community over competition

In 2003 while still in college, I attended my first photography conference in Portland, OR with the Society of Photographic Education and was opened to a whole new world of learning, networking, and having fun. At the time I had no idea how important being a part of a larger community would be to living a rewarding life (for myself at least). I did however have a sense even at such a young age of how fortunate I was to experience all the resources and established photographers and educators.

Now over two decade laters (2003-present), I've not only attended hundreds (probably thousands!) of conferences, camera club events, photowalks, and workshops but I've been a speaker, workshop leader, and even the master of ceremony for many.

Below are a few thoughts on the importance of these types of events and organizations as well as how to prepare yourself for attending or joining such organizations.

Alex Kent long armed selfie on stage with a group of over 100 students cheering the background.

About to start my "Secrets of Photoshop" workshop to over 100 students at EASTCon

Leading a sunrise photowalk for PhotoExpo Memphis at Graceland Hotel. Photo Credit: Gary Cox

Some key benefits

Both camera clubs and conferences provide the opportunity for:

  • Meeting new people! Often times with commonalities, but from diverse walks of life.

  • Strengthen relationships! Sometimes you only have the opportunity to see your new friends and colleagues once a month or possible even only once or twice year. Taking an active part of these events helps you grow your bonds.

  • Learning! Both of those types of organizations and events are geared heavily on classes, workshops, presentations, and photowalks

  • Networking Opportunities! Connect with professionals, experts, and peers in your industry. Build valuable contacts for potential collaborations, partnerships, or career opportunities.

  • Skill Development! Participate in hands-on sessions and workshops to enhance your skills. Learn from experienced speakers, industry leaders and peers.

  • Knowledge Sharing! Gain insights into the latest trends, advancements, and best practices in your field.

  • Trade-shows! Speak with expert reps for various companies. Explore innovative and emerging technologies. Often times you can try out new gear and purchase items at a discount or "show pricing"

  • Professional Growth! Stay updated on industry developments, ensuring your skills remain relevant. Demonstrate commitment and form discipline to continuous learning and professional development.

  • Marketplace Awareness! Learn about new products, services, and solutions in the market. Begin to understand industry trends and competitive landscapes.

  • Potential Career Opportunities! Discover job openings and career paths within your industry. Showcase your expertise to potential employers, clients, or collaborators.

  • Personal Branding! If you're on the professional track in your field then establish yourself as a thought leader by actively participating in discussions. Share your knowledge and experience to enhance your personal brand.

  • Motivation and Inspiration! Interact with successful individuals who can motivate and inspire you. Rejuvenate your passion for your field by being part of a community of like-minded professionals and peers.

  • Cultural Exposure! Experience different cultures and perspectives espeicially if the conference is international.

  • Recognition and Awards! Some conferences offer opportunities for recognition through awards, presentations, and contests. Showcasing your work at a conference can enhance your professional reputation in a larger community.

  • Social Interaction! Boy after the last few years, we could all use more of this IMO. Foster social connections with peers, reducing professional isolation. Attend social events to build relationships in a more relaxed setting.

As you can see attending conferences can be a multifaceted and rewarding experience that contributes to both personal and professional growth. What am I missing? What other benefits are there being a part of conferences and club organizations? Let me know. Or continue on for 9 helpful tips to prepare yourself...

Alex Kent handing out sweet raffle prizes at PhotoCon X to a lucky conference attendee. Photo Credit: Madelyn Amacher

Handing out sweet raffle prizes at PhotoCon X to a lucky conference attendee. Photo Credit: Madelyn Amacher

Helping Christian Bruggeman and pro photographer Alexandra Dugan judge a photo contest for PhotoCon X. Photo Credit: Madelyn Amacher

9 Helpful tips to prepare for a conference or club event

1. Set your objectives: Define your goals for attending the conference or joining an industry club. Whether it's networking, learning, or career advancement, having clear objectives will guide your preparation and participation.

2. Research the event/club: Familiarize yourself with the agenda, speakers, or the club's activities and mission prior to joining. This knowledge will help you tailor your experience and make informed choices on which sessions or events to attend.

3. Know and create a schedule: Plan your conference or club participation by creating a schedule. Identify key sessions, workshops, networking opportunities, and social events. Be organized to make the most of your time and fill up that calendar!

4. Bring essential materials: Pack necessary materials, such as business cards, notepad and pens. Having these items on hand will make it easier for you to exchange information and take notes during sessions. You might also need to use your phone/tablet/laptop, so make sure those batteries are full and you have all the charging cables on-hand. Lastly check to see about available refreshments and meals. I like to bring some snacks and a water bottle as well, so I'm not caught off guard and have to leave

5. Update your resume or portfolio: If you're attending a conference with potential job and networking opportunities, update your resume. Ensure your portfolio or work samples are current and ready to showcase to put yourself and brand in the best light.

6. Prepare elevator pitch: Craft a concise and compelling elevator pitch introducing yourself and highlighting your skills and achievements. This will be incedibly handy for networking and introductions.

7. Dress professionally: (or at least appropriately 😆): Choose attire that aligns with the industry standards. First impressions DO matter, and dressing the part enhances your credibility. In the photo and creative fields this tip may be much more flexible than other industries. I've been known to dress fairly "comfortable", but that seems to be a more commonplace in the photo and other creative industries. I'm not talking sweatpants comfortable! Haha!

8. Engage on social media: Join social media groups or use conference hashtags to connect with other attendees before/during/after the event. This can facilitate networking further and provide insights into what to expect. Plus it's simply fun to see all the good times had during these events.

9. Follow up after the event/club meeting: After the conference or club meeting, follow up with new contacts via email or social media. Express gratitude for connections made and continue the conversation. This reinforces the relationships you've built and who knows what opportunities will unfold. You'll never know if you don't make the effort.

By preparing in advance and being proactive, you can maximize the benefits of attending conferences or being part of an industry club. What's some of you favorite conferences, club organizations, or events in any industry that you attend? Let me know. And be sure to check out my events page for upcoming opportunities.

Back to announcing raffle prize ticket numbers at PhotoCon X. Notice my "comfortable" yet appropriate attire. Photo Credit: Madelyn Amacher

"You're going to need a bigger boat!" Haha! Standing room only and people still piling in for my talk, "The Creative Eye" at PhotoCon X