“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” – Matsuo Basho

I was this close.

I’d navigated to the website. I’d triple-checked my credit card balance. My cursor hovered over the “Register” link.

But I couldn’t bring myself to click.

So I did what I’m trying to do more often: I followed my gut, pushed back from my computer, and took a breath.

-What do I really want from this? 

“This” was a week-long photographers’ retreat, practically guaranteed to inspire, engage, and revolutionize. One of those, “your life will never be the same” events. One of those, “don’t think about the money!” assurances.

So I messaged my friend Ara.

-What I really want is to feel renewed. I want to go away and write and make photographs and drink whiskey by a fire and commune with nature and sit side-by-side with people who get it, get me, get this messy phase I’m in. Is that a thing?

And Ara said,

-Yes. It’ll just take some work.



Maybe it’s our culture; maybe it’s my own laziness; maybe it’s how awfully busy everyone appears to be. But these days, while we can’t find time for drinks with friends or a weekend away, we’ll pull out our checkbooks at the slightest provocation and pay big money for someone else to make an experience for us.

Wanna be inspired? That’ll be $1300 for a week with industry leaders.
Wanna photograph beautiful models? That’ll be $800 for a two-day intensive.
Wanna network with other creatives? That’ll be $2500 – once you add up the conference pass and the overpriced hotel and the flight and the rental car and the $6 bottles of water you’ll be buying for the next five days.

And maybe you’ll find what you were after. It happens. You sign up and you attend and you meet amazing new people and learn mind-blowing new techniques and leave feeling ready to get back to it.

Except when you don’t. Except when the conference ends and you trudge home feeling alone and disconnected and unnecessarily broke. Which has happened to me one too many times.

And I don’t think that’s because there is anything inherently wrong with going to a retreat or a conference or a workshop. I’ve been to plenty; I’ve even hosted a few. Large, organized events like these offer very specific advantages that you won’t find anywhere else: access to the top professionals in our field, connection to hundreds (if not thousands) of like-minded creatives, lessons that simply can’t be learned on the internet.

But there’s one thing they can’t do for us. They can’t make us work.

Over the past few days, Ara and I have been working toward a little gathering of our own, curating a handful of people who we think would fit well together in a house by the sea in mid-winter Oregon. We’ve found a home to rent, with beds for 14 and a view of the Pacific. We’re working on grocery lists, packing lists, reading lists, playlists.

And in the work of our planning, I’ve already begun to feel it, the thing I realized I wanted. Connection.

Connection colored by creativity. Connection bolstered by shared meals and strong drinks. Connection challenged by rain and sea air.

not guaranteed, but worked for.


Because, when we swipe our credit cards and hold out our hands for the experience, are we missing out on something? What do we forego when, every year, we go through the motions of connecting, but leave having never revealed our hopes and dreams and fears and struggles? Where do we fall short when our only personal projects are those prepared for us and thrust in front of our cameras in a room full of eager photographers?

Is there more?

Maybe it’s time to skip the portrait class, get off your ass, and just make another portrait. And another. And another. Until you’re better. (And you will get better!)

Maybe you’re ready to bypass the networking event, and simply reach out directly to people you love, people you want to love, people you think you could love if you’d only make room for them. (And our hearts have so much more room than we give them credit for!)

It’s hard work, saying, “Hey, let’s be friends,” and then making good on that promise. It’s hard work coordinating calendars and making arrangements. It’s hard work, revealing our most vulnerable selves.

But that’s the investment, and the thing that can’t be bought.

You can buy classes and how-to guides and tickets to events. But you can’t buy community.

You can’t buy the person who will say to you, “Stop being pathetic and go make something.”
You can’t buy the friend who believes in you on rough days.
You can’t buy the way your soul warms when you realize you’ve been talking with someone for hours and still have so much left to share.
You can’t buy the relief of feeling truly, fully understood and accepted.

But you can work for it.

You can reveal yourself, and find your tribe. You can share your truth, and make real connections. You can do the work, and reap the rewards.

So this year, before you load another debt onto your credit card, ask yourself:

-What do I really want out of this?

If it’s textbooks and Powerpoints and diagrams, maybe you’re on the right track. But if it’s community and authenticity and support and inspiration, maybe you’re knocking on the wrong door. Maybe it’s time to forge your own path. Maybe it’s time to take the risk, make the effort, do the work.

