I woke up enlightened, inspired, and in slight disbelief. I had been elevated by Simon Bailey, instructed by Lindsay Adler, photographed by Mark Mann, and chatted up by Peter Hurley. I had watched artificial intelligence write, cull, and edit; and I partied the night away with over 10,000 photographers. Was this every photographer's fantasy dream played out in my sleep? No, it was my first trip to Imaging USA. In this article, I will recount my favorite notes and highlights from Imaging USA. Alas, it's not all glam: I'll also share about the closing keynote which left the crowd shocked. Let's review my first trip to Imaging USA.
Day 1: Purpose, Selling, and Finding Your Ideal Client
Simon T. Bailey: Spark the Customer Experience (Keynote)
Imaging USA kicked off the events with an emotionally bare speech by keynote speaker Simon T. Bailey. He shared candidly about how he built a successful and lucrative business, yet he neglected the most valuable thing of all: his family relationships. The "toxic hustle culture" has been a buzz topic for some time now, and Bailey spoke on it boldly. He also had us hastily trying to jot down all his brilliant phrases for later digestion:
"How do we find a way to hug customers with our words?
Whatever you don't deal with will eventually deal with you.
Bad customer service kills great marketing.
The importance of empathetic listening over selective listening.
He was inspiring, humble, and had the whole room giggling with his infectious laugh. He offers a Shift your Brilliance assessment, which I look forward to taking.
Allison Tyler Jones: The Art of Selling
After leaving with a notebook full of insights to unpack at a later time, I headed over to "The Art of Selling" with Allison Tyler Jones. The blithe superpower loaded us with a broad sales arsenal. Jones provided mindset evaluation tools to pinpoint beliefs that may be limiting our sales, as well as practical strategies for making the amount we deserve at each shoot. Here are some favorite notes from her session:
Do not ask friends and family for advice about your pricing. Talk to photography peers who are at your level.
Sell the solution to their problems via your photography, and tell them how they will use the images.
Write your fears down about charging the amount that you are worthy of, and address them with yourself before a discovery call.
Damian Dizard: How to Find your Ideal Client
In this pragmatic talk, Dizard provided actionable steps toward booking more ideal clients. From writing an ICP (Ideal Client Profile) to putting a call-to-action above the fold on your website, his tips were concrete steps for more targeted client acquisition. My favorite contribution of his was his introduction of Chat GPT, an AI writing tool. He demonstrated how we can utilize this free AI writing tool to compose copy that can be tweaked and used for anything from Facebook ads, to Instagram captions, to the web.
Day 2: Photoshop Compositing, Lightroom Masking, and Commercial Photography
Julieanne Kost: The Art of Compositing in Photoshop
Photoshop is releasing new upgrades faster than the bachelorettes were getting day-drunk a few blocks away in downtown Nashville. If you're anything like me, you try to keep up with the tsunami of updates, but it's sometimes overwhelming. Kost had us simultaneously becoming Photoshop gods and feeling like we were at a stand-up comedy club. It is impossible to summarize her detailed teaching in this article, but I will direct you to this free resource on her site about photo compositing. She is officially my new go-to for staying current on Adobe software.
Julieanne Kost: The power of Masking in Lightroom Classic
After the brilliant presentation on Photoshop, I don't think anyone budged from their chair for her successive talk on Lightroom masking. It was so extensive that I will once again direct you to her site for more, but I will also share a function she showed us which made the whole audience gasp.
Have you noticed that Lightroom now shows faces in a small circle in the masking panel?
If you click on this face, Lightroom will automatically mask all the different groups of the face — skin, iris, lips, teeth, hair — onto different layers for you to edit.
She also demonstrated how to make use of the Super Resolution feature. This command quadrupless an image's resolution, which comes in handy when working from a low-res file or a cropped file.
Taylor Brumfield: Launching a Commercial Photography Business
There was very little at the conference focusing on commercial photography, so all of us in that space were hoping that the two dedicated seminars would deliver, and Brumfield did. She gave a well-rounded talk touching on all related subjects, from props to licensing. She and I both agreed that next year's conference would benefit from an entire segment on licensing and copyright. The unexpected contribution that she referenced was a resource called "The Cost of Doing Business Calculator" by Dr. Tomayia Colvin.
This is a resource photographers can use to help them price out assignments. In addition to her wealth of practical tools, I heard more than one attendant walk out discussing how they were inspired by her bold and unapologetic firmness as an artist. In my education days we had a saying, "more is caught than taught," and though she didn't teach on it explicitly, we all were reminded to be firm in the value and cost of producing our imagery.
