What an experience I just had - traveling from St. Simon's Island to Nashville TN for a week of classes, learning and networking during Imaging USA 2018! Although my brain is on overload right now with so many new things I've learned and experienced, I'm still on a high from this past week of activities!
Imaging USA is organized each year by the PPA (Professional Photographers of America). Like many photographers, I started my business after realizing I had a profound love of photography and was actually good at something for a change! But running a sustainable photography studio depends on so much more than being able to "take good pictures". This is where the PPA comes in. Very few photographers actually have degrees in business management or even any experience running a profitable business. From the PPA's website: More photographers get into the industry every day, but few know how to profitably run a business and many don’t know where to turn for support. That’s why Professional Photographers of America (or PPA) was started back in 1869, and that’s why we exist today. Created and led by professional photographers, PPA is a non-profit international photography association that helps those serious about photography live their dreams profitably.
Sadly, I am one of just a handful of local professional photographers who is actually a member of the PPA. I've tried for a few years now to encourage other local photographers to join my friends and me each year at Imaging USA, but so far no one has taken me up on it. Oh well, there's always next year...I will keep nudging them that way - because I firmly believe we have to help lift each other up to grow our community and to be able to provide an overall better service to our clients. Community over competition, right?
So this year's Imaging was located in Nashville, TN. we flew in super early Saturday morning and arrived to snow that had fallen from the night before. It was a semi-white winter wonderland and it was be-you-ti-ful! Imaging was located at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. This is actually the location of the first Imaging USA that my friends and I went to four years ago and official met (prior to that we were just online acquaintances). So this year was sort of a homecoming for us...coming back to our roots. Where it all started four years ago and I learned the truth about taking my love of photography and turning it into a sustainable and profitable business. It changed everything for me - but that's another blog post!
We started with a couple of hands-on classes right away on Saturday. I'm not ready to say just yet what the classes were about, but they were a great experience! We learned from some of the top names in the industry - as well as finally being able to meet some of our long-time idols! Sunday through Tuesday night was the actual main convention and classes...SO many classes! Sometimes it was so hard to choose a favorite class for each period because several classes were perfect! So we would split up and then compare notes later in our hotel room. Imaging USA has classes on business, pricing, sustainability, technique, lectures, etc. There is just literally something for everyone out there, every level of photographer. Learning from photographers who have been vetted and running their own successful businesses and learning from their mistakes. Making new connections with photographers from all over the WORLD. That's right. It's not just the United States. We met photographers from China, Australia, Japan, Russia, and other areas of Europe. There was an estimated 12,000+ photographers from all over who flew in to Nashville to attend Imaging USA and get their learning on.
And guess what!?!?! On Tuesday morning it SNOWED! Yes! I was like a schoolgirl outside seeing snow for the first time, I'm sure. Dazed eyes and awe and all. I LOVED the quietness of the snow falling in the courtyard outside. The peacefulness of it all. It was exquisite for sure. It was only 10 degrees outside and here I am, standing there in a long sleeve shirt with simply a light sweater cardigan over it. How I wasn't freezing - I don't know. I stood outside there I know for every bit of 30 minutes at least. But, eventually, classes were starting and I had to meander my way through the halls and head to the first class of the day. Here are some of the pictures I had a chance to take of the snow:
Another favorite part of Imaging USA each year is attending the Expo each day in between morning and evening classes. The Expo is where hundreds of vendors set up to show off their latest and greatest products. It's where we photographers can touch, feel and take in a new product or offering. We have a chance to ask questions and discuss products at length with the designers and people who actually make the product. I always approach it the same way - day 1, I walk up and down most of the aisles and just kind of take it all in but don't focus on any one booth in particular. It's just a quick preview, if you will. Day 2, I have a list of specific products from specific vendors I'm interested in seeing and finding out more about. So I go to those specific booths and take extensive notes on each of the products (yes, I'm a total geek like that!). Day 3, I check out some of the booths I haven't really had time to stop at. I find out about some new products and also stop at the booths that are offering props/gowns/etc for the studio. Some of my favorites are Sew Trendy for maternity gowns and baby wraps and Intuition Backgrounds for beautiful furs, fabrics and props for newborns.
Another fun thing about the expo is that there is always something educational going on in the learning booths. Quick lighting instruction classes, posing tips classes, etc. Of course there is also camera gear and studio gear for sale as well. LOTS of gear and deals to be had!
These are a couple of items that I found from various vendors at the expo that are new and I'm super excited to be adding them to my product line soon! I've got to get busy and get some samples ordered! The albums in the photos are actually the same albums I already offer - they just have a new color that's to die for!
Perhaps one of the things that I am impressed with most each year at the Expo is the variety of displays of photograph work from photographers from all over the world. Such an inspiration seeing these beautiful portraits hung up huge on display in so many booths. So amazing to take it all in!
One of the evenings when we had some downtime (barely!), we had fun walking around the resort with my Lensball and taking pictures of the lights around the resort. They were still putting away the holiday décor, so we were able to quickly get a few pictures of their enormous Christmas tree that evening. Also, we were treated to a beautiful, musical water fountain and light show. Simply breathtaking!
Classes at Imaging USA run all day - from 8am until around 8pm each night. One the first and last night of Imaging, the PPA also provides a huge party atmosphere with food, dancing and always surprise characters of some type - this year it was Tim McGraw, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson look-alikes, ha! They also had a cowboy and cowgirl who were "bronzed statues" at a table. How they could stand so still for so long was beyond me. It was fun to watch them and try to catch them moving! So we basically class all day, dinner party, then fall into our beds each night exhausted...only to wake up early the next morning and do it all again. Imaging USA is also the stage for the PPA Imaging awards each year. It's where professional photographers are internationally recognized for their award winning images and it's quite an amazing show to watch each year. Did I mention we did a lot of walking? I don't mean a lot of walking...I mean A LOT of walking, haha! Check out how big The Gaylord Opryland Hotel is - it quite literally is a city within a city - there was never a need to venture outside a perfect 70 degree interior of the hotel. Everything we could've needed was right there.
Of course, no visit to Nashville would be complete without a trip to The Grand Ole Opry. I've never been before, so it was a fun change of scenery for what was our last day in Nashville (or so we thought!).
So the beautiful snowstorm that moved through Nashville of course kept on moving through and went through Atlanta. The airport mecca of the country. Because of all the travel issues, our flight out that evening was cancelled and we were able to (forced!) to spend another night in music city - at the cost of having to be at the airport at 4am the next morning...yikes! We were so, so ready to have gotten back home Wednesday evening, but we understood the decision was made based on safety of travel. Delta was great to deal with. We finally made it out of Nashville the next morning only to land in Atlanta as our connection was closing it's doors and leaving Atlanta. Whoops! Delta did an amazing job of getting us on the next connection out to Savannah and on to home.
Imaging USA 2018 was, as usual, a total success. A blast! I came home with SO MANY new ideas and inspiration from others who do what I do and love it as much as I do. I came home exhausted but also strangely energetic and enormously inspired. I will be in the 5%, Terri Fode.