You sign up to attend a conference to build your knowledge and skills in an area that interests you both personally and professionally, but instead of having to sit through a few days of talks in a fluorescently-lit hotel ballroom, you find yourself in the sun at a beautiful beachside campground.
Instead of listening to “gurus” speak at you from a podium high atop a stage, you get to stand beside some of the best in the business as they offer you hands-on learning opportunities, and share personal conversations with you about more than their talent.
Instead of exchanging small talk with businessmen in power suits at a hotel bar, you spend four days collaborating with and sharing meaningful conversations with other creatives who share the same passions, struggles, and successes as you.
In a world of overpriced and under-inspiring corporate conferences, this scenario sounds too good to be true. But thanks to a visionary photographer named Whitney Chamberlin, it’s not.
Last week, I spent four days in the El Capitan Canyon campgrounds in Santa Barbara for a photography retreat called Field Trip. This brilliant marriage of education, vacation, and collaboration was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, both for me as a human being and as a professional creative.
Field Trip offered a myriad of classes surrounding the many aspects of photography, ranging from more technical skills (like lighting and editing) to classes focused on the art of taking a photo (how to find the story in what you’re shooting) to sessions dedicated to pushing through creative slumps and finding originality in your work.
Each day, the 400+ photographers in El Capitan Canyon and I would choose three or four classes to attend, where we would participate in an active dialogue with experts and each other, ask practical and theoretical questions, get hands-on experience collaborating with one another, or exchange powerful stories of our experiences with others in our field.
Beautiful California landscapes were our classrooms and our teachers were our peers. Our time outside of classes was filled with sunlit hikes, kickball games, dance parties, bonfires, and naps in the grass – all of which gave us time to reflect on all the information we’d been taking in, refresh, and reboot our minds.
I can’t stress enough what a difference the format of Field Trip made on my ability to learn and soak up all of the inspiration and knowledge around me. The nature of what I do is highly subjective – as a creative, there’s rarely a “right” or “wrong” answer and there are no formulas or theories proven by academics centuries ago. Sure, there are foundations and fundamentals, but the creative industry is pushed forward by people who break the rules, who collaborate with one another to develop unique ideas, who say “why not?” when someone asks “why?” Surrounding myself with these types of people and sharing our thoughts and our daily struggles as professionals in an ever-evolving field gave me a new perspective on the work that I do, and new inspiration to make it even better.
Having worked at thinkPARALLAX for over three years, this concept of creating an environment that fosters learning is not new to me. Guusje and Jonathan have always been strong advocates for a creative, fun, and collaborative work culture by offering things like weekly in-office yoga, a travel stipend each year, and an open workplace where everyone can easily communicate with one another (about both work and their personal lives). Consequently, we are all more engaged and open to growth. Humans are not built for a solitary existence; we thrive off of collaboration and improve our interpersonal and professional skills through interactions with each other. We’re able to focus better and retain more knowledge if we’re feeling inspired and refreshed. The traditional concept of classroom learning isn’t conducive to absorbing new information and feeling inspired. I believe that, as creatives, it’s important to be put in an environment that promotes creativity.
My week at Field Trip was motivating, inspiring, educational, and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It moved me emotionally, pushed me creatively, and left me feeling excited and ready to tackle any obstacles and challenges in my work. I can’t thank the team behind Field Trip enough for their commitment to creating a place where so many members of the photography community can come together to learn from and grow with one another. I can only hope that more people in – and outside of – our industry follow their lead and create opportunities for professionals to grow while remaining focused on community, rather than competition.