• Abigail Saalfrank

How To Choose A Photography Conference

Updated: Dec 8, 2019

While I am literally the most decisive person in the world, seriously my senior year in high school I tried on one prom dress then was done, I seriously struggle with deciding what photography conference/workshops I should attend. There are literally a million, seriously there are the big ones such as WPPI, United, The Push Conference, Reset, or Shutterfest to name a few, where you can find hundreds of photographers, and dozens of speakers. There are the little ones that are by one and one photographer only, who if you don't follow, or adore you probably have never heard of, and there is everything in-between. Literally a million. Therefore every end of fall, start of winter I find myself trying to decide which conference/workshop I want to plan on attending in the following year. So I figured I can not be alone in this so I wanted to help you guys out by giving you the steps I use to decide what conferences/workshops I attend. I will also let you know which ones I am planning on attending in 2019, as well as ones I have attended in the past, as well as some online courses I have taken. I am also going to touch on conferences/workshops that are on my radar for the future! So let's dive in!

First things first: Budget

You have to start off deciding what your education budget for the year is. I totally went overboard in 2017 and took part in one in person, and five online workshops totally blowing my budget of what I wanted to spend. This year I didn't want to make that mistake, and to make up for last year I decided to only do two, coming in definitely under budget. When deciding what conferences you want to attend you must decide your budget for the year, that you have to spend on education. If you only want to spend $1000 on education, a far away conference which involves a flight, and several nights in a hotel is probably not for you. You are going to want to look for something closer, maybe something that is drivable, and only a day or two to avoid a ton of hotel time. If your budget is $10,000 then take that plunge and go to a conference or workshop in Europe, I mean what the heck why not? Also consider skipping those smaller conferences/workshops and saving for the bigger one. Do you really want to go to the one in Paris which will cost $7000, but your budget for the year is only $3500? Don't attend one this year, and head off to Paris next year. To me it is always worth it to wait and go to your dream conference/workshop then attend one you aren't as excited about and won't learn as much from.

Second: List Gathering

Now that you have set your budget rather that be $300, or $10,000, it is time to research. MY favorite thing to do is post in the photography groups I am in and ask what the best conferences/workshops are, I then gather a list from there. If someone recommends a conference/workshop it is usually a sign that they are decent. Once I feel I have a nice big list I set off into step three.

Third: Research

The third thing I do, is I take my list and head off on the internet, but keeping my budget in mind as well as my schedule. I then look at all the conferences/workshops websites. Do I not have enough money for travel? Cross it off. Did I want to stay within driving distance and this one is across the country? Cross it off. Does this conference fall when I have a wedding or a personal commitment? Off the list. I will say this is the hard part for me. I always have a photographer recommend a conference that sounds totally amazing but it out of what I want to spend or I am unavailable to go that weekend, and I know I have to eliminate it the second I look at the conferences website. Once you are done crossing out the ones that don't fit budget based on distance, or just overall price, and eliminating the ones you can't attend purely based on schedule you are just one step closer to deciding which conference to attend.

Fourth: Feelers

This year when I did this, I already knew one of the conferences/workshops I was dead set on attending, but I had a hard time figuring out a second. So once I had narrowed my list down from the 30 recommendations I received to the 3 that were within budget, well what I had left after the conference I was set on, and dates I was available, I posted in my groups again but about those specific ones, asking my fellow photographers to tell me the good and the bad on those conferences. Most people say good things, and even the bad reviews often have something good thrown in. Usually after reading how other people felt, I get a good idea on which conference/workshop is going to be the one for me.

Fifth: Sign up!

The best part about finally deciding which conference/workshop to attend, the signing up and getting that confirmation email that you are about to further your business for the better! For me this step really eases the fact that I am spending that money and taking the plunge!

Things to Consider

- There are a ton of online conferences and workshops to attend as well. If you are busy you can totally do things from home!