Me and Ara? We’re going north this winter, us and 12 others and plenty of whiskey. Because whatever happens, it’s gonna be real. And all it will cost is a plane ticket.

Anne Simone

Anne is a lifelong photographer and accidental writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She prefers whiskey over wine, cheese over chocolate, and flat shoes over heels — because you never know when you might need to run for your life.

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  1. Brian

    That’s a great article. I really enjoyed reading it 🙂

    • Adam

      frustratingly inspirational – if that makes any sense
      (tiny suggestion – the authors of the posts aren’t obvious enough at the beginning of the article – name at the top would be nice)

      • Zack

        Good point. We’ll look into that.


  2. Trevor

    Good read. It’s funny too. I was eagerly waiting a workshop coming in two weeks with an amazing photographer and retouched. I plucked down some hard earned money just to get the chance to learn. That was all I wanted. To sit there and take it in.

    Problem is that times are tough and few other photogs in the area could afford it. So, just got an email with the cancellation note.

    I just feel that if they priced these better, they might have made it a great day.

    Leaning is damn expensive.

    • Trevor

      I meant learning…lol. Leaning is free. 🙂

      • Anne Almasy

        Blah, that sucks. 🙁 I promise I didn’t get paid to say this… but I took Zack’s One Light almost 8 years ago, and it was worth 10 times what he was charging. (I couldn’t have afforded that, but it was worth it!) I’ve taken other classes that were priced significantly higher, and walked away feeling totally frustrated.

        I’ve found it’s good to do your research to find the learning experiences that are well-suited to me and my needs.

        I’ve also found it’s good to use the internet. There’s a lot of free learning to be had. 😉

        Sorry that happened to you, though!

        • Louis

          Agreed. Bought OL2.0 for 50$ (which is what… 35 euros ?) and it really changed my life. Zack is da man.

      • Jeann Smith

        Yet -not learning- is expensive too, ya? Just one more thing to complicate decisions.

        • Anne Almasy

          Good point! Gotta find a balance, I suppose…

    • kevin

      Yeah it sucks the workshop bailed. Trevor should follow the author’s advice. “Maybe it’s time to skip the portrait class, get off your ass, and just make another portrait. And another. And another. Until you’re better. (And you will get better!)” Make your own workshop grab a couple of your friends and set up a few portraits. Then sit down and critic your work together. You’ll grow as group. Community is important!

      This was a great article.

      • Anne Almasy

        I love this idea!!! Group shoots and photowalks are SO much fun. I’ve never done group critiquing, but that sounds pretty brilliant…

  3. David Charles

    Having just had my bachelor party weekend over the last weekend in the Adirondacks – rented house, 5 other guys, strong drinks by the firepit, etc. – this post really hit home for me. We already talked about doing it again in the spring before we even started drinking. I needed that connection more than I realized.

    I’d love to do the same with a group of photographers and other creatives, but I don’t know many. That’s where I need to put the work in. Time to open up and get out there more. That damn scary place called vulnerability. But I need that connection and even more so, community. It’s something I’ve been lacking since I started.

    Time to get off the high horse of ‘real’ photography and find some kindred spirits. They’re out there I’m sure, I just need to find where to look.

    • Anne Almasy

      Just being in my community locally has been hugely helpful! My Oregon adventure is a blend of photographers, stylists, musicians, writers, designers, and creatives from all different fields. I really love connecting with creative people of all stripes, and I’ve met them through the simplest things: the salon I go to, writer’s nights here in town, talks I’ve given, cool clients, friends of friends, etc. Just getting involved has opened so many doors for me! That, and not being afraid to say to someone, “Hey, you seem cool. Let’s be friends!” It doesn’t always pan out, but I have so many amazing people in my life right now because one of us just reached out and asked the other person out for coffee. It shouldn’t feel scary, but (for me) sometimes it does. But it’s been so worthwhile!

