Vital Signs: Spring into Action: Affiliate Schools

You have the potential to develop your skills as both a photographer and a successful businessperson. By taking part in PPA's educational opportunities, you can turn that potential into reality. Last week's Vital Signs provided you with an overview of Super Monday, an opportunity for you to spend the day learning and interacting with fellow photographers. For this week's Vital Signs, we are going to look into PPA Affiliate Schools.

Much like Super Monday, affiliate schools allow you to learn from some of the best in the industry while forming business relationships (and friendships!) with other photographers who are just as eager to learn. These schools are located throughout the country, including Canada and the Bahamas. So what makes these affiliate schools different from Super Monday? PPA Affiliate Schools go beyond one day of learning—they offer up to five days of intensive educational courses that allow you to immerse yourself and grow as a professional photographer.

The benefits provided by PPA Affiliate Schools are numerous and, quite frankly, the reason they operate. Affiliate schools are here for your benefit. Without you—photographers who are eager to learn about the craft and develop business skills—affiliate schools would not be able to fulfill their purpose.

Hands-on Education—The educational aspect of PPA Affiliate Schools may be one of the more obvious benefits, but that does not make it any less important. Education is the foundation of these schools. While this is true for most class settings, Don MacGregor, M.Photog.Cr., API, the director of Image Explorations in Canada, believes that the education provided at PPA Affiliate Schools is unique. "Because they are multi-day programs, you have the opportunity to see instructors actually create sessions," explains MacGregor. "You have the opportunity to practice the skills demonstrated and embed them in your workflow."

This hands-on experience allows you to live the lessons and take what you learn in the classroom back with you to your studio. And what you learn stays with you long after you leave.

Ron Clevenger, M.Photog.Cr., is the registrar and member of the Kansas Professional Photographer School (KPPS) Board of Directors, and he also believes that the education you receive at an affiliate school cannot compare to other events. "Our classes are usually small, and students do not feel intimidated to ask why or to find a better way of doing something," says Clevenger.

Connections—What you gain by attending an affiliate school goes beyond the educational aspect to include the relationships that are formed between photographers. Sometimes business relationships are formed through networking or friendships are started through socializing—either way, these connections are a great source of support and encouragement.

Clevenger has seen these relationships firsthand between both students and instructors. "As a former student, the classroom time is fantastic. But the ability to share business and technical experiences with my fellow colleagues—not just at the school, but also through my career—has been invaluable."

Who Benefits?
Regardless of whether you've never attended an affiliate school or have attended ten affiliate schools, there is always something new to learn. The benefits of attending do not go away. "Professional development is critical if we are going to continue to establish respect for photography," says MacGregor. "Whether you are an aspiring photographer starting on your journey or an established image maker, you must stay current."

According to MacGregor, this is especially important for aspiring photographers, as it teaches them successful skills and business practices from the very beginning. By learning the art of photography and understanding how to properly run a business (instead of "learning on the fly"), MacGregor believes you can save time and energy, which in turn leads to more profits and better customer satisfaction.

"Those who have never experienced an affiliate school do not really know what they are missing," explains Clevenger. "It's nothing quite like any other photographic event I have ever attended. To those that have never attended—I say try it."

Even if you have attended affiliate schools in the past, there is constantly something new to gain by continuing to attend. There is always room to grow, especially in an industry like photography. "Digital cameras, software and online tutoring are available to every amateur," points out Clevenger. "If photography is to continue, we must continue to learn what it takes to produce the imagery of a professional and develop marketing skills that are taught at schools and in our professional organizations. The time to embrace change is now."

MacGregor believes that one of the most important reasons to continue attending affiliate schools is simply "attitude." As he says, "It is easy to find yourself in a slump or needing to be inspired. And it is important for more established photographers to accept that one can always learn, always be inspired." MacGregor suggests constant learning and constant exploration of your craft—it has the potential to lead to more business, greater skills and more success.

Jim Bastinck, M.Photog.Cr., F-ASP, school director for the Mid-Atlantic Regional School (MARS), also believes in the importance of staying current and thinks that photographers should look at affiliate schools as an investment in their professional development. "Don't get left behind in this ever-evolving profession," he adds.

Another reason that affiliate schools are so helpful may be because the subjects taught are highly influenced by attendees. "Students are a major factor in the classes we offer," says Clevenger. "They often tell us who and what they want to hear." KPPS also looks at trends in the industry and selects classes based on what they see happening. Image Explorations also selects their classes based on industry demand. For example, when photographers started to utilize digital workflows, Image Explorations met the demand they saw for corresponding skills, such as Adobe® Photoshop® training and color management techniques.

And don't ever think that class evaluations are useless. "At each of the schools, evaluations are mandatory for all instructors," explains MacGregor. "On those forms are opportunities to ask for specific topics or instructors. Directors pay careful attention to these details when planning classes."

Spring into Action
PPA's Affiliate Schools provide you with the opportunity to further your photography skills, improve your business, and meet other photographers and leaders in the industry. And these schools are just one of the many educational opportunities that PPA provides. Each one has the potential to make a positive impact on your career…and when used in conjunction with others, the results can only grow.

What You Can Do Now

  • For contact information and to find the PPA Affiliate School that is closest to you (including KPPS, Image Explorations and MARS), visit the Affiliate School section on
  • Want another opportunity to get out of your studio and meet with other photographers? The PPA Tour 2010 is in full swing, providing you with a chance to learn from leaders in the industry in a city near you!
  • Registration is already open for Imaging USA in San Antonio (January 16-18, 2011). Visit the Imaging USA website for more information.
  • Visit PPA's Education page to get a full list of educational opportunities geared towards both you and your business.

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