Day 3: Agency Work, Portrait Lighting, and the Tone-Deaf closing Keynote
Christina Peters: How to Get Consistent Work With Ad Agency Clients
If you've been in the photo community for any amount of time, you know that generally, commercial photographers out-bill all the other photographers in the room. But how does one actually get a coveted spot on the roster of an ad agency? Peters gave practical advice from her agency experience. Agencies want to see the work for which they're interested in hiring you not once, but over and over and over in your portfolio. Therefore, the first step is creating a robust and focused body of work. She also laid out a game plan on using print and online resources to contact agencies and creative directors. Peters detailed the systematic shooting process for photo stacking used in commercial work. She left us with one clear revelation: it's not as easy as it looks. I doubt anyone in that seminar will ever look at a McDonald's ad again and say: "I could have shot that." It was clear why the barrier to entry is so high, and the price tag so impressive. Commercial work takes an enormous breadth of specific knowledge, not just general photography skill.
Cris Duncan: One Light, Ten Portraits
I walked into the room for this class a little before the start time to get a good seat, knowing there would be a demo. I was shocked when I walked in: the room was packed solid with people already lined up against the walls and crouched on the ground. I darted a look back at the door. Did I accidentally walk into a Garth Brooks private performance? I squeezed my thankfully small frame into the seat, wondering what kind of magic people were crowded here for. I quickly saw why Duncan's fan club showed up. He was an absolute genius with light. Stripping it down to the most basic setup: one light, one softbox. He effortlessly rotated the light from left to right, swiveling it, feathering it, diffusing it, and creating 10 different looks in around 30 minutes.
Julie Solomon: The Tone-deaf Closing Keynote
After two days of methodological education, pragmatic business strategies, and inspiring messages came podcaster Julie Solomon as the closing keynote. She began sharing her life story, working up to an emotional breaking point that brought her to tears: the moment when she inadvertently racked up over $30,000 in shopping debt, which her husband had to pay off. She described it as the lowest point of her life. It was uneasy and quiet in the room, a sort of confused disbelief as we held our breath to see where this was going. The "Imaging USA 2023" group chat lit up. Memes about white privilege started flying. Her keynote continued down a rabbit hole of boasting and ended with an unpalatably long sales pitch for her coaching programs. I interviewed over a dozen attendants after, and the feedback ranged from turned off to expressly offended. The sentiment was unanimous, though: it was not good. One group pulled up a Reel from Solomon's Instagram, which she had posted the week before the conference, bragging: "So, last week I woke up to a $25,000 wire transfer to speak on a stage for about 60 minutes." We all could fill in the blank of who she was referring to. Her speech was uncomfortable and lacked emotional intelligence, to say the least.
Thankfully, it was followed by a lively dancefloor with drinks and dancing to cap the night off in style. Hundreds of photographers drank cocktails, danced, laughed, and shared the night celebrating an inspiring conference.
Other Conference Highlights
Having looked at the seminars upon booking, I had anticipated crossing paths with the speakers above, as well as with dozens of others listed as teachers. What I hadn't expected was the brilliant demos on the expo floor with mega giants: Lindsay Adler, Marc Mann, Peter Hurley, Creative Soul, Vanessa Joy, and more. Canon had a bold monochromatic red room, a wall-to-wall reflective mylar room, and a mock country wedding room where photographers could learn and practice. It was incredibly engaging.
The conference allowed me to brush up on my latest gear: from tethering to off-camera lighting. I even got my sensor cleaned. I was able to get up to speed with the latest AI technology: AI culling and editing. It was simultaneously fascinating and terrifying. I could author more about the great happenings at Imagining USA, but the article may never end and you're probably behind on your editing.
What I Would Love to See Next Year
There are a few subjects which I think would make great topics next year. One which I touched on earlier is licensing and copyright. Also, the conference is very heavily weighted toward portrait and wedding photography. Conversely, there was very little targeted toward product and food photography, which are both booming industries now. There was nothing for photojournalism. A demo for product photography and food photography would have been brilliant.
If you have never made it to an Imaging USA conference, I would suggest that you block off January 28-30, 2024. It will be an invaluable experience. Thank you to PPA and Imaging USA for the incredible event and to all the speakers who shared their time and talent.
Have you ever attended? If you have not, what is it that has held you back? For me, I just didn't know what to expect which is why I chose this year to head over and bring back news for our Fstoppers family. If you have been, I would love for you to share more about your experience in the comments below.