- There are also online classes you can take if you don't feel like attending a workshop/conference! Instead of attending a conference/workshop this year I chose to join the International Academy of Wedding Photographers and go through their program. It is more set up like a college program where you have "classes" and assignments but for me it was the best thing for my 2018 education need. It was great because 2018 was absolutely nuts, and having something I can do at my own pace when I want has been great, which I will talk about further when I talk about conferences/workshops and other things I have attended. I actually really love online classes/courses because I love working at my own pace from home, however there is something about going to a conference and being surrounded by photographers that is so inspiring.

- If your budget is on the lower end, I highly recommend checking out Creativelive.com. It is an online site full of videos that you can pay for that help you through whatever you are looking for. I have taken several through there that have been great. There is everything from posing, to marketing, to how to be more consistent, literally I promise you will find what you are looking for. Their videos range from $19 in cost to a couple hundred. There is usually 2-30 videos in each class as well, that you can access at any time and anywhere.Every single one I have done I have loved and learned a ton, and I still have a ton to watch as I kinda went crazy when I discovered the site and bought a million classes, okay 18, but still. I actually plan on watching my last few in my "off" season.

Conferences/Workshops/Others things I Have Attended or Taken and Loved

- United: I attended United last November, and was totally bummed to not be going this year. But it didn't fit my schedule this year. I am hoping to attend in 2019, and it is on my list as my second conference to attend. However due to the nature of when it falls, which happens to be right at the beginning of November, it is not a super easy date for me to work. I normally shoot weddings into November, and therefore I can not make it happen. So we will see. I have a wedding November 8th and typically it falls that first week, so it may have to happen again in 2020. But this conference for me was totally life changing and 100% inspired me to take my business full time. I also learned a ton. It was the only photography conference/education I did last year, and I doubled my business this year and my income, so it was obviously very beneficial along with some other things, but it was definitely the main reason my business grew. Plus I loved spending four days surrounded by other photographers, as well as partaking in the stylized shoots and getting some dreamy photos in Arizona's gorgeous scenery. I also got to fan girl and meet some photographers that seriously I adore. I meant to write a blog post all about my experience at United, and never got around to it due to my schedule. So I will write one this winter and put that up for you guys to read and learn further about my experience!

- Book Brides Bootcamp: I actually am in the middle of this right now, so I don't have a super ton of feedback to give. However I really am excited about this one. This is an online workshop with Michelle Harris. This is a really personalized Workshop which is why I chose it, plus I have followed Michelle for awhile and I adore her. In this workshop, Michelle actually reviews your business in order to help it grow. She analyzes everything from your website, to social media, to your email templates, literally she walks through it all in order to help you improve and give you guidance on what to work on. Basically a total revamp of business and it is done all online and through Skype which I love. For me I am often so busy that even when I go to a conference I don't take a break, literally I was at United last year listening to speakers all day, then at night I was editing photos. Therefore doing something I can do from home and just slide into my schedule is fantastic for me.

- International Academy of Wedding Photographers: Like I said this is an online course that is more like college classes where you watch videos and then have assignments. I enrolled in February I believe, and my goal was to finish it this year. There is 9 modules, and each module has 7-10 sections, with assignments. However 2018 was a busy that I did not anticipate and I did not make it as far as planned, but there is still hope as we still have two months left this year. I am only in my second module, but with everything slowing down a little, my hope is to work on it in-between editing photos, so I can hopefully be about half way done by the end of the year. I could not recommend this course more then I already do. I will have to give you guys another review when I am finished but only a module and a half in and I have already seen things change in my business. I did the recommend course of action and did the Business of Wedding Photography first and it was soooo life changing for my business side of things. It is expensive, but I totally think well worth it.

- Hope Taylor's Senior Rep Spokesmodel Course: I used to shoot a ton of seniors so this was another online course I took which was extremely helpful. However due to my busy nature I haven't had much time to implement this into my actual photography business. However I am about to as I am bringing back my senior rep program for 2019 and it is going to be epic thanks to Hope and her course! I seriously adore Hope and literally hope to someday take every course she offers!

