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A Key to Better Photography: 
Attend a Photo Conference
by Gary W. Stanley 

There are several ways to learn photographic skills. You can read a book on a particular photographic subject. You can shoot in the field and practice till you get it right. You can photograph with a photo-instructor, and so on.

In a previous article I wrote about attending a photography workshop. I said that: As with any endeavor, in our case photography, once your initial interest has been satisfied, chances are, you'll want to develop the skills to take your photography to another level. You enjoy getting out and photographing everything from the flowers in your backyard, to the splendor of the Grand Canyon. It doesn't matter if you still have your old Canon AE-1, or have just purchased the auto-everything Nikon N65 or Canon Rebel 2000. You've read articles and books on photography, and you have made some progress, but like most of us, there is always room for a little improvement.

Have you ever noticed that when you share the photographic experience with someone else, or are around people with the same interest and enthusiasm, your excitement level increases? When you enjoy photography as much as you do, it's only natural to want to share that joy. So while you may have worked on the various other methods of improving your photography, have you tried this yet? Why not attend a Photo Conference. This is another way that you can fine-tune your skills as a photographer.

I've been lecturing for the past ten years or so at the NECCC conference. The New England Camera Club Council is made up of over 80 different camera clubs around New England, with about 4,700 members. This past weekend we attended their 58th conference at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst Mass. There are usually close to 1,300 fellow photographers in attendance on that weekend to share and learn new techniques from the 45 speakers and their varied programs and subjects. This is one of the largest gatherings of photo enthusiasts anywhere. The event is highlighted by a special presentation on Saturday night by a noted photographer such as Art Wolfe, John Sexton, Frans Lanting and others.

Two weeks earlier, Pam and I were in Ottawa Canada lecturing for the CCC (Canadian Camera Conference). Many camera organizations like the CCC and PSA (Photographic Society of America) are held in different cities each year giving everyone the opportunity to attend a conference of this type. You may also want to consider a local photo event instead of traveling long distances to attend a large convention. Your local camera club or an all-day photo seminar in your area can be another way to associate and learn with fellow photographers.

The programs for these conferences cover a wide variety of subjects. There are always your traditional photography programs, talking about photographic technique, with subjects such as: Creating a Slide Presentation, Getting the Most Out of Your Photography, Introduction to Close-up and Macro Photography, Practical Points for Point-n-Shooters etc. There are programs on travel photography, print making, and nature photography. Then there is of course the huge interest in digital photography, with subjects like: Digital Darkroom Artistry for Photographers, Digital Imaging Power Tools, and Cyberlens, a digital program put on by Kodak's Jim Lyon.

You also get to rub shoulders at NECCC with many well-known photographers too. Past and present photographers include: Joe Farace from the Popular Photo Mentor series and Shutter Bug Magazine, Lou Jones also a Pop Photo/American Photo mentor who has shot the Olympics for the past twenty years or so, John Sexton who studied black and white photography under Ansel Adams, George Lepp, Len Rue Jr. Jim Clark, Art Wolfe, and me along with Vivid Light Photography editor, Jim McGee who spent time answering questions at my Light-Chasers booth.

The NECCC brings in models with complete lighting set-ups for portrait photography, as well as being able to shoot them outdoors in natural daylight. They have studio set-ups for pet photography and other small wild animals such as raptors and reptiles etc. There is a large vendor area with photographic products for sale with representation from major manufacturers. The folks from Canon, Nikon, Kodak and others put on photo clinics where you can ask questions and stay current with photo trends and products. Besides the programs designed for photographic instruction, there are showcase cinema programs designed for your entertainment with photographic images set to music.

It doesn't take long for you to realize just how great an opportunity this is for any photographer to expand his or her knowledge of photography. There is also an appreciation you'll develop for all the people behind the scenes who volunteer their time in a self-sacrificing, tireless manner to makes these photographic conventions possible. In fact, this year's NECCC conference was dedicated to the 24 fabulous equipment committee members who work non-stop making sure the programs go off without a hitch.

I've also been amazed with the partnership, and the friendship that comes from attending these types of events. As a result of their shared photographic interest, many couples, have met at a photo conference and later married, Pam and I included. Parents have retired from their responsibilities as equipment coordinators only to see their children take over the responsibility.

John Sexton mentioned in his program Saturday evening that we are by definition all amateur photographers: "A person who engages in some art for the pleasure of it rather than for the money." For me, without that pleasure, photography would be just another job. A photographic convention gives the photographer the opportunity to learn, to associate, to share and it gives you a very well-rounded feel for the passion that we have not only for photography itself, but also for people, nature and the world around us.

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