My second experience attending the Out of Chicago photography conference topped my first experience last year! Last year was the first time I attended a conference dedicated to photography. There were several aspects that made last year's participation outstanding. The first is the very fact that you are mingling with about 299 other people who all love photography as a hobby or a profession. It's quite exciting to be with that many other people just as excited about images, technique, and, of course, gear as you are. Last time I had such an experience was back in the nineties when I went to gatherings of other bicyclists! Secondly, this was the first time I had ever met people face-to-face whom I had "met" online. That was quite a kick. Third, the presenters were all knowledgeable, friendly, and very approachable. The interaction with them was genuine. There was no one who projected the “I’m better than you are” feeling.
This year was different only in that there were many more “name” presenters. That is, presenters whom I know through listening to their podcasts or as guests on podcasts. Or presenters whose books or articles I have read. It was quite reassuring that they were every bit as approachable and friendly as the presenters last year. This fact is what makes the Out of Chicago special. What makes the conference different is that these same presenters lead photowalks around the streets and parks of Chicago. The walks are both instructive and social. You have a chance to chat with these same people whose articles, podcasts, and books entertain and inform you at home. While on these walks, you learn from the leader as well as your fellow participants. More importantly, you make new friends.
And, finally, you get lots of exercise! Wow, do you get exercise! Last year I didn’t really embrace this. I didn’t “get it.” When I was working in school systems and universities, I was used to going to educational conferences where you attended as many sessions as possible and chatted in the hallways with as many like-minded people as you could. Though that is possible at the Out of Chicago conference, the photowalks are what set it apart. So this year, I made sure that I went on several. The problem was that the ones I chose fell one after the other, so after a nice relaxing hour-long presentation in a session room, I hit the street for three separate, 2-hour long photowalks. I did have a lunch and dinner break, but there was still lots of walking, almost 11 miles on Friday, 9 miles on Saturday, and a leisurely 3 miles on Sunday! Whew!
On Friday, I was in a workshop with Bryan Peterson for most of the day (8-3). I discovered Bryan in 2008 when I started to teach photography classes and used his Understanding Exposure book as the text for the class. He has hundreds of excellent and very helpful videos online and does multi-day workshops all over the world. So, it was very exciting for me to attend a workshop with him before the actual conference began. Bryan sees things that most folks don’t. He is extremely creative and a patient and helpful teacher. The dozen or so of us in the workshop spent about two hours in a classroom and then hit the streets of Chicago to put into practice what we had discussed in class. After about three hours roaming the streets, we returned to finish off the workshop back in the classroom.
A unique feature of this year’s conference was something conference founder, Chris Smith, dreamed up: a Photo Crawl. Unlike a Pub Crawl, this event didn’t involve drinking but making images at different spots around Chicago. Chris and his conference team positioned one or two presenters or others with expertise to share at different attractions in Chicago not too far from the conference base location. Derrick Story, Mike Boening, and Jamie MacDonald were at the Chicago Theater showing how to do long exposures. Anne Belmont and Tony Reynes were at the Buckingham Fountain. Frederick Van Johnson and Bryan Peterson were at the Cloud Gate (the “Bean”) in Millennium Park. And there were nine other locations. Follow the link above to see what they were.
Did I enjoy myself? Absolutely! Will I return next year? Unfortunately not as I already have other plans, but I will go back. I have to. I’ve made so many new friends there.
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