      • Keith

        Anne, you hit the nail on the head with “Hey, you seem cool. Let’s be freinds!” I’ve met amazing people over the past year through photography, a skeeball league (yes, really), photography workshops, you name it. People get into “adulthood” and are like, “friends? you make those when you’re young.” There are lots of people I “know” from childhood and college who aren’t in my tribe, but who I keep in touch with, and then there are folks, new and old, who when we get together, there’s resonance, identifying with one another, the essence of the whole namaste greeting of “I identify with the divine in you.” It’s one of my most favorite feelings in the world, to meet someone new and think, “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” It takes getting out in the world, sharing stories, drinks, experiences. Online or any other passive interaction doesn’t cut it. I love this post though. Really great stuff 🙂

  4. Jeff Hughes

    Bingo! You nailed it, Anne.

    Workshops have their place. Certainly, many renowned photographers today make a significant part of their living by conducting them. But in terms of imparting knowledge or wisdom, I think most don’t do a lot of that.

    I think more than knowledge, workshops succeed because they provide immersion, structure, and camaraderie. Exactly what you describe.

    And if what we’re really buying are those three things, why not just jump to it? Get together with some folks of like mind, away from our usual distractions, and make art, talk about art, and drink that whiskey in the evening?

    Just like you’re doing…

    • Anne Almasy

      I hosted a monthly whiskey tasting back in 2012, and it was an AMAZING source of inspiration and connectivity! And it didn’t even have anything to do with art!

      I’m all about targeted learning experiences, but I realized that, for me, for 2015, all I really needed was a week in a cabin with a bunch of kickass people. 🙂

  5. Daf

    I don’t have the problem of handing over money for inspiration – I’m too much of a cheapskate for that.

    Instead I work on all the immediate little jobs – and hardly ever (Ok kidding myself here – never) start on the big inspiring fulfilling ones.

  6. Jim Robertson

    Wow, That’s awesome! I’ll bring the whiskey, or I should say bourbon since I’m in KY. 🙂

    I enjoyed reading this especially after missing an opportunity to workshop with Zack. What to me sounded most appealing about that was that Zack was presenting a sense of community. It wasn’t just “welcome to the workshop and have a safe trip home when you’re done”. It was the opportunity to hang out afterwards that held the most inspirational possibilities to me. Maybe next time!

  7. Mark L

    Agree with Adam, name at the top please! Anyway…Nail. Head. Hit. Real Hard. Wallop. People. Ah yes, them. I can’t begin to think what I would’ve done without them on this crazy journey. I am so lucky I shoot in an atmosphere of love, warmth & encouragement, from my mentor/friend and some other snappers to our models. It’s not a solo trip, at least not for me. It’s great to go out on your own sometimes and just BE, but the shelter of the tribe/clan is a treasure than mustn’t be underestimated. And you put it so well…I’ll have Maker’s Mark or Buffalo Trace please. Love from Downunder 😉

    • Anne Almasy

      That’s pretty awesome that you have that kind of community around you! Working with (and for) people who inspire me and share my values is pretty much the best part of my job. 😀

  8. John Wangelin

    In a couple weeks I’m Heading to Zack’s workshop in ATL. I’m not sure what I’m looking for in it but I think if I don’t find it Zack would be the one to steer the ship on the right course. For me connecting with people is hard but I do better in settings like this.

    I love this article because I feel a deep connection between what I’m going through and what you are struggling with. Along with 1000’s of others. Great article Anne!

    • Anne Almasy

      You will NOT regret learning under Zack. And I don’t just say that because I’m here on DEDPXL. I’ve gained so much from Zack’s teaching over the years, and even more from his authenticity in an industry that often feels really forced and fake. Enjoy your visit to Atlanta!

    • Amanda Reseburg

      Just to add my 2 cents, you will not regret any sort of learning experience with Zack. Zack taught me to embrace the use of light, how to use it correctly, and how to approach business in a very sensible, realistic, ….not to mention debt-free manner! He’s a very good teacher and I highly recommend him : )

  9. Lisa

    This is perfect timing! Because I have seen so many I want to go to, and being in Montana, getting anywhere is a fortune. And the money commitment when what I think I really need is to just spend time WORKING with people who can help coach me and give me information and affirmation and connection. YES!

    Plus, I can drive to Oregon. 🙂

    • Anne Almasy

      The other awesome part about building your own community is that you have a better chance of connecting with people who are local! I’ve met some amazing people all over the world, but I would be really sad if my only creative friends lived hours (or days!) away! It’s really enriching to have people I can call up and say, “Hey, let’s go get drinks tonight!”

