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Julia Neal and Martin Jordan attended the SWPP Convention.

Julia Neal and Martin Jordan attended the SWPP Convention. - With tickets from £20(members-only full day seminar) to £325(‘big deal’allowing entry to any and all classes, Awards Dinner and Business School),if you didn’t attend, should you have? Read on…

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This annual feast of photographic education, innovation, competition and networking was, as usual, well attended with thousands of delegates from around the world invading the Hammersmith Novotel to attend a variety of classes and workshops, plus a three-day trade show offering a comprehensive range of products, services and gizmos to help today’s photographer stay ahead of the game.

We attended a selection of the Fri-Sun Masterclasses , (you have to accept you can’t attend all of them!) and the trade show program (£90 for all 3 days, trade show included). Friday kicked off with standing room only at Julie Hughs’ masterclass Shoot, Show & Sell. Julie emphasises the importance of marketing, branding and understanding what the client is really buying; in Julie’s
view ‘people buy fantasy, not reality…’ and she goes out of her way to provide them with it, collecting a wide variety of props, fabrics and backgrounds to help set the scene in her shopping mall studio. Delegates were treated to a whirlwind overview of Julie’s highly successful business, with tips on lighting, posing, shooting, marketing and pricing (a parabolic light gives the effect of sunlight / NEVER shoot a woman’s arm sideways on or a pregnant woman’s derriere! /
check the histogram – it’s more important than the back of the camera / listen more than you talk and send thank you cards!)

Trevor & Faye Yerbury ‘s Presence and Presentation session also emphasised the need for good marketing and personal branding, a policy that has netted them an enviable position at top of the photographic pile, from where they are able to pick and choose their clients. Trevor pointed out the importance of developing and understanding your own style, and how photographers must remember that they are part of their branding, and should present themselves in an appropriate manner.

John Henshall examined whether stock photography can still pay the mortgage or provide a pension. A BBC veteran with 40+ years’ experience in digital imaging, John has invented cameras, filmed videos for the likes of Bowie, Blondie, Elton John and Kate Bush and shared his astonishing breadth of experience in both creative and technical aspects of photography. While acknowledging the poor rates of pay, John was encouraging about stock photography, providing invaluable hints and tips on getting work accepted. Clearly we’re unlikely to get rich from stock, but it’s a great repository for images you don’t know what to do with, as long as they are keyworded and meet the exacting technical standards of the stock houses. Fees are generally paid monthly - although the answer to the initial question appears to be ‘probably not’.

Tamara Lackey (that’s Tamara to rhyme with camera please, not a long British ‘a’!) weathered technical glitches with great aplomb and treated us to a fast paced and highly entertaining insight into contemporary children’s photography. She explained how, when feeling burned out, she had called on her extensive business management experience to re-engineer her business into the highly successful and productive model she now runs. Tamara’s approach is informal; she does not have a shoot list, but takes each session as it comes, thinking on her feet and turning even tantrums to her photographic advantage.

There are some strict rules for parents though, lest they ruin a perfectly good shot by remonstrating with their kids at a crucial moment! The theme of children, babies and bumps continued with Sandy Puc’s two very enlightening sessions on Bellies and Babies. Sandy generously shared details of her favourite equipment, lighting set-ups, marketing, sales processes
and pricing packages, as well as a series of 5 key poses for new-borns, guaranteed to produce charming images that win sales.

Wedding photographer Tim Hoy’s session on networking emphasised the benefits of modern tools such as Facebook and Twitter and advised complete transparency when contributing to blogs and forums (avoid ‘off the record’ conversations – these can come back and bite you ten years later!). The session somehow developed into a lively discussion on the issue of public photography, the attitude of the police and the increasing (and erroneous) belief among parents that anyone including their kids while photographing in a public place must be breaking the law in some way.

Travel Photographer Margaret Salisbury talked delegates through an essay on village life in Ghana as well as a series of beautiful and original shots from the Venice Carnival. Each image was examined for both narrative and compositional value, and this small and highly interactive session soon had delegates joining in and asking questions, as Margaret handed out printed images on a variety of fine art papers for us to examine.

The Trade Show included the usual suspects, but was also packed with suppliers of every photographic product imaginable, with an emphasis on sales and presentation tools such as custom made books, canvasses and frames, as well as a number of training and consulting organisations and business essentials such as insurers and accountants specialising in photographers’ requirements. There was also a large specialised book shop provided by the SWPP, which was overflowing with titles unavailable in most high street bookshops.

We did have a couple of minor gripes: the stratospheric prices at the Novotel beggar belief (2 mediocre coffees in cardboard cups, 2 uninspiring pre-packaged sandwiches and one tiny bowl of chips set my colleague and I back a stonking £17.80!!) and the SWPP Convention Guide, which contains all the seminar listings but was described by one group of delegates as a ‘navigational
nightmare’!

Gripes aside, it was an energising and inspiring event and in answer to our original question; well, we’re certainly planning to return next year!

The next SWPP Convention starts on January 11, 2011

Words by Julia Neal.

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