March 4, 2014

UNITED 2014 | Photography Convention | Kris Kandel Fargo Photographer

Posted in: Fun

This blog post has been stirring inside my mind for a while. How do you write about a week that was incredible without sounding cheesy or cliche? You see I just got back from a photography convention in Santa Barbara California that was exactly what I needed. I was inspired. I learned that the definition of inspire is: “To breath life into.”  And perhaps this captures best what my week was like, I had life breathed into my creative drought.

I left Fargo frozen and white.

And arrived in paradise:

 The UNITED Photography conference is so incredibly hard to describe. It’s not just workshops or hands on training (which we had), it’s mostly about the people (shout out to my two roomies pictured below – awesome ladies!).

It’s a safe place to just be. Be yourself.

Be vulnerable.

Be silly.

Be professionals.

Be personal.

Be human.

So often in the photography industry there is pride. Photographers who become “rock stars” and give off this vibe of “me vs you”  – completion and  tearing each other’s work (and each other) down to build themselves up.

UNITED is different. It’s about coming together and lifting each other up. We all started somewhere – new photographers are celebrated and encouraged. We all struggle – so we share and encourage.

Ok now I’m starting to get sappy. But it’s true. It’s the weirdest thing,  all these introverted photographers get together and talk so openly and deeply. I met amazing people who have huge hearts and dramatic stories.

The leaders of UNITED also pampered us!  We ate delicious food in beautiful settings. It was so nice to feel appreciated!! Sometimes when I tell people I’m a photographer I get comments like “That’s nice, it must be great just working one day a week” or I get a vibe that my job isn’t really anything more than pushing a button. But to come here, and be understood. To be treated as special, to be reminded that what I do as a photographer is HARD WORK, but WORTH it – that was so refreshing to my heart!

On Monday night we had a gala dinner where we dressed up and attended a fabulous meal as if we were guests of honor (we were!).

Afterwards was the five minute fuel event – again hard to describe unless you’ve been there, but basically 20 photographers got 5 minutes each to make us laugh, cry, inspire, teach, or whatever. It was a night full of so much fun and great reminders of WHY we do what we do!

Also lots of inside jokes that no one else would understand. I loved it because it made us more than perfect business people attending a conference gala, it made us a group that celebrates being real together. The photo below was the last 5 minute fuel that started off as a lip sync completion between Trevor and Timothy (They were joking that at weddings they lip sync at the dances) – and then turned into all the guys running up to lip sync together. It was Hilarious!!  Especially when Matt Kennedy came up – he was a contestant on Canadian Idol which we lovingly tease him about all the time. 🙂  – see what I mean, inside jokes that probably make you think we are nutty since it isn’t that funny to anyone else.

Afterwards I walked back to my room and snapped the photo on the right: A feeling of complete happiness and content. The sounds of laughter and distant waves on the beach. My heart full and refreshed.

I am so blessed to know these people!!!

The second day brought more workshops, great speakers and again, reminders of why I chose to be a photographer in the first place. It was basically like TED talks for photographers!! Sooo good!

And then we were spoiled by a southern fried chicken picnic on the lawn!!

That afternoon I was feeling a bit over stimulated so I took 30 minutes and walked along the beach. The sunshine, blue skies and water were so amazing after 3 months of being -10 below zero or more!!

On the last day of the conference one of my favorite speakers was Trevor Dayley (we affectionately call him super man since he runs his own business, does workshops, and is a family man with 5 kids!).  Below is one of the videos he showed during his talk, which gives you a little taste of what the presentation was about.

A Personal Story with Trevor Dayley from Shoot & Share on Vimeo.
At one point he had us write down one thing that we felt was holding us back in our businesses or life, to make it into a paper airplane and let it go (we really should have had him lip sync “Let it go” at this point, lol!). It was great hearing people laugh as we watched all those pieces of paper fly around the room. A sense of knowing this bunch of people were open to help each other get past whatever was flying on those slips of paper. We could do it together!  (Again the cheesiness is showing  … Moving on  …)

Our final lunch was unique as well, we each got a ticket and could go out to a bunch of lunch trucks to decide what we wanted! I went for the BBQ pulled pork sandwich. Pretty tasty! : )

I sat next to Jeremy Kester (the guy in the manly beard below) who is one of the funniest guys I’ve met. He had us all in stitches!!  Half the time I couldn’t tell if he was serious or teasing (pretty sure teasing), it was great! His website is also totally cool. It’s basically 50 pages of easter eggs that you have to figure out yourself like one of those “decide your own ending” books.  Awesome.

And Philip (AKA the curliest photographer you know) was giving lessons on how to toss your camera in the air to get aerial shots. Scary stuff! Called the $3,000 camera trick  – if you dare. I’m not that brave.

After so many amazing days it was so sad to say good bye to my new and old friends. Until next year everyone!!

