If I told you that you could watch Lindsay Adler create, grab a passing high five from Peter Hurley, test run the newest lenses, sit in on a spicy AI debate, and drink Kentucky bourbon in the evenings with your friends, would you tell me to snap out of my odd photographer fantasy dream? If you would, I would tell you that what I just described was my recent visit to Imaging USA. Whether your own dream would include the Nikon booth, chatting with photo legend Joe McNally, landscape tips with Annalise Kaylor, or software updates with Julieanne Kost, you could find it at this year’s conference. There are many sessions I wish I could have attended, but until I crack the code on cloning, here are the key points from the lectures I did manage to participate in.
Julieanne Kost: What's New in Photoshop
After having attended Julieanne Kost’s seminar last year, I came better prepared. I opted for a double application of my wrinkle cream, knowing full well that, she would have me in stitches. As predicted, I’ve never laughed so much during a class on software updates.
Content Aware is still cool, guys… but Generative Fill is insane!
I thought I was quite proficient in Generative Fill, but she showed us usages that had never crossed my mind. My favorite was when she took two landscape images, placed them side by side in a panoramic view, and used Generative Fill to merge them into a new and unique landscape.
There was an audible gasp in the room as a new and unusual landscape emerged.
I found it interesting that when using Generative Fill, Kost rarely typed a prompt in the dialog box. She simply selected the space and clicked Generate. In my own usage, I’ve found that it seems to work better when I let it guess what I want than when I try to instruct it by typing in a prompt. Kost later explained that when you enter a written prompt, the software puts priority weight on the prompt. Alternatively, when you let it do its thing, it prioritizes analyzing the photo. She repeated regularly, "Just let it do its thing."
There are two items which she showed us that may prove quite useful to you. The first was under Window you can select the “Beta Feedback” tab. Here, you can explore the most recent updates to Photoshop Beta if you haven’t been able to stay current.
The second tidbit that is quite helpful is that if you want to remove layer visibility changes from your History, you can turn this feature off. Simply click the three lines in the top right of the history palette and uncheck “Make Layer Visibility Changes Undoable”.
After unchecking this option, when you scroll back in your history, you won’t have to scroll through all the times you turned the eye on and off to see changes.
Victoria Labalme: Risk Forward (Keynote Speaker)
Next on the schedule was the keynote speaker: Victoria Labalme. Labalme is a communication expert. Having worked with clients such as Starbucks, L’Oréal, Microsoft, Coca Cola, and more, she is regarded as a leader in her field. My biggest takeaway from her talk was the idea of taking “micro risks.” We’ve been taught, she explains, that we need a plan. An iron-clad plan that we stick to with laser focus to achieve our goals. She suggested an alternative approach: risking forward.
We build our careers on micro risks.
She encouraged the hundreds of photographers in the room to follow their curiosity, quoting Walt Whitman, “Re-examine all you have been told… but dismiss whatever insults your soul.” She added the thought that just because you’re good at something, that doesn’t mean you should do it. Rather, she exhorted the audience, you should do what inspires you. This quote which she shared was a summary of her message, “At the edge of not knowing is the beginning of the extraordinary.”
The Exhibitor Floor
After my morning sessions, I headed over to walk the expo showroom. The energy in the room was buzzing. If you’re a gear-a-holic, this will be your favorite spot, and the one which gets you in trouble with your business accountant. Need? Want? The lines get so blurry!
Like a moth to the flame, I ended up at the Canon booth first. There were so many people drooling over the latest lenses and trying to get insider information about whether there really is an R1 in the making, that I wandered a bit. I caught sight of a luxuriously vibrant oversized photo emerging from a printer.
The Canon reps delivered the expected “improved color… more scratch-resistant prints…” Perhaps it’s my skepticism colliding with my curiosity, but I needed more information "How is the color better?" It turned out that they truly had made interesting changes. The color gamut has increased to 12 colors, from some of its predecessors which had 7 or 8. Not only are there more colors, but the formula of the ink is different. They have changed from silicone oil to a crystalline wax additive. This helps make the prints more scratch resistant. They have improved the optical density of the black and changed the cyan and magenta inks. If you’ve read my articles, you know that color is the glue that has kept me attached to Canon all these years. It was brilliant to see the science behind their color. They had three of the 5 newly released printers on-site. The PROGRAGH Pro 2600, 4600, and 6600 as well as mid-range printers like the Pro300 which can output up to 13x19” and is priced under $900. It seems to be the perfect tool for those who sell prints. If we are going in descending size order, I found out that they also have the Sehphy printer. This is a minuscule (7 x 5 x 2”) printer that can output many different printing papers and sizes in 23 to 41 seconds, no apps required. This is just fun. I’m buying it!
