workshop or conference ends, the group will create a Facebook page, so that attendees can ask questions or seek advice from one another. This is another great way to network with other photographers.
Once you have a good idea of what you’d like to learn and how much you want to spend (both time and money), then it’s time to start searching in earnest for the photography retreat, workshop, conference, or convention that’s right for you.
Sure, using Google is a good start. But it’s highly unlikely that your results will be comprehensive. Instead, ask your photographer friends for recommendations. (Bear in mind, though, that their needs and desires might differ from yours, depending on their skill levels and interests.) If you’re part of a Facebook photography group, ask members about workshops they’ve recently attended.
Here is a list of well-known retreats, workshops, conferences, and conventions you might check into:
- Improve Photography Retreat (Ahem… the best conference in the world 🙂 The Retreat is totally different because EVERY CLASS is hands on, it's not HUGE with a million people, tickets are reasonably priced, and you actually get to spend time with the speakers outside the classroom. This is the conference where you come home with like 20 new portfolio-quality photos. Awesome, but I'm a little biased….).
- Out of Chicago Fun conference with great speakers run by Jim's friend Chris Smith. Jim said it's definitely worth attending.
- Confidence Photography Workshops
- Click Blogger Retreat
- Click Away
- WPPI Convention
- Imaging USA
- Inspire Photo Retreats
- Photoshop World (Jim went to this one and said he can't recommend it. The speakers give their talks and then run to the speakers lounge where you never see them again. EVERYTHING is an upsell the whole conference, etc. Just a huge money grab with little effort to make it a good experience for the attendees).
Be sure to read the reviews from past conference attendees to find out went well and what could have been improved.
Once you’ve decided which conference you’d like to attend, give yourself a day or two to think it over before booking. (Most workshops and conferences don’t sell out in a day, so you’ll have time to contemplate your decision and make sure you’re comfortable with it.) In selecting to attend a photography workshop or conference, you’re making an investment in yourself, so choose wisely.
And when the workshop or conference time arrives, go and enjoy yourself. Learn, shoot, edit, share, listen, network—but most of all, have fun!
Thank you to Me Ra Koh and Clickin Moms for providing images for this post.
Jennie Harless is a hobbyist photographer who loves capturing life through her lens. Her favorite subject is her 3-year-old son whom she and her husband adopted at birth. Jennie and her family make their home in Northern California, but love to travel to places all over the United States. Her photography and writing can be found at www.jennierosedesigns.blogspot.com.