I was able to stay a few days after the conference for a mini vacation so I enjoyed walking around taking photos of the hotel and Santa Barbara. I didn’t stay at the Fess Parker after the conference since it was super expensive without my roomies, but I still wanted to have memories of the awesome space!

The pool has a cool memory. The last night it started raining hard. For some weird reason the sound of the rain on the pavement sounded inviting so I went out and sat in the hot tub  – in the rain – for an hour. It was glorious! The sound of rain hitting the water. The lights twinkling in all the hotel windows. Steam rising. Sigh. Sometimes it’s the little things. Spontaneity is pretty adventurous even in small ways.

The details at the Fess Parker were lovely! Metal ceilings. Etched elevator doors.

This lobby was usually FULL of people laughing, hugging, talking, sharing! It was sad to see it slowly become empty.

After checking out and finding my new hotel I went grocery shopping. I LOVED how much fresh and organic produce I could find in California! Seriously makes me happy.

I walked around town for several hours just enjoying the semi-sunny weather since I knew we were in for several rainy days. These trees were sooo cool. I kind of became obsessed with them. Does anyone know what they are called? I just loved the shapes, the twisted branches, smooth bark and rounded tops. Love!

And of course I had to stop in the 2nd hand store. You know me. Love treasure hunting! Plus I needed an umbrella for the storm coming.  ; ) Actually it was really good that I got one because 2 days later I overheard people saying umbrellas were sold out all over town!!!

California is just so lovely. The colors!

Although this sign did make me cringe a little bit.

The second day of my vacation it started to rain. Like DOWN POUR all day. They ended up getting 4.5 inches in 2 days. That’s a whole year’s worth for California!!! I know the locals were super happy to get it because of the drought, but seriously I was hoping for sunny beach days. Instead I ended up walking around Santa Barbara with my umbrella for 3 days. What else can you do? Just enjoy it! It’s still warmer that snow and ice at home!

I Love finding random things in cities. Murals, a book exchange made out of a phone box, art and creativity everywhere!

I stopped in a coffee shop to spend a few hours writing in my journal since I was pretty damp and chilled. Kind of fun just to sit and people watch too!

The last day I was in Santa Barbara the storm cleared and I was able to walk on the beach one more time. I found 3 boats stranded because their anchors had snapped. Evidently the owners were only given about 36 hours to get them off the beach before the city comes in and crushes them!!! Wow. It was really sad, but also kind of interesting.

And then it was time to head home. Which was quite the ordeal because the only flights home were at midnight. So I hopped on a train from Santa Barbara to LA (the photo on the right strangely started a 3 hour conversation with the guy sitting in front of me – he heard the shutter click, leaned back and wanted to know what I was taking photos of!!).

Once I was in LA I flew out at midnight. Landed in Chicago at 5am local time. Had a 4 hour layover. Flew back to Fargo. Landed at 11am. So from the time I got up on Sunday morning to check out of my hotel to the time my head was able to hit my pillow at home (after staying up all day when I got home) it was 36 hours of no sleep!! To say my bed felt amazing is an understatement.


So to sum it all up; UNITED was inspiring!

It breathed new life into my heart.

I went into it feeling tired. Burned out.

I came out of it with a light step. Ready for this upcoming season in which I have the honor and joy to serve my clients, family and friends with renewed energy!

It’s really hard to put into words. So I’ll leave you with this last Video which shows the heart of the UNITED conference. Share, Serve, Celebrate.

Passion Project // Haiti 2014 from Josh Newton on Vimeo.


P.S. I did a few photo shoots at the conference but I’m not aloud to share the photos yet. So I will blog the images when I get the green light from the organizers of each photo shoot!

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience! I adored United, too, and can’t wait to go back next year. LOVE all your pictures of the city… Santa Barbara is one of my favorite places in the whole wide world! 🙂

  2. Abby says:

    LOVEEEEEEEEEE this post!!! And all the pictures! So happy for you!!!!

  3. Great pics ! Nextyear, I’m going to be a better photo journalist of my time there !

  4. Lindsay says:

    Love this recap kris!! It looks like you had a fabulous time!!

  5. Kelly says:

    Kris, I love this, it so sums up United and this wonderful photography community we are blessed to be a part of. Love your images also.

  6. Kevin Sturm says:

    So glad you were there Kris and loved all these photos! Made me remember it as well. 🙂

  7. […] a photography conference in California called UNITED (see my full blog post coverage of the event here). During the conference I had the oportunity to join two photoshoots that were put on by […]

  8. […] been quite the year for me to invest in workshops and learning! In Feb. I went to the UNITED conference in Santa Barbara California; then a few weeks later I found out that one of my favorite wedding […]

  9. […] to a thunderstorm and downpour (what is it with downpours and travel this year? Remember my  California workshop?!) But the next day we were able to explore our neighborhood a bit more. We stayed in […]

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