What I Am Planning On Attending/Taking in 2019

-United: After an amazing experience in 2017, and spending November of 2018 watching my friends all go wishing I was there, I decided I had to go back for 2019. I could not resist. This conference is amazing and there is so much to learn as well as so many options. Each day there are two main sessions and then 4-6 break out sessions, which you can choose which one you attend. So you can literally tailor this education to be exactly what you need. Last time I was there I sat in break out sessions about emailing like a boss, posing on the go, how to make an extra 10k this year, how to book 40+ weddings a year, and so many more. I seriously learned so much and contribute so much of my business growing to this conference that it was a no duh for me to attend again.

- Katelyn James: Lighting and Location: This is a course I have been meaning to take for forever and never gotten round to it. Although I am established in my business and pretty decent with lighting and location choosing, I feel I could always learn more so I feel this would be a really great one for me in 2019. I always love playing with light and I have been told this course will totally challenge me in that aspect and I am super excited about it. However I am not planning on enrolling in this course until I finish Book Brides Bootcamp, and The International Academy of Wedding Photographers, so this might be something that is pushed to 2020, or purchased but not done until 2020. 2018 was absolutely nuts, and if 2019 is anything like it, this will definitely be pushed to 2020, just being honest there.

-Katelyn James Business Course: This course was created to replace the in home mentorships that KJ offered, but ended up being so much more. It is 12 months of education every month covering a huge range of topics, seriously it would take me forever to list everything that will be covered. It is all done via the internet and you can do it from literally anywhere as long as you have wifi making it an easy choice for me because I love to stay at home in my PJ's yet be learning.

Future Conferences/Workshops/Courses I Hope To Attend or Take

- Julie Paisley Mentoring Session: I actually met Julie Paisley at United, and was one of the few people who had not heard of her previously, but the second I met her I loved her. I wished I could of taken her home, because she is just the kind of person who makes you feel important, and loved. I adore her, and her vibe. Therefore doing a mentoring session with her would be a total dream, and yet another something I hope to make happen in 2020, maybe even 2019. I have not for sure 100 set may education budget so it may have enough wiggle to add a mentoring session to the 2019 schedule. I also wouldn't mind attending one of her workshops in the future as well.

-Hope Taylor Workshop: I should say I absolutely adore Hope Taylor. We are actually the same age, and we are both part of the Baby Boss community and I love her. Like totally fan girled love her when I met her at United last year. So attending her workshop just makes sense to me. I unfortunately can not make her 2019 one due to when it fell, but I am hopeful to attend her 2020 one. Either that or I would love to do a one on one mentoring session with Hope, it would just involve me getting my butt to Virginia, but it would so be worth it. She is fantastic when it comes to providing great education that is all around very helpful and beneficial to those who take part in it.

- Sophia Kaye Paris Workshop: Sophia Kaye, who is actually Julie Paisley's daughter, puts on a Paris workshop every once and awhile and I am dying to go to one. It is super expensive, I mean obviously, it's Paris, but I think it would be a once in a lifetime thing, and totally amazing. Plus I would love to have some Paris in my portfolio. She also teaches workshops in New York that I have looked into and am considering as one of my 2020 choices. I seriously admire Sophia, like her mother, and think it would be amazing to attend one of her conferences. She shoots more high fashion, and I would love to do more with that. Don't be surprised to hear I am headed her way rather it be New York or Paris in 2020.

- WPPI: I have heard great reviews, and I have heard okay reviews, but this is one of the biggest photography conferences in the United States and I really want to go. My main reason? It is massive and I feel it is something I want to experience at least once in my life. I mean as a photographer attending the biggest photography conference in the United States seems like something that should be on my bucket list. So hopefully I will make that happen in the years to come! I am leaning towards 2021 just due to the fact that I have my 2019 education choices set, and as well as a pretty clear idea on my 2020. Yes I am a planner.

So all in all I hope this was helpful for all of you and you are not able to wade through all the conferences, workshop, and course choices and choose a little easier!


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