In March 2020, a whole year ago, I attended my first ever ClickAway Photography Conference. ClickAway is an annual photography event run by the brilliant ClickinMoms community and it takes place in a different location in the United States every year. ClickAway 2020 was held in the beautiful city of Atlanta, Georgia.
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It feels strange to be writing about my experience at ClickAway twelve months down the line. It’s taken me this long to share because just after I arrived back home in England, the Covid-19 pandemic hit full force, the whole world shut down, we entered the first lockdown and there has been a whole load of stuff to process ever since. One year on from my trip and I’m only just starting to get my head round it.
I think my memories of ClickAway will always be connected to the start of the pandemic. We had no idea what was in store for us all just a few short days later. I feel so thankful that the event was able to go ahead (and that I managed to make it home safely just in time before all international flights got grounded!)
I look back at the video I made whilst I was there (shared at the end of this post and on my Youtube channel – please do subscribe!) and marvel at the crowds of people in attendance, none of whom were wearing masks. The hugs, the full-to-bursting conference room, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in seminars to listen and learn and shoot, eating in packed-out restaurants, walking down busy streets, taking public transport, sharing a bed with my friend in our hotel room… It seems so alien now and I wonder if things will ever return to the way they once were or if they will be changed forever more.
This post is all about ClickAway itself: why it was an amazing experience; what I learned whilst I was there; how I felt when I met some of my photography idols; the classes I took; and the joy of catching up with some of the friends I made when I attended Leap Retreat in Colorado in 2017.
ClickAway 2020 was hosted at Loews Atlanta Hotel. I decided to stay at the hotel, partly for convenience and so I could be close to the action, and partly because it felt like an utter luxury to stay somewhere so fancy. My room was on the 24th floor and I was greeted every morning by the most beautifully serene sunrises – watching the city slowly wake up every morning really was the best way to start the day. We were so lucky with the weather over the whole weekend – it was clear and cold and sunny and every evening ended with a stunning sunset too.
It was a full-on schedule. Three days of classes and networking events plus travelling across the Atlantic Ocean and dealing with jetlag was a lot. And every moment of tiredness and lost sleep was one hundred percent worth it.
In the lead up to ClickAway, each time a new instructor was announced I got even more excited – there were so many photographers whom I admire (not just for their skills with a camera but for how they’ve grown their businesses, for how passionate they are about their art, for how willing they are to share their knowledge, and for how genuinely lovely they all are) were going to be there and I had the opportunity to learn from them. Choosing which classes to take was a challenge, and I’m really happy with all of the ones I attended.
ClickAway Opening Keynote Speaker: Ami Vitale
Ami Vitale is a photographer for National Geographic Magazine. She’s also so, so much more than that already impressive job title, including being a truly unique storyteller. Her opening keynote talk – ‘Cultivating Your Photographic Vision And Defining Your Truth’ – was nothing short of mesmerising. The whole room was spellbound by the way she shared herself with us and listening to her speak was such a humbling experience.
The journeys around the globe that this quietly strong woman has been on; the adventures she’s had; the challenges she’s faced; throughout all of which she has captured and documented the most incredible stories – stories of terrifying war, heartbreaking environmental disasters, triumphs of nature, humans, animals, sadness and love – are just utterly awe-inspiring. If I end my life having travelled and witnessed even a quarter of what Ami already has, I’ll be happy.
I left this session with pages and pages of hastily scribbled notes, a renewed sense of “I can do this” and a clearer idea of the kinds of stories I want to tell.
Class 1: Ashley Marston
I have followed Ashley Marston on social media for the longest time. Her birth photography is phenomenal, she is in her sixth year (I think?) of a 365 project ‘A Daily Occurrence’ which I one day hope to participate in, and I just love the unique ways that she captures her own family. I knew I’d learn a lot from her and I was so excited to meet her in person.
It was interesting coming face to face with people I’ve admired for years. Instagram does a wonderful job of seemingly closing the distance across the ocean so I felt like I knew her already and she was exactly the same in real life as she is on all of her channels which was just so refreshing and reassuring.
Her class: ‘Loving Lifestyle: The Art Of Families At Home’ was the perfect introduction – I was a little nervous and felt like I was still warming up a bit, only just beginning to come out of my typical introvert shell. Shooting families indoors in their own homes is something that I don’t have much experience with and it’s something I’d love to do more of once the pandemic is over and we’re allowed into other people’s houses again. Getting Ashley’s take on lifestyle family photography was fascinating and I learnt so much just from listening and observing. I was pleased with the shots I managed to get although now, even just one year on, I can see how I’ve already grown and changed again.
Class 2: Dana Leigh
I’ll probably say this about every single class I write about, but I was SO excited to meet Dana Leigh – another photographer I have admired for years. Her use of light is breath-taking and because this class, ‘Harnessing Light: A Photographer’s Guide To Golden Hour Light Play’, was scheduled to take place outdoors during the early evening as the sun would be starting to set, I knew she’d have plenty of tips for us all.
We literally chased the light all around the city as it flitted between buildings, teasing us in parking lots and skittering on the sidewalks amidst the shadows. The models that Dana had found for us to photograph, two teenage girls, were fantastic. They were so down to earth, really good fun to chat with and incredibly professional as well.
I loved every second of learning from such a generous and knowledgeable teacher. Dana introduced us to copper pipes and plastic bags and multicoloured straws as tools to create interesting and unique images, as well as how to identify and use the many different types of light that there are. There was a lot to take in – it was a fast paced class and Dana covered so many things but actually, the energy suited it perfectly and I got so much out of it. I came away from this session with a willingness to play more and to try new things.
