Strategy Session: The Portrait Masters Conference

Strategy Session: The Portrait Masters Conference

An Intimate Twist to the Trade Show Formula


Whenever we hear about a trade show, there are all sorts of emotions that come to mind. On the negative side, there’s the travel and time commitment to the event—whether it’s in Las Vegas or some swanky resort. There’s the cost of the show, from booth creation and maintenance to personnel costs. And most important, there’s the question of ROI. Is it worth being there considering the return?

Of course, there’s the positive side of the equation as well. There is the networking and “pressing the flesh” with our customers and industry brethren. And there are also benefits to the attendees, most of who come for an intensive and inspiring learning experience.

With all of the pros and cons of the trade show experience, I was always looking for a show formula that made sense. I might have found one. 2019-Portrait-Masters-LogoThe Portrait Masters Conference, a conference and trade expo designed for wedding and portrait photographers, is taking the benefits of large, traditional conventions and bringing it to the 21st century. It combines elements of traditional expos with advanced, livestreaming technology.

The Portrait Masters Conference: A Boutique Convention

Now in its third year, the Portrait Masters Conference is a “boutique” convention. It limits the number of attendees to 600 but incorporates all the benefits of a traditional conference, and then some. Quality education designed by renowned portrait photographer Sue Bryce and executed by world-class photographers and educators is supplemented with interactive “shooting stations.” They allow attendees to put into practice techniques they just acquired from seminar instructors. And, like traditional conventions, the ability to connect with industry friends, suppliers and influencers is magnified due to the intimate setting at the Arizona Grand in Phoenix.

“The need to communicate directly with customers has never been more important than today. Moreover, while prohibitively expensive for many companies, participating in conferences and expos continues to be a good way to achieve that goal,” said George Varanakis, former EVP of WPPI/Rangefinder and GM of Photo Talent at CreativeLive. It’s still a great way to bring businesses and consumers together. However, it has become way too expensive for many companies to participate.

“What’s important about our conference is that photographers go there specifically to learn their craft; delivering on that experience is critical,” added Varanakis.

“Sue Bryce is one of the foremost educators in the photo industry. Her glamour, fashion and portrait style transcend past stereotypes and has changed the face of portrait photography. After becoming the most watched instructor on CreativeLive, Sue created her own groundbreaking educational platform. She uses her signature techniques to educate photographers as well as empower businesses internationally. Also, attendees can benefit from her knowledge in a fairly intimate setting.”

Expo Advantages

However, it’s the manufacturers participating in the expo portion of the conference who will likely benefit most. For years, companies have spent millions of dollars designing and building exhibit booths and thousands more on renting floor space at various industry trade shows each year.

Aaron Andersen, George Varanakis, Sue Bryce and Craig Swanson

While many large trade shows attract tens of thousands of attendees, exhibitors only get to see a very small fraction of them. The benefits to manufacturers/exhibitors include a low cost to exhibit ($3,000); no exhibit booth to ship or set up; no exorbitant drayage fees; and minimal staffing requirements. And even those who cannot attend the show can appreciate it; portrait photographers can livestream the event to their homes, even further broadening the reach of this creative show.

Digital Product Studio, led by Craig Swanson, is responsible for creating online education platforms. They include the Portrait Masters online learning annex. For this show, it is using its technology to deliver the expo to millions of computers around the world.

In addition, the conference’s partnership with B&H Photo will allow those “watching at home” the ability to instantly purchase products and services they see via livestreaming, directly from B&H’s website.

The Portrait Masters Conference and Expo is an example of how the trade show and exposition industry can change. And maybe should change. By delivering an intimate experience, that can also be shared simultaneously across the globe, while also delivering a cost-effective solution for exhibitors and an opportunity to close the sale by dealers, this show may very well be a model for trade shows to follow.

The Portrait Masters Conference will be held September 3–6 at the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona. Visit for more information.