NANPA 2008 Conference Review

Picture: Heron at sunset, Baytowne Wharf Marina, Sandestin Resort, Destin, Florida

Review of the North American Nature Photographers Association (NANPA) 2008 Annual Conference in Destin, Florida.

Last year I wrote a review of the 2007 Nanpa Conference after my first year as a Nanpa member, and my first visit to a Nanpa Conference. I figure it would be good to follow suit and offer up my thoughts on my experience at the 2008 Nanpa Conference that happened recently in Florida.
Unlike 2007, I was an active participant in the 2008 conference, for better or worse. I co-led the Pro’s Meeting, and was a Portfolio Reviewer. Overall it was a great experience, despite a few hiccups, and I’m already looking forward to the 2009 conference that will be in New Mexico.

The conference was held at the Grand Sandestin resort, and the village of Baytowne Wharf. It was a nice place to stay, and transportation to and from the airport at Fort Walton Beach was easy and painless. The first big hiccup happened almost as soon as I got settled into my room, when I realized this huge $130.00 per night modern facility had no wireless internet access in the hotel room. I gotta say that in this day and age, staying at a top billed resort that is beat out by a Super-8 motel that offers free high speed wireless access in all of their rooms kind of, well, sucks. And from what I heard from others, that word also described how well other people were able to access any wireless internet anywhere else on the property.

With the exception of being bussed to the closing dinner, all of the meals where served in a giant tent on the lawn outside of the hotel. This would normally have been OK I suppose, lacking other large dining facilities. However, I packed for Florida, and feeling much like the proverbial tourist visiting San Francisco in the summer, I wasn’t well prepared for near freezing temperatures at meal time. Our first breakfast was spent fighting the chill of a 34 degree morning. I will say, as an ex-cook, the lunches where quite tasty.

I really enjoyed my chance to be a Portfolio Reviewer, and I loved getting to meet a number of very interesting people, and to talk with them one on one about their work. I really hope I’ll be invited to be a Reviewer again next year.

I also helped lead the Pro’s Meeting this year. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little bummed with how things turned out, and that it didn’t go as well as I would have liked. Such is the nature of “live & learn”. I knew there was some dissatisfaction from the 2007 Pro’s Meeting, including my own issues with the amount of time spent figuring out what needed to be discussed. This year, we had a goal of trying to get relevant industry updates and information out first, without having the meeting degenerate into the same old basic “beginner” questions, or the usual debates about captive or wild animal nature photography. I will say that my attempts to keep some order at the outset may have squashed some of the energy in the room, but I also had a good number of people tell me that despite the awkward lack of questions at the end of the meeting, they had learned more than at any other Pro’s Meetings. So with that, I had to give myself a B-minus, as some goals were achieved, and other aspects fell short of my expectations.

Picture: The Grand Sandestin Resort and Baytowne Wharf Marina, Destin, Florida.

I may post more about this later, or not; but I will say that I am now of the opinion that if Nanpa is going to better server the professional aspects of this business, it will need to divide it’s focus into two specific camps, namely the “getting started” and the “established pros”. I’m going on record to say that I think the Pro’s meeting should be a closed door event, with attendees vetted by credits and years working, or under some type of “by invitation” format. I’ve heard that many established pros have been seriously disenfranchised and no longer attend the pro’s meetings because it always seems to fumble around with business basic 101 type questions. Frankly, I can understand that being part of why I see so few ‘name’ photographers walking the hallways. The best news on the Pro’s front is that there is now an official “Pro’s Committee” as part of the NANPA order. I’ve indicated that I have an interest in being on that committee, and I hope to keep actively trying to promote Nanpa as a place where professional and aspiring professional nature photogaphers can turn to for business related information.

I also want to be sure and note that the conference had some truly exceptional presentations. The first stand-out keynote speech was by Robert Glenn Ketchum, who gave a wonderful history lesson on Nature Photography, and the line of influences that have shaped how many of us see and share our vision of the world. I was delighted to spend a few minutes in conversation with him, and found him to be wonderfully personable, open, and passionate. He very much reminded me of an old boss I used to work for.

Michael “Nick” Nichols, best known for his great work as a National Geographic staff photographer, and especially for his coverage of the Mega-Transect hike across Africa, gave a highly entertaining keynote about his work with setting up remote trigger cameras. I will say that I never ever want to see elephant porn again, thank you very much! Finally, as Photographer of the Year, and recent Rowell Award winner, James Balog gave the closing dinner keynote speech on his work with the Extreme Ice Survey. I sat at a table with a number of other professionals, and we were all in awe of some of the still and moving images that James shared with the audience. I remember remarking as we stood applauding, that I’d never seen a presentation that made me feel so small. I was amazed that despite being a firsthand witness to the global climate change and loss of global ice, he was able to close with a statement of optimism that we has humans can summon the force to make positive changes in the interest of self preservation. Let’s hope…
Finally, the one thing that I will say that I missed at this conference that I really liked seeing last year was a big print exhibit of members work.

I just want to close by saying a big thank you to everyone who helped make this a memorable experience for me, including everyone that helped with the Pro’s Meetings and having me as a Portfolio Reviewer, and the many, many fine people that I got to visit with throughout my week in Florida. I also want to be sure and offer my congratulations to everyone at Nanpa that worked so hard to produce this wonderful venue, and I’m already marking off my calendar for next year. You can learn more about Nanpa and next year’s conference at the Nanpa web site.

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8 Comments on “NANPA 2008 Conference Review”

  1. Ron Niebrugge Says:

    Hi Gary,

    No wifi and breakfast in a 34 degree tent – sounds a lot more like a photo trip then an industry conference.