Class 3: Neely Kerfox
Day two of ClickAway brought two more classes, the first of which was with Neely Kerfox. I definitely felt more relaxed in this class as I knew a bit more about what to expect this time around and there were a few familiar faces whom I’d met in sessions and networking spaces the previous day.
Neely’s class – ‘The In-BeTWEEN Years: Preserving Authenticity With Older Children’ – was a key one I wanted to attend. My girls were 13, 11 and 10 at the time of ClickAway and I wanted some ideas on how to capture them better as well as the chance to gather knowledge and experience for families I might potentially be lucky enough to photograph in the future.
I was pleased with a lot of the shots I managed to get of the wonderful family who came in to be photographed by us – it must be so daunting having 30+ cameras directly in your face for over an hour and a half! I also learned a huge amount about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes on prior to a family photoshoot, including questionnaires that help you get to know the family a bit before the day of the shoot. I already knew some of the theory behind it, but seeing it in action was just so useful.
Class 4: Yan Palmer
When the ClickAway classes were released for booking, Yan’s was the first one I went for. I just HAD to meet her and learn from her and I was thrilled when I managed to secure a place in her lesson.
Yan Palmer is… magic. It really is the only word I can think of to describe her. The first half of her class – ‘Clearing Space For Connection’ – was just a conversation and teaching. Except with Yan (which is short for Diana by the way) nothing is ‘just’ a conversation – it’s a vulnerable deep dive into the complexities of the heart and creativity and art and inspiration and human nature. I’m not even sure whether I took notes – I think I was too absorbed in listening to her to actually write anything down.
The second half of the session was a shoot-along opportunity but I didn’t actually take a single image as I was too caught up with watching Yan interact with the family we were supposed to be capturing. There were so many take-aways and learnings from those ninety minutes that I’m probably still processing even now.
Out of all the classes I took throughout the course of the conference, this one was the one I had no real idea what to expect from. It ended up being everything I didn’t know I’d needed and it will stay with me forever – I still think of it on a daily basis. I feel so lucky to have met Yan. She is truly one of my idols and I sincerely hope that one day I’ll be lucky enough to cross paths with her again.
Class 5: Twyla Jones
I’m a fully self-taught photographer and that goes for the editing side of things too – I’ve just learned along the way along with everything else. When I saw that Twyla Jones was teaching an editing class at ClickAway I knew it was one I had to attend. Her images are always absolutely stunning – the depth and richness she achieves with her tones and colours is beautiful.
Twyla’s class – ‘Mastering Lightroom: Editing and Workflow For The Emotive Artist’ – took place on the final day of the conference and it was brilliant. It turns out that there are a LOT of features within Lightroom that I had no idea even existed, let alone knew what they did or how to use them effectively. I picked up plenty of valuable new knowledge plus little tips and tricks to make things a bit easier for myself.
It’s all helping me to gradually refine my ‘style’ a little bit more as the days go by. I still have plenty to learn though!
ClickAway Closing Panel
The ClickAway Closing Panel was brilliant. Entitled ‘The Image Explained’ it consisted of a team of four highly respected photographers (Meg Loeks, Ben Hartley, Kimberly Murray and Anna Walker Skillman) discussing their differing views on art and photography, plus offering constructive feedback on images that had been submitted by attendees. Their analysis was eye-opening and reminded me just how subjective photography can be, which is a truly wonderful thing because people interpret what they see in so many ways.
Sarah Krieg, whom I adore, was the host for the final event of the conference and she was the perfect choice. Her quick one-liners, her ability to keep the entire audience engaged in the conversation that was happening on-stage and the interesting questions she asked the panel ensured that the energy in the room remained high. She’s funny and smart and upbeat and real and everyone who meets her falls in love with her instantly.
In addition to the 100+ classes taking place over the course of the three day conference weekend there were networking spaces, the opportunity to meet photography brands, the chance to borrow cameras and lenses to try out, the Cirque De Canon opening night party, pop up events and so, so much more.
For an introvert like me, on my own for the first time at an event like this on the other side of the world from my home, I’ll be honest – it was quite daunting and a little bit overwhelming at times. I made sure I took some quiet time for myself in between mingling and meeting people and that really helped.
Being surrounded by so much talent and such a multitude of inspiring photographers from all walks of life was just the most brilliant experience. I felt out of my depth regularly over the course of the three days (that’s a good thing because growth is never, ever comfortable); everyone was incredibly welcoming and kind and encouraging; and I came away knowing that I’d absolutely go back and do it all again another year.
In between ClickAway classes and having conversations with as many people as I possibly could, I set out to explore the city of Atlanta. I had a long list of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do whilst I was there and I think I made it round the majority of them. I really wanted to make the most of my time there because who knows if I’ll ever make it back there.
I visited: the rainbow crosswalks; three of the fourteen (I think!) Tiny Doors Atlanta art installations; the Atlanta Beltline; Ponce City Market; the hubs of street art that are all over the city; the gorgeous Fox Theatre; Centennial Olympic Park; Atlanta Botanical Gardens; Jackson Street Bridge; Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and more.
You can see all the places I visited and get a taste of what ClickAway 2020 in Atlanta was like in this vlog of my trip:
I loved attending ClickAway 2020 in Atlanta and am so grateful I said yes to the opportunity to go. The next ClickAway Photography Conference takes place in July 2022 in Chicago and I’m planning to go – I’ve never been to Chicago before and I’m eager to learn as much as I can about the photography world.