  10. kate hailey

    Connection and collaboration. Definitely a thing that can be challenging to find and maintain. Work, no doubt. Thanks for this. 🙂

  11. michelle wolff

    Always always always follow your gut – good reminders here to stay connected to what we want in our hearts – that soft secret yearning that we’ll always hear if we listen to our hearts and that when we stay aligned with we end up drinking whisky with good friends by the ocean – a way better use of $$ 🙂 – great post!

  12. nobody

    Great article. Have you ever been to the Oregon coast in winter? Cold, grey, and lots of rain. Bring rain gear.

    • Anne Almasy

      I’m already stocking up on waterproof everything! But I also plan to spend a decent amount of time in front of a fireplace reading and writing. Surely I’ll be safe there? 😉

  13. Carlos Sandoval

    Damn… Sometimes the damn f++++ answer is right in front of us! Very true that we need to find warmness in the right places. Thanx for this post.

  14. Jeff Jochum

    THANK you THANK you THANK you… learning important is usually hard damn work. It takes time and perseverance and energy and resource and… did I mention perseverance? I have coached hundreds of pro photographers on the importance of learning how to be a competent businessperson (I focus on Specialism for that task) and can honestly state that there is no idea so good that bad (or lazy) execution can’t screw it up. If you’re gonna spend a week overseas shooting stuff you love… consider doing it yourself and taking TWO weeks to find out what you love to shoot?

  15. adam bucci

    have to disagree with the other adam about the name at the top.

    knowing who wrote this, or anything, before you read it isn’t that important – its the message, not the messenger.

    does a byline at the top of an article make the reader more or less willing to read the article?

    this is an informative piece, especially the part about the water – mandalay bay was charging $4 for a bottle of water during photoshop world – and it gets you thinking about those workshops and seminars that claim they’ll make you a better person/photographer/lumberjack in a week for x dollars.

    and the important part, to me, was i didn’t care who wrote it.

    • Steve Bimson

      This article spoke to my soul and the timing couldn’t have been better. A retreat to Chelean, WA has spontaneously morphed into a creative series of shoots out of the right people wanting to go play and be creative together. Something refreshing and amazing about that kind of organic creativity that is hard to find in a more organized event! Thanks for sharing this!

  16. Jan


  17. Paul A.

    Great insight Anne! Rings very true.
    The reason why the Dubai workshop (Gulf Photo Plus – which Zack attends every year) is so successful is the hanging-out-at-the-bar that happens every evening. It morphs into impromptu shoot-outs, lessons, and just plain fun. Come for the classes, stay for the people.

  18. Jesse Littlebird

    Great post. I needed this conformation with my current frustration with the “industry.” Connection for photographers is closer than it seems. It happens right in between the person holding the camera and the subject. Lets not overlook that. Thank you for the shove and inspiration for me to continue with my personal projects.

    Love from New Mexico,


    • Anne Almasy

      TOTALLY. I love that. It’s why I care so much about who I work FOR, as much as who my colleagues are. Some of my dearest friends are people who started out as clients. Seriously. Today I went to the hospital to see my friends who just had their second baby. I shot their wedding as strangers 7 years ago, and now I’m hanging out with them as friends. We have pretty amazing jobs. 🙂

  19. Sean D'Souza

    Workshops work, but there are three elements.
    1) inspire
    2) inform
    3) empower

    If you inform too much, you fail to empower. If you don’t have breaks and allow people to soak in the experience, you fail to inspire. Workshops work when you really design them well. But most workshops don’t work, because no one really sits around designing the workshop. They’re too busy designing the sales page.

    You need to come to a Psychotactics workshop—no, it’s not about photography, it’s about marketing. But the point remains. If you can’t design a workshop well, it won’t work. It’s just that simple.

    To make a sweeping comment like workshops don’t work means that at least for now, you haven’t visited a workshop that does work. A workshop that does work is an amazingly empowering experience. And there’s no substitute for it.

    No, not even several bottles of single malt.

    • Sean D'Souza

      The other benchmark of a workshop is 4:30 pm. What do the attendees look like at 4:30 pm? Are they exhausted, red in the face, dying to escape. Do they feel like tourists who’ve seen twenty five monuments and can’t bear to see the next one?

