I've been to a fair amount of conferences and seminars throughout my life. It seems as I was growing up, most offered an amazing getaway that pumped me up for whatever the topic of the weekend focused on. The more conferences I've gone to, though, the more I've felt jaded and unappreciative of the hype they create. That said, I wasn't sure what to expect at this year's annual wedding photography conference in Vegas, WPPI.
WPPI offers a week of topic specific classes and a trade show that parades the newest and hottest gadgets and displays in the wedding industry. The classes, taught by leaders in the field, can range from simple lighting and posing issues to in-depth “masters classes” that delve into the more intricate aspects of the business. While not everything about the week of sessions is helpful, most photographers could glean a thing or two from the conference. Whether a beginner photographer, or one well established in their business, here are some things to ponder when considering attending a photography conference.
The most unhelpful thing about a conference is the hype surrounding it. In several of the classes I attended, the speakers focused much of their talk around a motivational speech rather than practical advice and tricks of the trade. There was a lot of “Be an awesome photographer! We all have it in us! Release your creative vision and build a business empire! YOU CAN DO IT!” Although I understand motivation can drive beginners in the field to new challenges, I find the overall mentality very unhelpful and short lived. For the vast majority of people, that feeling of inspiration fades within several days to several weeks after the conference and doesn't produce tangible results in their business.
Another somewhat droll aspect to the conference is the repetition of the basics. Again, for a novice photographer, explaining off camera lighting, camera settings, or the most basics of client interaction can be helpful. However, if you have already had any experience in the field, classes that harp on these things aren't really worth it.
Although the motivation and repetition of the basics seem to be a waste of time for most photographers, there are other aspects of the conference that I would argue to be beneficial for any photographer at any stage of business.
At some point in everyone's career, the routine of the job makes work seem stagnant. Shooting pictures and video in the same way and in the same locations can get stale and create boredom. Although I do not celebrate the hype and motivation mindset that comes along with many classes at a conference, I think there can be a distinguishable sense of vision that can be cast when listening to other successful photographers. By listening to different ways of achieving success, it's hard not to walk away from a class with new applications for your own business model.
Not only can fresh vision come from conference speakers, both speakers and any trade show that accompanies a conference can show off new trends in the field. If a photographer wants to be successful 10 years from now, they need to know how to adapt. Trade shows and other photographers are a great way to explore how the industry is changing. Each year, new gadgets are made which can improve your work flow and create more time for other things. New displays or print options become available that can be sold to your clients and keep your studio looking as good or better than your competition.
The last major benefit which I believe conferences offer is the ability to network. For a beginner photographer, it's important to learn from more established pros and create connections with others in a similar situation. When questions pop up or a shoot goes poorly, you need to have a group of people to lean on for advice. While this is especially helpful to novices in the field, I believe networking at a conference can be most beneficial to photographers who have already found success and established a niche. Once you've become the top studio in your town or the best wedding photographer in your area, there are new steps of business that can be created when you join forces with other pros. It's possible to push your business far beyond shooting and editing.
Lastly, if none of that appeals to you, it's Vegas... why not write off as an expense and go.