Why We Still Need Photography Conferences

As most things seem to now have moved over to online platforms, I have most definitely wondered if we still need in-person photography conferences. Last week, I attended the Way Up North conference in Rome. When I get the chance to, I love to attend other wedding photography conferences. Yes, the talks can be super inspiring. Shout out to my girl Rebecca Carpenter who spoke at this one and utterly nailed it – I was the Kris to her Kim, cheering on from the audience. But more than getting an inspiration fix, it’s the experiences that you have with other people there that create bonds that simply cannot be forged in online spaces. So for me, yes we very much still need photography conferences.

The stress of planning this year’s Thrive conference was actually too much for me. I hated dealing with the postponements that were necessary due to the pandemic. I hated the few weeks leading up to it and I swore this was the last time. I told my husband to restrain me if I started talking about doing it again. I’m a photographer, not an event manager. I don’t get my kicks from spending time with spreadsheets, battling with audio-visual equipment, and catering to 100 individuals’ food requirements.

It’s a lot. So why have I locked in dates for 2023, why have I already opened up the ticket sales?

Because I believe that we need photography conferences – Maybe even more so in a post-pandemic world of mostly online interaction.

We need to come together in real life to connect with our peers, form new industry friendships, shoot, learn, grow, get drunk and fall into a karaoke bar at midnight. 

Every year, I design my conference, being mindful that often, female photographers attend on their own. It’s intimidating to walk into a room full of people that you might only know on social media. Are you good enough, is your kit good enough, will you say the wrong thing, will you fit in? Chances are high that most other people in the room, including the speakers and me, are feeling high levels of anxiety too.

It’s challenging to present a talk about your business, it’s challenging to shoot in front of other photographers, no matter what level you are at.

By the end of the first day at this year’s conference, I started to get messages like this –

“I arrived feeling lost, tired, very lonely, and questioning if this was going to be the job for me. I left Thrive so happy, so refreshed, revived, and excited again”.

There is a magic that happens at our conference that cannot be replicated in a digital space, it can only happen in a room. Once people realise that they do fit in, that everyone is scared, they let down their guard and they participate. 

They take what they need and that’s different for everyone. The conference is like a transmission but it is up to the individual what they choose to receive.

So I’ve opened up ticket sales for next year. At this stage, I have not announced any speakers, venues, or topics but another magical thing is happening and that is people are buying it. I woke up this morning to a lovely little flurry of tickets sales from photographers that attended this year and some that didn’t. It is extraordinary. It’s made me understand that it’s not a lineup that people buy into, it’s the shared experience. 

Many of this year’s attendees made new friendships. They have group chats on the go and they are arranging to meet up. These bonds will go far beyond the two days they spent together at the conference and when times get tough like we all know that they can, these will be the people that support each other.

I’m already getting messages and Instagram stories from photographers out at weddings shooting with their newfound skills. It’s the shot of inspiration that we all need as we go into another uncertain season. It’s so heartwarming to see and I need to refer back to these when the planning gets tough. Which I know it will, I also know of some other conferences that haven’t survived this last couple of years.

I’m not surprised. It was extremely challenging to deliver Thrive 2022. But as I open up the spreadsheets again, I am thinking about the next set of attendees and how I can make Thrive 2023 just as wonderful as this year’s.

So, who would you like to see presenting at it?

Images : Jessica Bevan Photography