      Well, that’s how most workshops are built. They would fail if we benchmarked it by the 4:30 pm concept. A good workshop (and there should be no other type) should see the students as fresh as 9 am in the morning. This calls for great workshop design, pacing, breaks etc.

      Most people have not a clue how to design a workshop that would stand up to the 4:30 pm test. I’ve been to a lot of marketing workshops, to some software workshops and yes, even to photography workshops. They all make me want to find the bar by the end of the day.

      • Sean D'Souza

        You also can’t go very wrong if you build a workshop for “introverts”.

        I’m not an introvert. I like having a lot of activity. I want to be downstairs at 7 am and meeting people until midnight. Introverts get drained with extroverts like me. So I had to learn to design a workshop that required not just information, but down time.

        What is down time?
        Down time isn’t the coffee break. It’s much more than that. At our workshops, down time is about giving participants space to ponder. Down time could also mean fun activity like a scavenger hunt. Sure, you’re still with people, but you’re not nose-deep into yet another work activity.

        Listen to some of these experiences, and what you have is a true workshop. You can judge for yourself, of course because the testimonials give you the details.


    • Zack

      Anne didn’t say “workshops don’t work.” She said … “WHEN workshops don’t work.”

      She isn’t bashing ALL workshops. Take a read of the article again.


      • Sean D'Souza

        Sure, Zack.
        But read quite a few of the comments as well.

        The idea seems to quite easily stray into the concept of “workshops don’t work, so we’re headed out to do our own thing”.

        I don’t disagree. I think there’s a time for workshops and a time to just do your own thing.

        • Zack



  20. Scott Talbot

    You didn’t need a name at the top, I knew as soon as I started reading.. Something about the way you write, always seems to strike a chord with me and draws me in.
    I’ve been tempted by photography workshops in the past, but can never bring myself to part with the money. Maybe I’m just tight, but they always seem to be that little bit more than I’m willing to pay!?!

    • Anne Almasy

      That means a lot, Scott! Thank you!

      And, yeah… I know what you mean about cost. I actually think this industry is saturated with a lot of “magic bullet” promises that really don’t deliver. Like, at all. I suppose that’s every industry, though.

      We’re just more desperate for community since most of us spend so much time alone, so we’re easy targets. 😉

  21. Mabyn

    My friends and I have been feeling the exact same way. Thank you for confirming that we’re not alone in this world of “quick fix” workshops and swipe your card and spend your entire gear budget on 5 days of overload!
    Thank you!

  22. Jeremy Hall

    Several years ago a number of us locals in Utah (and a couple not so local) planned and went on a 3 day outing at in the mountains. It was a great time to share, bond, release, commit and all those good connection things you talk about. With busy lives it’s hard to plan, and we’ve yet to do it again, but I’d sure like to.

  23. Jay Stebbins

    Sometimes a road trip is the best medicine. There is something special about getting lost in sounds of tires whirring and thawaping over slaps of concrete and asphalt. Indeterminant periods of time, lost in thought broken only by things you have never seen before. I used to take this shitty motorcycle on meandering trips across the country. No maps, no plans, no technology. Some clothes, film and a A1 programme. I always came out the other side with a different perspective.

    There was always whiskey and strangers to share stories about life. Enjoy your trip.

    • Anne Almasy

      So why don’t you do it anymore?

  24. Kristin Smith

    I have to agree that it’s all about the work. You get better by making mistakes and getting back to work. I’ve been to a couple of workshops where is was all inspirational and woo-woo, but they didn’t give you nuts and bolts ways to build your business. It was about “follow your dreams!!!” Which is great, but you still have to do the work.

    • Anne Almasy

      I love thinking about the value of inspiration! It was really what motivated my Oregon trip! I mean, it’s easy to quantify the “nuts and bolts” as you put it, but it’s really hard to put a price in inspiration.

      I think the only REAL, LASTING inspiration has to be worked for. Thus: (for me) Oregon.

      But there are a lot of people who pay for inspirational events and come away feeling really fulfilled and grateful. I guess maybe it just depends on the person?

      Then, of course, there are the philosophies about building the perfect workshop and achieving that balance of hands-on learning and intentional inspiration…

      But, to me, it’s just new packaging, same stuff.