I finally made it back to the lens counter the next day, and I got my hands on the highly anticipated RF 24-105mm f/2.8. I wished I hadn’t. My accountant is not going to be happy. I could write paragraphs about this, but for now, I will say that I think this lens will end up being the new jack of all trades (and master of all) in every photographer's bag. It’s versatile, it’s sharp, it's fast, it’s everything we wanted. (wipes drool off laptop)
Lindsay Adler: Secrets to Unlocking Creative Lighting
On day two I was relieved I had seen Kost just the day before. This exempted me from the cruel and unusual punishment of having to choose between two of the most brilliant women in the industry: Kost and Adler. Adler’s presented on three creative approaches to lighting: using hard light, grids, and gels. She started the audience with a simple one-light setup, pulling out unexpected objects such as a spatulas and cinefoil and shocked us with creative, modern, high-key portraits.
She shared that she often browses the aisles of Michael’s, and Hobby Lobby looking for interesting items she could push light through. The image below on the left was made using a cat pooper scooper!
For brevity’s sake, I’ll enumerate a few of my favorite takeaways below.
- Do not be scared of hard light for portraiture. Sure, it amplifies imperfections on the skin, but these can be fixed in post. Try working with hard light, bold shadows, and creative tools to push light through.
- Bring blotting paper and HD powder to shoots to minimize shine on the subject’s skin.
- When using gels, colors only show up in shadowed areas. The darker the space on which the gel hits, the more vibrant the color will be. Brightness dulls and overpowers the color of the gels.
- For shutter drag shots, shoot around 1/10 of a second and hit the subject with a focused hard light strobe on the part of the image you want frozen.
These are takeaways that stuck with me based on the work that I create, but the beauty of her presentation is that she started with one light and built up clearly and systematically to five lights. This left everyone in the room with a takeaway they could implement now and a clear vision for what their next step was in their lighting journey. Her brilliant talk was the buzz of the show the rest of the week.
Sell on Trust, Not On Price, by Dr. Yoram Solomon
Having researched the concept of trust for 15 years, his presentation was chock-full of interesting and relevant facts on how trust is an essential element of a successful business. There were brilliant insights in this seminar, but the one which stood out to me the most was the studies on how much more clients would pay to work with a brand that they perceived as trustworthy.
Studies showed that clients were willing to pay 29.8% more for the same service if they perceived that one option is more trustworthy than the other.
From nailing the first impression to tone of voice and body language, Dr. Solomon walked us through how to build authentic trust with our clients.
Creating Compelling Spec Work to Elevate Your Career Rob Gregory
Rob Gregory is a commercial photographer who has worked on campaigns for Reebok, Foot Locker, Coors Light, and many more. His talk covered the topic of why spec work is important and how it can help your career. Spec work are images that you create as personal projects, allowing you to produce work in the style you want without the confines of the client’s boundaries. Generating this type of imagery allows you to establish the artistic identity you wish to be recognized and contracted for. You attract what you put out, so you naturally draw in clients seeking that particular style, increasing your chances of being hired for projects that resonate with your creative vision. Gregory walked us through the steps he takes when creating spec work.
- Choose a subject that interests you.
- Do something different.
- Once you think you have a great idea, push it further.
- Don’t settle.
- Use your new spec work to market your services to appropriate clients.
Cris Duncan, The Umbrella Academy: Create Unique Portraits Using Umbrellas
If you can picture the old Wild Wild West movies where the cowboy effortlessly spins his gun around his finger, then stops, shoots, and hits the bullseye, you can picture a Cris Duncan lighting class. He is the cowboy of lighting setups. In his class, Duncan taught us how to efficiently use umbrellas to add diversity and uniqueness to our images. In less than one hour, he created 10 different images ranging from individual to group portraits using umbrellas as the modifier.
