I just had the pleasure of giving a talk at the very first ever Skip’s Summer School in Vegas. If you’re unfamiliar with Skip Cohen he’s got a very long and storied career in the photo industry as an executive with Polaroid, he was the ex-president of Hasselblad USA, and publisher of Rangefinder Magazine just to name a few of his accomplishments.
He called in lots of favors and got 15 top-notch speakers for the event which was remarkable in a down economy, and even more so because it was a first-time conference. Oh and one more thing, Skip only announced this event two months ago so the whole thing came together with light speed. Only someone with Skip’s credentials, relationships and experience could have pulled that off.
The format was very unusual for a photo conference. There was no trade-show floor. Instead, 360 or so of us shared one large ball room with comfortable lecture-based seating. Everyone had plenty of room to stretch out and instead of theater seating where you have nothing to write or rest your arms on, we had nice tables so people could bring their laptops. There was free wi-fi in the room too. In the back of the room a dozen or so of the top vendors in the photo industry set up small displays and interacted with the participants.
You hear the word “community” used a great deal these days. Mostly, it’s marketing jargon or even hyperbole. In this case it’s the perfect adjective for what went on. Because of the intimate layout of the venue, and Skip’s decision to run this like a “Ted Conference” with just one track, meaning there were no competing classes for participants to choose from. Every class was held in the same room and speakers talked for about two hours each on everything from social media, to lighting to posing to video convergence and the business of photography.
We were all working in the same room and the opportunity to really get to connect with each other made all the difference for me. During the lunch and dinner breaks I was able to spend some time with everyone from aspiring pros to some of my own favorite luminaries in the industry like Dane Sanders, Ron & Tasra Dawson, Tony Corbell, and of course Skip.
I also got a chance to get to know some folks better that I have come to really admire. Jerry Gionas, Kevin Kubota, Sarah France and Jim Garner – all of whom are world-class photographers and thought leaders.
The conference was aimed at established professionals who wanted to recharge, aspiring pros who wanted to get started and anyone else who was interested in selling photography. The speakers were all well-known in the wedding and portrait arena but the information that they gave would have been valuable to folks of almost any photographic discipline.
Essentially, if you make money at photography or ever HOPE to make money at photography, you would have loved being at this conference.
I learned a little something from every speaker. But there were some stand outs for sure. Dane Sanders gave what can only be described as the best presentation of its kind I have ever seen. If you are a pro or an aspiring pro and haven’t got a copy of “Fast Track Photographer” yet, stop reading this post – click here – and order your copy now. When you’re done, come back and I’ll tell you what I learned from Dane.
Dane has established himself in the wedding market. Unfortunately, some may be tempted to think that they can’t learn from him because they aren’t interested in wedding photography. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dane talks about the personal and business side of photography in a way that will benefit anyone who is serious about photography as a profession.
The key takeaway – YOU are NOT your photography. You are NOT what you do. You aren’t selling photography – you’re selling the photographer. There’s no way I can fully do this justice – you’ll just have to read the book, but I am a believer. Dane is a rising star in the photo business who will no doubt help many (including himself) become incredibly successful. The two hour plus presentation he gave at this event was worth the price of admission – period.
Another standout? Industry veteran Tony Corbell. Tony is an executive with Nik Software, but his career as a photographer goes back three decades. He’s photographed some famous folks like Patrick Swazee and few photographers know more about light than Tony. But of all the great things he shared during the event, the one that struck me most came from a story he told about Don Blair. Don Blair was a giant in the wedding and portrait business and has left us, but before he died, Tony asked him how to have a great photographic career. If anyone would know the answer to this question it would be Don Blair – his remark? “Photograph every subject as if that shot you take will be the one that they are remembered by.” That’s powerful stuff Tony and thanks for sharing it.
Ron & Tasra Dawson gave a great presentation on social media. It was easy to understand yet thorough. The thing I took away from Ron’s talk was don’t underestimate the power of video to get your message across. Ron’s videos from Dare Dreamer Productions are very well done. He showed some of the videos he made for photographers and broke them down for us in a way that was very informative, instructional and entertaining.
Jim Garner and Jerry Ghionis absolutely wowed the crowd with some of the best wedding-related pictures and slide shows ever seen. There’s a reason both these guys are rated in the top 10 wedding photographers. They were both funny, entertaining, engaging and educational.
I could go on but you get the idea. There was lots to learn, lots of interaction between the audience and the attendees (more than I’ve ever seen at any photo conference) and lots of camaraderie.
When Skip originally told me about the “Summer School” I admit to being at least a tiny bit skeptical. In a tough economy I wondered if we needed another photo conference. I am now absolutely convinced that it turns out we do – as long as it is this one. I predict that Skip’s Summer School will have at least twice the audience next year. I have blocked out all of August in my 2010 calendar to wait until I hear what dates Skip selects for next year’s school.
I hope to be invited to speak again but even if I am not, I’ll be there and I hope you will too. Thanks to Skip and everyone else I spent time with at the event. I indeed came away edified and recharged in ways I couldn’t have imagined.