I first attended Shutterfest in 2015 after hearing about it in one of the local photography groups that I’m in.  Although I’d been doing weddings and other types of sessions for a couple of years already, I knew that I still had plenty of things to learn.  Shutterfest, at that time, was only into its second year of being held and there were some bumps and some words said (by me…. and apparently they are still hashtagging them to this day), and I just wasn’t sure how much I would even like this conference.  You see, it was kind of a new thing.  Only 500 had attended the year prior and it was small and intimate.  In 2015, 2000 attended, the trade show grew, the classes grew, and there were lots of models that we were able to “rent”.  Instructors taught independent groups and there were photoshoots at all hours of the day and night.  It wasn’t one of those conferences where you sit in a classroom and study all day… you got to get right out there and take photos with the guidance of instructors or independently… it was entirely up to you.

Now, 2 years later, I’m still attending (and signed up for Shutterfest 2018) and still learning.  I admit that my reasons for going have changed.  When I first started going, I was eager to get all kinds of shots to fill up my portfolio because it was still a bit sparse back then.  I took every chance I had to photograph the models that were all around Union Station, just to get photos into my portfolio.  I’m happy to say that this year, I didn’t feel the need to run and gun all around there trying to get photos of random models because this year, my priorities were to fine tune some of the business aspects of photography, learn about new products, and listen to as many speakers as possible.  The beauty of Shutterfest is that you can choose from so many different things to do!  If you want to just photograph models all day long for 2 days, YOU CAN!  If you want to take business classes all day long for 2 days, YOU CAN!

This year, I brought along my friend Sydney (Sydney Marie Photography) and we hit the road Monday morning and arrived in St. Louis in the late afternoon.  Once we’d checked into our hotel room, we noticed lots of people already doing independent photoshoots all around the trains behind union station.  Now, if you’re a photographer, you’re probably eyerolling so hard about shooting on the tracks (For those of you who are not photogs… shooting on train tracks is not only clich√© and overdone, but it’s also illegal and very dangerous).  Just an FYI, these train tracks and trains behind Union Station are all inactive.

Anyway… Sydney and I wandered down to the trains and came upon a senior group photo shoot.  We joined in and grabbed a few shots but bear in mind, the models do tend to look all around because there are so many photographers there. 

Next, we headed over to the hotel courtyard to join in on a photoshoot that I’d signed up for a few days prior.  This one was another independently run photoshoot with a girl who had her face painted like a deer and had a beautiful floral headpiece.  I wasn’t quite sure how this one would go, and we came a bit late, but it was pretty neat.

Next, we walked through Union Station out to the front of the building where we came upon another instructor teaching a group of photographers how to pose and light couples.

Note the “Kick Ass” sign out front.  Anyone who has been to Shutterfest knows the instructors are not PC when it comes to language.  If you’re thinking about attending and you’re a little pansy flower that doesn’t say such things, you may want to find another conference.  Or you can put on your big kid pants and go there and kick some ass, that is up to you.

Tuesday morning we had some breakfast and headed over to Union Station (we stayed at the Drury next door which is awesome because you get free breakfast and dinner there, but also not awesome because Union Station is where all the action is).  The first speaker of the conference is always Sal Cincotta, because he runs all that s*** (and I hear he owns half of St. Louis, or is working on that, anyway).  Somehow I missed the tee shirt guns, which are always a thing at the opening talk.  Oh well.  What can I say, I like sleeping in and enjoying my breakfast.

The first class I took on Tuesday was a posing 2 brides and 2 grooms class.  I actually already took it last year but I enjoyed the class so thought it would be fun to take it again.  The instructor, Thea Dodds, is very nice and actually co-wrote the book Capturing Love, which is the only wedding photography book on the market that is written specifically about posing and interacting with same-sex couples.

Everywhere we walked outside, we saw random models and groups of photographers out there doing their thing.

Oh, and did I mention there are FOOD TRUCKS during lunch?!  YUMMMMMM!  We are petitioning for an ice cream truck next year because that was the only thing missing.

On the trade show floor, we got to try out various lights and other gear while models posed for us.

There were lots of vendors there, but not like an overwhelming amount.  Most of the most popular ones did attend, which was nice, because they always give discounts and show samples.

These models go all day long just posing for everyone. 

I took a class called Advanced Posing for Wedding Photographers with Michael Anthony and loved it!  He showed us all how to turn basic poses into “epic” poses.  Just the slightest shifts of the body can either make a photo super flattering or make it fall flat.  All in all he was definitely one of my favorite instructors!

These two are a real life couple so they were not awkward at all with posing together.  Between these two and the location, people were scrambling for the best spot to get “the shot.”

After that little adventure, I came back inside for my last class of the day, which was all about capturing details with Jeff and Lori Poole.  I’ll be honest, it was way too crowded for me to take many photos of the details and my biggest takeaway was listening to the instructors talk privately with other students about their methods of getting higher sales and bringing in clients.  I already have learned quite a bit about doing detail shots from working with other photographers at weddings and have lots of experience with that, so it was nice to hear them talking about business as well.

This is just a quick shot of the inside of Union Station.  I wish I’d had a wide angle lens on me but I was packing light since I didn’t want to haul all my gear on my back all day long.

This is a shot of the trade show floor.  It was normally much more crowded than this, but I took this shot while most people were still in their classes.

Wednesday morning I took a class that was about how to pose women properly to take the most flattering boudoir shots.  This class was instructed by Amber Jones.  Again, this class was super crowded and in a small area so I mostly just sat back taking in the information while taking some photojournalistic style shots just for reference.  It was also like 172 degrees in there so I bugged out a bit early.  Ok, it was really like 80 degrees, but I’m from Michigan where its like 55 degrees in the spring.

We hit the trade show floor again and I couldn’t resist grabbing another shot of the action. 

My second class on Wednesday was instructed by Sal himself.  This class was about how to create dramatic portraits while thinking on your feet.  At least, that’s the best way I can describe it.  We broke off into groups and Sal told us where we had to take our models to create something epic.  These locations were anything BUT epic, but we had to make it work.  All in all, I realized in this class that I already understood how to get these types of photos but didn’t quite trust myself with it yet.  After listening to Sal talk for like 5 minutes, everything just clicked.  I mean I won’t lie, I still freaking hid behind people when Sal would run over and ask to see what was on the backs of people’s screens, simply because I was waiting for him to give some sort of Simon Cowell critique.  Overall, I’d say this class and the other wedding posing ones were hands down my favorites.

That’s Sal down there showing us how we are supposed to do it.

This girl was a TROOPER.  By this time of the day, it was like 85 degrees and she’d already been standing in that hot sun in a long sleeved dress for like 40 minutes.  This is just a super quick edit that I did. We all had to share her and get our shots quickly so yes, there is a car in the background.  If this were a paying client, I’d be cloning that out!

My last class of the day was all about business strategy with Ning Wong so there are no photos from that.  I loved the class format though.  There were only about 12 of us in the classroom all sitting around a table learning about what works and what doesn’t.  Much of it was open discussion. 

If you are a photographer and looking for a conference to learn how to take better photos or just plain grow your business, seriously consider going to Shutterfest.  The ticket to this is probably the least expensive you can get, while the hands on instruction is probably some of the best out there.  If you can’t get into Hilton Union Station or Hilton Ballpark, consider the Drury next door, or the Drury up the road.  These are great hotels that give you a lot of bang for your buck. 

As you can see I had a great time in St. Louis at Shutterfest and will for sure be attending next year!


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