The email landed in my mailbox and I very nearly swiped left to delete it. Sat there amongst the usual tranche of junk email that seemed to have been bothering me of late. Education, Collaboration, Vacation – early bird tickets were being released for Photo Field Trip and did I want to book? Expand your voice, grow your tribe, share your air – all brilliant reasons to go the website told me. Oh and it’s in California. So I paused for a little while, then I booked. After all, if you keep on doing what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got (so they say). I’m so glad that email didn’t end up in my trash folder, I’m relieved I paused for a second and actually read the email. This was an adventure, hugely important to me personally and Field Trip was an experience that is hard to describe but touches a lot of your emotions and assults all your senses.
It was a tough decision leaving my children behind and in all honesty that would be the one thing that would stop me from going again. They are young, they missed me more than I anticipated and it placed a great deal of strain on those back home who helped look after them. The jet lag, uncomfortable flights and the cost wouldn’t put me off from going again however.
I combined the event with a mini road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, my photography buddy Jo and I flew in to San Francisco and had three days to drive down to El Capitan Canyon, just outside Santa Barbara. It was great. Knackering but great. We stayed in some dodgy accommodation then struck gold after a recommendation to stay at the totally nuts and highly decadent Madonna Inn. Garishly decorated and a bit like being in a David Lynch film we loved it and only wish we didn’t have to rush off on the next leg of our journey. Personal highlights enroute included the Bixby Bridge, the huge colony of basking Elephant Seals we photographed at Piedras Blancas and our tour of San Francisco.
So Field Trip. I don’t really know where to start or what to tell you first.
In terms of how I’d describe it if you’ve not been it is one big inspirational event, with a summer camp feel. Its pretty overwhelming and in the first 24 hours I recall slinking off to crash on my bunk bed and asking myself if I could handle it. I stayed in a cabin shared with five other photographers, I ate my meals (amazing food) with the 400+ other attendees, I received a ton of great freebies from the event sponsors, we listened to a leading Astronomer share his thoughts over dinner, I had the chance to get a tattoo, get clothing screen-printed, play kickball, swin in the sea at 7:00am or take part in a lipsync battle (won by Dan O’Day for his grizzly Ice Ice Baby take off) on top of the 114 classes and panel sessions to choose from.
It was hard to select what you wanted to attend as the choice was amazing. Some of the sessions I found really inspiring; Kristen Marie ‘Making light of dark situations‘ was practical with first hand experience shared to help you work with light; Wyn Wiley ‘Seeing the potential in the mundane‘ had a refreshing perspective and he has a huge heart; Autumn Beury ‘Arts & Crafts / Creative Shooting‘ instantly changed my photography and I revelled in having the week to play with the techniques she shared and Fer Juaristi ‘the Kamikaze Effect‘ reinforced some of the basics that lead to brilliance – I loved his comment ‘Don’t be a McDonalds wedding photographer’, he also helped me with how approach to work / life balance – everything he does is focused on the love he has for his family. Fer also discussed how our role is to create memories for those that haven’t been born yet, a sentiment that reinforces why I do this job.
If I’m honest there were a couple of sessions I found a bit underwhelming and perhaps unrealistically I had expected everyone to blow me away or to have some major ‘A-ha’ moment whilst I was there. I didn’t, but having reflected over the whole experience over the past couple of days I know it was amazing and if I could I would love to return. I’m upping my game and I’m focused, full of creativity and ready for the busy 2016 wedding season. I’ve come back with a notebook full of knowledge and lots of ideas to pursue. I also made some genuinely nice friends from the US and Australia who I’d love to see again and who already we’ve all been in touch again, discussing ideas and our next steps.
Some of my favourite times were when me and Jo and the amazing roommates we shared a cabin with headed to the beach and just shot, we sat on the beach watching the surfers and played with the fading light, simply shooting for pleasure. This is something I hadn’t done for too long, having got in to the bad habit of only picking my camera up at weddings – not any more. The only way to get better and better is to focus on your images, shooting everyday to become amazing. Dan O’Day discussed how photographers will prioritise things in the wrong order, for example focusing on improving their SEO rather than on sharpening their photography craft. If your images blend in then noone will notice you, so shoot, practice and focus on producing the best possible work you can.
I asked some of the other attendees I was with to tell me their views on FT ‘It keeps people from burning out‘…. ‘it remind peoples the industry isn’t what it seems and that there are people out there trying to really help each other‘…… ‘it’s overwhelming, an experience, pretty removed from real life‘…. ‘it’s full of the cool kids yet they’re friendly and open, with lots of old connections picking up‘
Photo Field Trip happened for me exactly when I needed it. I met some amazing friends, sat around a camp fire with photographers from all over the world and experienced so much (including an amazing DJ) and rekindled my love of California. If you are thinking of going in 2017 then I strongly, wholeheartedly recommend it.
Field Trip has changed my perspective and I’m raring to go.