      I ultimately just have to take responsibility for my own learning and happiness. Sometimes that means I pay for a class. Sometimes that means I take a trip. Sometimes that means I get off my ass and WORK. (Actually, USUALLY the latter.) 😉

  25. Diego Gallegos

    This. So much truth in this article.

    I’ve gone through quite a number of workshops and conferences/talks whatever you want to call them all with the intention of getting inspired. Feeling creative!

    Although I did learn some really neat technical tips and workflows, I was still taking the same photos, just with better editing techniques and more accurate exposures. Don’t get me wrong, those things are important but just not what I was looking for. It isn’t until I visited a few galleries, went on road trips with friends and just started shooting for the sake of shooting that I really started to find my muse. I’m of course still learning what I can, but I just wanted to point out how I agree so much with this article.

    Took the words out of my mouth 🙂

  26. Ben W

    Very wonderful, as per usual, Anne. I dig how you seamlessly stitch your ideas together.

    It’s tough making connections. I’ve convinced myself that it’s been hard to find that spark with other creatives in my new city, but I forget that the phenomenal network I left behind in my old city took my whole adult life to build. Thank you for showing me a better perspective.

    I wonder if we have it especially bad as photographers, being isolated so much of the time. When I did motion work, I always compared it to joining a temporary gang, albeit one full of artnerds like me that NWA would never rap about. The quality connections I’ve made on set have lasted years. Being in a position of forced collaboration and then achieving or exceeding the common goal can rapidly forge a connection for all involved – it is a concrete bond like no other, not even team sports. I don’t have the temperament to do that work full time, but it’s an unbeatable experience – and I have to believe that being with other, like-minded people is the difference maker.

    Tangentially related: The creative brain needs variety, not rest. I forget where I heard this, but dammit if it’s not been true for me. I don’t have the science brain to explain how recording a drum kit makes me a better photographer, but I swear it’s true (and in reverse, as well).

    I hope your trip to Oregon is what you need it to be.

    • Anne Almasy

      Yeah, I’ve had a number of conversations with my psychology friends about how curiosity, not happiness, is the opposite of depression. So, the ACT of seekING and creatING is what kickstarts our happiness, not the end result. Just planning this adventure has inspired me. You know?

  27. Mark Heaps

    Some of the best friends I have today are because I traveled to conferences where I spent time with like minded, well experienced, individuals and came home with friendships that have been active and lasted years. But that was on me, and them, to make the effort. Some of us fly back and forth just to go shoot together. I was in Zack’s one light class as an attendee, and subject, back at Google a long, long, time ago. It was like a PPT file with some great nuggets of info back then. We went to dinner, talked about our days at Kinko’s, and had a great night. Fast forward almost ten years and I just got back from Cuba shooting with some of the people I met that very day. As we were boarding a plane to leave Cuba Zack and his wife were passing us by on other sides of the terminal glass. It made me smile. The core really is, “work at it” and all that you want can be there for you.

    Great article, thanks for sharing.

  28. rebecca

    I couldn’t help but smile while reading this whole piece. Thank you for sharing this. This has been my exact experience, to a T. When you dare to MEET real people, and share your REAL self with them, amazing things can happen. I feel endlessly blessed to have found my counterparts, I wish you the same. 🙂

  29. Chris

    Thanks for posting. I really like your content!

  30. emily

    Love. Love, love, love. You rock, Anne.

  31. Jen

    This. I just love it. How was the Oregon trip? I first learned of Anne from Braizen, and I’ve been seeing your name lots recently. Refreshing. Cheers from Charleston!

  32. mariaz

    Love this blog post. That’s exactly how I felt after having been to some workshops… pouring $$$$ well. they were worth it….. but at the end of the day, yes there is actually something I can do it myself, push myself to work…

  33. gregorylent

    thinking that teaching is the income supplement that keeps many “full time” photographers afloat

    but your post is about “who am i”, atma vichara in sanskrit .. and the opening into that question and the wholeness that is its answer is the purpose of this life..

    keep going 🙂


    gregory lent

  34. Bart

    Simply love how you wrote this. Classes help, but we must learn how to put the books down. Show up in the flesh and blood to capture what we set out to do.