Why I Attended The Portrait Masters Conference

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I recently returned from Arizona, where I attended the Portrait Masters Conference, hosted by Sue Bryce, one the best educators and mentors in the business.

Photography conferences are typically a mix of speakers with some opportunity to do a little shooting. And there’s always a trade show where manufacturers show off the latest cameras, lights, bags, albums and gadgets.

Relative to other photography conferences, this event was quite small — about 500 people. A few of these conferences reach over 10,000 people in attendance — which can be overwhelming. But with a manageable few hundred attendees, we had all easily made a few new friends. It’s a group sized right to see the same faces a few times, reducing the awkward “I’m not sure if she remembers me from yesterday” thoughts. Oh, and there were a few Oprah-style giveaway moments for added excitement!

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The Keynote Talk

All the speakers were outstanding. In fact, as soon as I saw the speaker list, I was sold. Platon opened the event with a truly riveting keynote talk. We were on the edge of our seats the entire two hours — it was that good! If you’re not familiar with Platon, look up the the Netflix show “Abstract.” He’s featured in a photography episode. Platon has photographed some of the world's most powerful, controversial and mysterious people — Snowden, Putin, Clinton, the Obamas.

As photographers, we’ve got to be bold.
— Platon

His message was partially a reminder that we, as photographers, can (and do) change the world with a picture. Now much of his work includes “ordinary” people in a particular struggle. Of course, his status brings attention to anyone he photographs, and he fully leverages that fact. Most of us don’t have millions of followers, but he was adamant in his point nevertheless. I believe it. The right picture will be elevated, even just among a few followers. But it must be shared to start.

I think this would be a good place to add a subhead since you jump back to Sue and the conference overall

Lifelong Learning as a Photographer

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One rather unique piece to this conference was the ample time we had to shoot. No matter your skill level, there’s always something to learn as a photographer. Sue’s team had set up dozens of shooting areas with styled models and assistants, ready to help with posing. It was a great opportunity to try out new techniques, perfect posing guidance, and just build confidence for the newer photographers.

I’ve attended several workshops over the last few years, and it’s a treat to have professional models in the mix. But it’s easy to get spoiled. A good model will just keep moving. It’s honesty difficult to take a bad shot. Upon getting back to the real world, it’s a bit of shock when you expect clients to prance around the set. Instead, most will stare back nervously, waiting for some direction. To me, this is what most fulfills me about photography — helping a ordinary person feel like a supermodel for an hour.

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Running a photography business is easily 80 percent business and 20 percent taking pictures. Sue Bryce stands out in the crowded industry of photographic educators as one who knows this and doesn’t ignore it. It goes without saying that her teaching of photography is excellent. It happens that her point of view is much more fine art in nature than my corporate portraiture, but all the lessons still apply in some way. It’s the way she teaches business that I believe really sets her apart. She addresses head on so many challenges that all creative small business owners face (regardless of industry). Confidence and networking are two big topics. It’s the kind of stuff not taught in business school, but couldn’t be more critical to success.

I can’t wait to go back next year.