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Trade shows

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON PHOTOGRAPHY ORGANIZATIONS AND TRADE SHOWS? ARE THEY A GOOD RESOURCE? SHOULD I BECOME A MEMBER OF ONE OR ALL OF THEM? ARE THEIR BIG TRADE SHOWS WORTH GOING TO?

A: Photography organizations like Professional Photographers of America (PPA), American Photographic Arts (APA), American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI), and the like offer some great resources for emerging and established photographers. They typically concentrate on one or two genres of the photo industry, and you join the one most in line with the type of work that you are doing, or trying to do. PPA is very family- and senior-portrait driven, with a healthy amount of weddings. WPPI is very wedding driven with a healthy amount of family and senior portrait thrown in. ASMP is a great organization for editorial photographers, as is Editorial Photographers (EP), which merged with APA somewhat recently. APA deals with a lot of aspects of advertising and commercial photography.

Joining one or more of these organizations can be a good thing for you, but don’t drink too much of their Kool-Aid. Some of these organizations can get a little cult-like at times. People get together in great numbers and begin to find their identity within the organization. They attend every event, hang on every word of their leaders, and always show up at photo parties with their association-branded t-shirts. Join one. Take some classes. Learn some stuff. Get some discounts. That’s all fine and dandy. It ain’t church, though.

As for the big trade shows it can be hit and miss from my experience. The thing that pisses me off the most at the big trade shows is when the platform speakers spend more time selling their products than actually teaching something of value. If people are paying to sit in a class or a lecture, then I feel the speaker needs to bring value and not an infomercial. Way too many people use those platforms to just sell you shit. I say get a booth and keep that for the trade show floor. If you are leading a session then teach and inspire instead of convincing a room of people they need to buy your crap. Some organizations are putting limits on that now in the contracts they have with their teachers and speakers. I recently gave a talk at a large convention and the contract stated I could spend no more than five minutes of my hour-and-a-half talk pitching products. For me, I don’t pitch from the stage. People paid to learn. I was paid to teach. I think it’s fair that I keep my end of the bargain.

My personal favorite trade shows are Photoshop World and Photo Plus in NYC. The coolest one I’ve ever been a part of is Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai. It’s small. Hands-on. Everyone is there to teach. It’s amazing. If you ever want to have your mind blown, then you need to attend Photokina in Germany at least once in your life. It’s overwhelming how huge that trade show is.

I think the value of the large annual trade shows is being questioned right now. I’m not saying they are dying. In fact, some are getting larger. There are smaller events happening these days that, as a working photographer, I find to be more valuable. PhotoShelter is one good example of an organization trying something different in our industry. They put on an event in NYC last year called Luminance. There were a few days of workshops leading up to the event, and then it was sort of like a TED talk for photography. It was a fantastic event. I think we’ll be seeing more of those kinds of events.

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