In July 2004, I attended my first Imaging USA conference with my wife and business partner, Carolle. It was held in Las Vegas. In the summer. The temperature hit 107 degrees three times during our trip. Although our national convention has carried diverse names, been held in various locations, and happened during different times of the year, it’s had a big impact on members since our association’s first gathering in 1869.
Attending our first Imaging USA was a big deal for Carolle and me. Ours was a young studio, and we had little knowledge about how to make great images or how to run a profitable small business. We knew almost no one in the industry. We were young, and many of our friends thought we were crazy for leaving our jobs to start a photography studio. Before attending, we started thinking maybe they were right. After attending, we knew they were wrong.
Walking into our first class, we were blown away. Here was a room filled with photographers from all over the country, representing studios at every conceivable stage of success. Some were having no issues finding their ideal clients and producing the sales they needed to support the lifestyle they wanted. Others (including us) had no idea how to get where we wanted to go or, in fact, where we wanted to go. I saw that even photographers who had businesses I admired were there to share, learn, and make new friends.
If you seem to have a connection with someone and they invite you for a cup of coffee, go. You might be making a lifelong friend and colleague who understands your business and can offer ideas and feedback.Jeffrey Dachowski
To get the most out of our time away from our business and our small children, we took a strategic, divide-and-conquer approach to selecting sessions. I’d go to a seniors session; Carolle would go to a families session. She’d take a sales class; I’d take a lighting class. We stepped out of our comfort zone and took action to make new friends. I attribute a long list of our current friends and colleagues to the few people we connected with at that conference. Of all the many benefits PPA offers, the ability to forge relationships with other people in the profession is what I value most.
Whether you’re planning to attend your first or your 40th Imaging USA, I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice gained from experience:
Stay at the host hotel. You don’t want to miss out on any opportunity to meet people and to learn by spending time ferrying back and forth to another hotel even though it might save you a few dollars.
Pack light. Get by with as little as you can. Moving through the days with a small laptop, tablet, or pad of paper lets you be nimble.
Comfortable shoes are everything. Make sure they’re broken in before you get there.
Say yes to new friends. If you seem to have a connection with someone and they invite you for a cup of coffee, go. You might be making a lifelong friend and colleague who understands your business and can offer ideas and feedback.
Keep dinner groups small. It’s hard to get into restaurants with a party of two dozen people, not to mention how long it takes to motivate that group into action.
Have fun. Although this is a businessminded gathering, don’t forget why you chose this profession. Participate in all you can. Ask questions, meet vendors, and be open to making changes based on what you’ll learn.
Imaging USA is always special to me, but this year I get to stand on stage and preside over one of my favorite events of the year: the award and degree ceremony. The evening lifts up photographers for their accomplishments across a wide range of criteria and recognizes members who have put in the work to earn degrees.
Looking at our slate of speakers for the upcoming Imaging USA in Nashville, I’m thrilled to see a diverse grouping of photographers and businesses available to help members at every stage of their photographic and entrepreneurial journey. I look forward to seeing you in Nashville in January 2023.
Jeffrey Dachowski operates a photography studio in Bedford, New Hampshire, with his wife, Carolle.