About 2 or 3 years ago, after receiving a recommendation from a friend (thanks Ben Fredman!) I joined an email list-serv called A Photo A Day, which was started by Melissa Lyttle, a photojournalist at the St. Petersburg Times. A Photo A Day, or APAD as the members affectionally refer to it as, started a years ago as a small email group and although still relatively small today, has somewhere between 2000-2500 members, I believe. The rules are simple. Each member can post 1 photo per day to the group, sometimes accompanied by a caption, or background info and the rest of the members can share their thoughts about the image, what works, what doesn’t , etc. Although the backgrounds of the majority of the members leans towards the photojournalism side, there are wedding photographers, commercial shooters, and corporate photographers on APAD. Its a great place to get feedback on an image you are unsure about, or just connect with like-minded photographers. I may not be as active in the group as I used to be, or would like to be, however I owe a great deal to APAD for providing me with an amazing venue for feedback, knowledge and more importantly, friends. My formal education is not in photography or the arts, so APAD and other groups/workshops/experiences like APAD have proven to be priceless in terms of education, fraternity, inspiration, etc.
Geekfest is another story. Geekfest is APAD’s annual gathering which has taken place for several years now in different cities across the US; Portland, Austin, Chicago, and most recently in Melissa’s home base of St. Pete. I attended last year and had a great time. There are a lot of different photo workshops, conferences and seminars which have their pluses and minuses, but Geekfest is a great weekend of fun that packs a handful of incredible speakers into relatively small and intimate setting. Compared to some of the more commercialized conferences that might make you shell out closer to $1000 to hear the lectures/speakers, Melissa charges attendees only $100, which is a small price to pay given the cost to run the workshop Im sure.
However, to me, the speakers and lectures are secondary to the commradarie, friendship and good times that I walk away from the weekend having gained. I have met several amazing individuals via APAD so getting to catch up with old friends and meeting new ones is my most valued part of Geekfest and regardless of the amazing speakers, I plan on attending in the future because of this.
A few weeks prior to leaving for St. Pete I received an email from Brad Moore, who works for Kelby Media Group / NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) under Scott Kelby. He informed me that the NAPP/Kelby headquarters were just a few miles away from St. Pete and extended an invitation to give me a personal tour of the facilities. Thankfully I took Brad up on his offer and after landing in St. Pete prior to Geekfest, Brad and I had an awesome lunch (see iphone photos below) great conversation and I had an awesome time touring the NAPP facilities. What looked rather unassuming on the outside, quickly gave way to a colorful world of everything Adobe on the inside. The workspaces were brightly painted and outfitted with personal touches, huge monitors a vibe that cannot be described. There were no 10 year old Gateways here, it looked like everyone had a decked out machine with lots of huge monitors, Wacom’s printers, and everything else you would need to have fun and be creative…efficiently. Having watched several episodes of Photoshop TV, taking a tour of their lovely studio space was pretty awesome as well. Before ending the tour, Brad took me to the warehouse, where they house all the different books that Kelby Media Group publishes. I was then given amazing books and DVD’s on the house. Special thanks to my new friend Brad Moore and Kelby Media Group for their hospitality and their donation of books and DVD’s to the Geekfest crew as well. If you are a photographer or retoucher or just a casual Adobe/Photoshop user, I’d highly recommend becoming a NAPP user. They are stand-up guys and the benefits are awesome!
The actual events at Geekfest were pretty amazing too. Thursday night we had a huge BBQ and party at Melissa’s house and as people filtered in from their flights, we spent the entire night catching up, reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones. Friday night we had an awesome event at a local coffee shop. Two local spoken word poets joined us and were invited to freestyle as a projected slideshow of images from those present were shown. Some of the amazing prose coming completely unrehearsed from the poets was amazing. They would literally see a photo for the first time and instantly dive into a freestyle piece about the image. Funny, sad, deep, or awkward, the experience was definitely one I look forward to at future Geekfests. It was like combining Def Poetry with a photo critique. Amazing!
Saturday and Sunday were hosted at The St Petersburg Times auditorium and featured an array of awesome speakers from a lighting demo from Atlanta photographer Zach Arias to Todd Heisler, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer from the New York Times. All of the speakers were inspiring and down to earth. Sunday morning my good friends Ariel Zambelich, Ben Fredman and Brandon Kruse met up and spent the better part of the morning hanging out and having fun. We had brunch in Tampa at a lovely Thai temple that featured an amazing outdoor eating experience and great Thai food to boot. After coming back to St Pete, we spent a while at a local pub watching all of the NFL games. It was tough to see my Houston Texans fall to the Cowboys, but at least I was in good company.
During the workshop on Saturday and Sunday a Leica representative was on location to loan out various Leicas to the attendees. During the day on Saturday I checked out a Leica M9 digital rangefinder for a few hours. Given the mystical cult status of Leica and the $7000 price tag of the M9’s body alone I honestly expected to be blown away by the camera. To sum it up, I was not. The camera itself is gorgeous, sexy and a Leica, however the focusing is absurd and clumsy (even for a rangefinder), the LCD and menu is less than intuitive and their is considerable noise at even ISO 800. Changing the battery and SD card is not very easy either. The files themselves are nothing to write home about. The color range is impressive, but honestly I will take the 5D mark II over the M9 any day. Either way we had fun testing it out.