Umbrellas are generally about a quarter of the price of softboxes, they take less space, and they travel well. “The goal is that you can leave immediately and say, 'I can do this!'” he expressed. There was an extensive list of lighting principles that he covered, but one demo left all of us surprised. He had the idea to paint his umbrella diffuser with fabric spray to direct the light.
On one diffuser, he painted half the circle in black, forcing the light to push through the other half. On another, he painted all of it black except a strip down the center. Using these different umbrella diffusers interchangeably would be a brilliant cost and space-effective way to have more control over the light. When demonstrating this, the woman behind me exclaimed, “Shut up! He’s a genius. He better trademark that before I do!” Looks like Duncan has his work cut out on this brilliant workaround he created.
Diversity and Inclusion Seminar With Shawn Lee
It was a bumpy start on my way to the diversity and inclusion talk with Shawn Lee. After wandering for some time, asking for help, then going through the app, I finally found the seminar. It was scheduled in the basement, at the end of the hallway, past the prop room.
Pause one moment for the irony.
Despite these initial first impressions, I was encouraged to see support in the room by PPA president Kira Deryberry and former president Ralph Romanguera. Both shared encouraging and inspiring words. The talk was a mishmash of recent accomplishments, changes in the organization, and opportunities to affect change in the field. For me, the best conversation was when the floor was opened for questions. A young girl nervously asked how she could approach photographers of other races to join her local PPA group without being offensive. Lee responded wonderfully, “We have to take the stigma away from asking the questions.” It was refreshing to be able to ask questions that felt uncomfortable but were accepted and embraced. Lee made an excellent point that a diversity meeting should mean everyone is included. It’s not only for minorities. We need all the voices. He added a great quote, “I don’t need to agree with your point of view, but your point of view should be in the pot.”
Why do we need a diversity meeting, you may ask. It's not what you may think: exasperated people complaining and making one group the enemy over the other. It was a time of sharing victories. Victories such as the story of 17 Hats who donated $75,000 to Lee's project supporting disadvantaged schools in Detroit. Or the story of Canon, who donated $120,000 of gear for these same programs, equipping the young photographers of the future to pursue the arts.
The seminar was also a place where people could ask honest questions without judgment. Many of us want to affect change, but sometimes we don’t know how. There are very few places in which we can ask uncomfortable questions without feeling judged. It was a place of support. At times, if you try to effect change, it can feel like a very lonely journey. Being in a space with people who want the same changes as you feels invigorating and supportive. My biggest takeaway from this session was to just keep going. In the small ways in which we can build bridges, effect change, and reach out to someone different than us, we should continue to do so. The world can only change one action, one person, one decision at a time. No matter how small it may feel. As Ryan Holiday phrased so eloquently:
The belief that an individual can make a difference is the first step, the next is understanding that you can be that person.
A Few Closing Thoughts
Imaging USA has always struck me as very portrait-heavy. Historically, it appeared that Imaging USA speakers were those who predominantly focused on capturing people, including wedding, senior, family, and fashion photographers, among others. For example, this and last year, there was only one food photographer: Christina Peters. Last year, there was only one product photographer, Taylor Brumfield. This year, she was in pre-conference, leaving a whopping zero product photographers. I was pleased, however, to see other genres covered in this year's lectures. The renowned wildlife photographer and conservation photojournalist Analese Kaylor was on the speaker list. Although I wasn't able to attend, my colleague attended her seminar on Breaking Into the Business of Wildlife Photography and raved about it.
I also heard that the talk on AI with Christine Tremoulet from Imagen was brilliant. There were also sessions on volume sports photography and many fantastic business seminars. It was great to see a broader scope of speakers this year and I still hope to see more in the field of food and product photography.
I want to send a big thank you to PPA and all the speakers and brands who came out to educate, inspire, and propel us forward. If you did attend, I would love to hear your feedback in the comments below. Do you have a favorite seminar? What was your biggest takeaway? Is there something you would like to see next year?
If you didn't attend, I invite you to mark your calendars for February 2-4, 2025, in Grapevine, TX. I hope to see you there!