Photographers who prefer to spend their time communing with nature may not see the value in traveling to an urban area and interacting with a large number of conference attendees there. When I first considered attending a photography expo, I debated with myself for a long while over what I might gain from putting myself in that kind of an environment. Sure, I would be in the same place as many inspirational photographers and industry experts, but would the experience be awkward or make me feel like a wallflower? Would the atmosphere be highly commercial and seem artificial? A large number of concerns crossed my mind before I finally decided to try it out with an open mind because I suspected that the experience might be good for me—not unlike deciding to eat vegetables because they’re healthy, even though dessert sounds a lot more appealing.
After attending the event, my thoughts were of another sort: “It’s scary to think that I almost didn’t go!” The experience was that good. How often do we get to enjoy a rush of chance interactions and feel connected with a large community of likeminded people? These experiences are rare for anyone in the modern era and especially so for outdoor photographers. There really is nothing quite like the burst of inspiration that comes from being immersed in a world (however temporary) that is geared toward your interests, a microcosm that puts you in the same space with a plethora of people who share your passion. Online communities can provide some semblance of personal interactions, but real, in-person encounters are far more engaging, unbounded, memorable, and worthwhile.
Years later, I have now attended a wide variety of photography conferences, expos, and symposia, mostly as a speaker, but also as an attendee. After every event, I invariably find myself marveling at some meaningful encounter or rewarding experience that I never could have foreseen going in. The unpredictability of real world experiences is precisely their greatest promise. Of course each event also offers valuable planned opportunities as well, and no two are ever the same.
The following list of photography events includes those that I can describe and endorse from personal knowledge, either through past experience or from being involved in the event’s planning as a speaker.
(Maine, Utah, Oregon, California)
The Out of Chicago organization hosts a variety of destination conferences around the United States, including a series specifically dedicated to landscape photography. Each event runs five days and includes a packed schedule of offerings both in the classroom and outdoors. Excursions are always limited in size to ensure a good ratio of participants to instructors, and the organization of these outings is remarkable. Indoor sessions run the gamut, including inspirational talks, intimate classroom workshops, critique sessions, entertaining panel discussions, office hours, and much more. I was a speaker at the first three events ever offered in this series, which were Out of Acadia, Out of Moab, and Out of Oregon, and I continue to be impressed with the excellent event planning and the high level of commitment to photography education.
In 2020 there will be three events offered in the landscape photography series: Out of Yosemite, Out of Acadia, and Out of Moab.
Every two years OnLandscape Magazine sponsors this stimulating conference held in England’s Lake District. This three-day event takes place in Cumbria’s state-of-the-art Rheged Centre, which is an interesting destination in its own right and is by far the most impressive facility that I’ve ever had the honor to speak in. I gave the penultimate talk of the 2016 conference, during which all talks were broadcast live on YouTube, a generous move that the organizers repeated for the talks in 2018 as well. Another notable feature of this conference is its substantial print gallery on display in the Rheged Centre during the event. A large gallery space with three rooms features work not only from each speaker but also from each delegate (attendee) who chooses to submit a digital photograph to be printed for the show.
(New York City)
This expo, held in New York’s Javits Convention Center each year, is the largest photography event in the United States. The expo is packed with offerings of interest to photographers of every genre. Each year the expo space comes alive with educational stage presentations, photo walks, seminars, portfolio reviews, and booths full of the latest gear in every category of photographic specialty. Even after the expo hours are over each day, the event continues into the night with after-parties all around Manhattan. This year I will be speaking on the Canon mainstage all three days of the expo, so come say hello, if you are in the area!
(New York City)
Also in New York, the Optic conference is a substantial event sponsored by B&H each year. The conference is dedicated to outdoor photography and video, and it features numerous stages with talks by notable speakers running concurrently. Photowalks, harbor cruises, live shoot booths, a print gallery, and a sizable exhibitor space all make this event well worth a special trip to New York. I spoke for Canon at this event in 2019 and was impressed with the high level of organization pulled together by B&H. I also appreciated the excellent conference facilities of the New Yorker Hotel, which the organizers transformed into a vibrant photography smorgasbord.
• Photo Voyager (Floating Photo Conference in Antarctica)
(Argentina and Antarctica)
Just when I thought that I had seen it all, along came this unprecedented event: a cruise ship as a venue for a floating photography conference in Antarctica. Taking place for the first time in 2020, this event is the brainchild of photographers Thomas Heaton and Brendan van Son. They decided to charter a cruise ship and to invite their “dream team” of ten professional photographers to give inspirational and educational talks on board the ship as it makes its way to and from Antarctica. In addition, each instructor will accompany attendees for photography excursions in zodiacs, during landfalls, and on deck. I’m told that every single pro photographer on their wish list accepted the invitation, and I’m not surprised. I did not hesitate to accept myself and am extremely excited to be a speaker for this unique creative adventure.
This new symposium in the southwest has a focus on landscape photography and creativity. As a speaker for the first annual event, I was very impressed with the excellent organization and facilities. Right out of the gate, this new symposium was running like a well oiled machine. Even better, the symposium inherited a community of participants from the Moab Symposium, which ceased operations a year earlier. The mixture of familiar and new made for an especially strong feeling of synergy among all photographers in attendance. The event features educational talks, breakout sessions, portfolio reviews, and outdoor excursions to photograph the impressive sandstone formations and sweeping vistas surrounding the charming town of Sedona.
Based on the island of Menorca, Spain, the PhotoPills Camp is a weeklong, immersive photography experience with a very high commitment to education. The casual atmosphere and seaside attractions should appeal to any photographer, but the special emphasis placed on night photography and on pre-visualization through the PhotoPills app makes this event a rarity among photography conferences. Talks, seminars, and field trips round out the camp’s experience, offering non-stop inspiration for anyone who can stay awake long enough to take it all in! I haven’t been able to accept invitations to speak at this event due to schedule conflicts, but I know the organizer very well and have received a lot of information about the program, enough to recommend it wholeheartedly.
(Bay Area, California)
Running since 1957, this Bay Area photography conference has evolved into an exciting and sizable bonanza of photography activities. I’m told that there will be over 300 photographers in attendance this year, all taking in an array of keynote presentations, breakout sessions, workshops, photo competitions, raffles, and even a book publication featuring content winners. I will be delivering a keynote presentation for this event on Sunday, October 27, so be sure to get a seat if you are in the area!
(Pacific Northwest, USA)
Similar to Fotoclave, the 4Cs Convention is a staple photography event on the west coast that features talks, breakout sessions, excursions, and competitions. When I was the keynote speaker in 2016, the event took place in Newport Oregon, but the convention travels each year to a different venue in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Because the region is a true epicenter of landscape photography, the genre is very well represented at this event, and the photography and educational offerings are all of a very high quality.
The above events are ones that I can speak about from personal experience and insights. I highly recommend each of them to any outdoor photographers who enjoy getting fresh infusions of inspiration and who welcome opportunities to meet likeminded people in friendly and fun environments.
Have you ever attended any of these events or one like them? What did you enjoy most about the experience? Feel free to chime in below!
Erin Babnik is a landscape photographer, speaker, educator, and author. Immersion in the visual arts has been the one constant in Erin’s life, including an extensive background in various studio arts and a doctoral education in the history of art. Erin is honored to be a Canon Explorer of Light. | Erin’s Website: www.erinbabnik.com