    Thanks for the review, I’m looking forward to New Mexico – well as long as the hotel has wifi!


  2. Richard Wong Says:

    Nice to get a first-hand account of the review again Gary. Since the next one is in ABQ, I might be tempted to see what NANPA is all about.

  3. Jim Goldstein Says:

    Great write up Gary. Although I couldn’t make it this year (never mind I’m not a member yet) I’d be tempted to make it to New Mexico next year. I’ll be curious how the pro side of the organization develops.

  4. Don George Says:

    HI Gary,

    I was a founding member of NANPA but dropped out last year. I agree with your observations on how the PRO meeting has become diluted with beginner enthusiasim. Many of the hard working advanced and professional level photographers have dropped out. Where I spend my dollars is very important. I feel that NPN is well worth the money I spend
    in both receiving and sharing information.

    Thanks for the review.

    Don George

  5. tom walker Says:

    This is at least the second year in a row where one particular photographer
    publicly attacked another by name in a public setting over captive animal photography. This is unacceptable and unprofessional behavior and should somehow be censured.

    The cost of the NANPA Summit is also a huge issue. I understand fewer participated this year than last. No WIFI? That is the least of many shortcomings of some of the more recent venues. The Summit is conducted at resort venues but with no time to enjoy the surroundings or rooms that cost a bundle. Perhaps NANPA needs to poll its membership on what services are needed and what price range is appropriate.

  6. enlightphoto Says:


    You’re absolutely right. You reminded me that when I replied for the post summit survey, one thing I mentioned was that I would rather see the programs spread over one more day to allow some time to get out and do some picture taking in the mornings or evenings. The Wifi issue is just about the ease of doing business while on the road.

    Your comment about the public attack by name is one reason I opted to outright exclude that discussion at the pro’s meeting, and knowing there was going to be a whole breakout session on the captive v. wild issue. I totally agree 100% that is unacceptable, and a complete turn-off. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know the story. I’d love to hear it… either here or by private email. (If you post it here, save a copy locally first. Just to be safe given the errors my site is having lately.)

    Cheers & Thanks for your comments.

  7. Roger Archibald Says:


    Thanks for providing the opportunity to post some comments about the Summit.

    I’m working on a review of my own, but wanted to add a few things to what already appears here:

    About WiFi, while it may have been absent in the hotel, it worked great in the Convention Center, with just a one-click connection and no need to even go through the provider’s front page to reach the web.

    About the hotel rooms, I haven’t stayed in the Summit host hotel since I left the NANPA board over ten years ago (board members get a free night as part of their reimbursed travel expenses to attend board meetings). Instead, since all I really need is a place to sleep and clean up, I’ve usually opted for the nearest Motel 6, or equivalent, down the road (and there always seems to be one), saving myself significant $$$ in the process, even with the car rental such off-campus housing requires.

    On the heated exchange that occurred in the ethics committee break-out (which I witnessed), while the personal nature of it was regrettable, it’s important that members with strong, and even opposing, views on such issues have the opportunity to express them at our infrequent get togethers. The fact that game farm photography still does generate such strong response in at least some of our members I see as a healthy sign, and an indication that it’s an issue that’s not going to go away any time soon and something that we should continue to talk about in as civil a manner as we can.

    On the pro meeting dissatisfaction, NANPA from it’s inception has tried to be all things to all people, opening its doors to anyone interested without any requirement to meet minimum membership criteria (in contrast to other professional organizations like ASMP). As such, what has resulted in the annual pro meeting, with the discussion devolving to the least common denominator, was probably bound to happen from the outset.

    At one point in the past, there was a sort of honor system effort to limit the meeting to actual working pros, but there was really no way to enforce that. A more cleaver and successful strategy was to schedule Kathy Adams Clark’s informative presentation on “Surviving Your First Five Years in Nature Photography” concurrently with the Pros meeting, forcing those seeking Nature Photo 101 to make a choice. But with her service on the board and as President, she hasn’t been available to do that lately.

    But pro dissatisfaction with NANPA is something that’s been eroding away at the membership base over the long term, despite tangible member benefits like equipment insurance. It’s something the late Jane Kinne was very concerned about, and did her best to reverse. And it’s something that NANPA leadership really needs to address in their long term planning (assuming they have long term planning).

    NANPA is, after all, a 501 c(6) organization in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, which they define as a “Business League” (and not the more familiar 501 c(3) charitable non-profit organization, which is what the NANPA foundation is). As such, in return for its tax-exempt designation, it has an obligation to serve the entire business community of nature photography, and not merely its individual members. I sometimes wonder how well NANPA’s leadership understands that obligation, since I see little evidence that NANPA itself (in contrast to the NANPA Foundation) is contributing much to the entire nature photography community beyond its individual membership.


  8. Bob Howen Says:

    Hi Gary,

    I was one of the portfolio reviews you provided at NANPA and I wanted to thank you again for your comments and encouragement. It was a excellent experience.

    Your review of the conference was very interesting. Since I’ve only been at the business of selling my images for less than 2 years I fall directly in the “Nature Photo 101” category. This was my second year at NANPA and overall I’ve found it to be an good starting point for for someone wanting to lean and grow in the business.

    Your review of the NANPA Summit and the comments by others provide an interesting perspective about the organization and issues as they affect professionals. Hopefully NANPA will pay attention to the needs of the working professionals and structure the programs to meet those needs. I’m expecting to eventually be at at the professional level and look forward to participating in many future summits.

    Thanks again…I enjoyed your website and signed up.

    Bob Howen
    San Antonio, TX

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