The Ultimate Guide for Imaging USA First-Timers

Published: November 03, 2022

You’ve heard the hype about Imaging USA, and we’re here to tell you it isn’t just hype. For three days every year, approximately 10,000 photographers gather at Imaging USA for a conference unmatched in scope and energy. Photographers choose from 90+ classes led by 80+ expert speakers on a huge range of topics. Even for the seasoned Imaging USA attendee, the conference evolves every year to incorporate new changes that make it even better. If you’re an Imaging USA newbie, who just bought their ticket, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. We’ve compiled this guide to identify the basic steps you can take to make a world of a difference at your first Imaging USA experience. 

Start With the Imaging USA App

You have 3 days of a photography conference to plan for. How do you best plan for an adventure? Do you like to go down the research rabbit hole? Do you start by putting pencil to paper? Stylus to iPad? Whatever your preferred method is, you must begin by downloading the Imaging USA app from the app store. It will be available for download in mid-December. Here we’ve compiled all the essentials – from easily accessible information on our programming to searchable classes, speakers, maps, and more. This app makes it easy to *star* the classes you’re interested in and quickly build your schedule. You can then access your schedule, which includes the location of your class and handy maps for reference. Pretty soon, people will be asking you for directions! 


Pick Your Imaging USA Sessions 

The Imaging USA app and our online website contain all the relevant information on speakers, parties, award ceremonies, and so on. Pick sessions that match your goals. Why are you attending Imaging USA? Are you looking to get a leg up in business? Are you in need of motivation and community? Is it time to make some upgrades to your gear? At Imaging USA, there’s a class or event dedicated to nearly every specialty. If you’re in need of inspiration or would like to get your bearings on our conference offerings, check out our recent Imaging USA News. For oodles of classes designed to inspire you, filter by “Inspiration” on the Schedule page. For business owners looking to conquer their fears and move forward with confidence and an empowered financial mindset, check out Bridging the Gap classes. 

Follow your interests and allow your curiosity to get the best of you! Take a step outside of what’s familiar. Perhaps you’ve always had an interest in Pet photography, or you’d like to be more competent with Photoshop. Now is your chance to get outside of your comfort zone in a community of supportive and enthusiastic photographers!

Hint: Some sessions will be no-brainers, such as opening night with Keynote Speaker, Simon T. Bailey and our closing keynote, Julie Solomon. Begin filling out your schedule with the obvious must-sees and then begin filling in the gaps of time you have left. On the Imaging USA app, “My Schedule” will allow you to see everything you’re attending at a glance, which you can refer to at any time during your conference experience.


Register for Pre-conference sessions in Advance

If you’ve visited the Imaging USA schedule page, it’s likely you’ve seen our pre-conference classes (or pre-cons as they’re called). And what are these exactly? We’re glad you asked. It’s impossible to pack everything into the three days of Imaging USA, and even if we could, we wouldn’t. Pre-cons are a unique opportunity for photographers to receive more personal attention from instructors in smaller class sizes, on topics such as our Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) Exam Prep and Multi-Day Business-Intensive classes that will have you walking into the weekend a wholly different person. They take place from Thursday, January 19 to Saturday, January 22, the day before the main Imaging USA conference begins. 

Hands-on Pre-Con classes are classes optimized for hands-on learners. These classes allow attendees to practice new techniques on the spot with their instructor. Imaging USA offers a discount when you register for two hands-on pre-con classes, and regular pre-cons differ in price from the hands-on classes. Read more about full-day and multi-day pre-con classes and the hands-on pre-cons on offer at Imaging USA and sign up for a session! 

Hint: Pre-Cons have limited seating and fill out fast. Prioritize registering for one (or two) before they’re all gone!


The Belle of the Ball – The Expo 

The variety of products and services that are on display at the expo is vast, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Come prepared with a goal that will help you leave with what you came for! Ask yourself what equipment you’re itching to get this year for your business or studio and do some reconnaissance. The Imaging USA app provides information on all our vendors and gives you the ability to *star* the vendors you’re most interested in. The Imaging USA website is also updated with new exhibitors all the time. Once you’ve got your top picks lined up, check the Expo Schedule


Sunday, Jan. 22        11:30am – 5pm 
Monday, Jan. 23       11:30am – 5pm
Tuesday, Jan 24        11:30am – 3:30pm


The first day of the expo is historically the busiest, and it begins to wind down as the expo nears an end on Tuesday. You’re likely to experience less of a rush on Monday and Tuesday and more time to connect with vendors and brand representatives.

Once you’re here in Nashville and entering the expo, pick a side (and a numbered isle) and begin there. You could also walk to the center and work your way out in one direction, slowly covering both halves of the expo. Some people find that taking notes of the places they’d like to return to helps break the expo into manageable chunks. Remember, the expo is huge! There will be many things to see, touch, and try, and you’ll be inclined to come back for more. 

The expo is also a prime location for networking. Catch up with your friends and grab a bite at the eatery! If you’re looking to get involved in the International Photographic Competition (IPC) be sure to stop by the Merit Café to speak with Jurors from past competitions. The International Photographic Exhibit is also located in the expo! Here you can view stunning images that earned merits in 2022. Last, but not least, view the beautiful display of Eric Meola, our Lifetime Achievement award winner. Every year, PPA recognizes an individual whose life’s work has enriched the photographic industry and the profession as a whole. Meola’s work is stunning, thought provoking, full of color, and…you’ll just have to see it yourself.  


You’re Never Lost, Just Look for a Red Shirt 

The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention center is big and majestic and it’s got a lot going on! Inside you’ll find the host hotel for Imaging USA, the Expo, the Delta Ballroom (where our Awards Ceremonies and Parties are held), conference rooms, Networking Avenue, CPP Lounge, and more! The Imaging USA app gives you access to an array of maps to use to navigate the conference. We’ve also done a great job at marking places of interest, essential checkpoints, and classrooms with colorful signage throughout the conference. Should you require help, head towards the Registration Desk or flag down a PPA Staff Member of Imaging USA volunteer. They will be wearing a red T-shirt or red button-down with the PPA logo. If you’re unable to find your class on the app, we will be happy to assist you! 


Take Note

An anonymous writer once said, “The palest ink is better than the best memory,” and we think there is some wisdom to that. Notetaking is a big part of a successful trip to Imaging USA. There are a variety of ways to do this. Choose the method that works best for you and stick to it. Keep in mind that you could take pictures of the presentation slides too if that helps, just be sure to keep the flash off, and always be respectful of your neighbors. 


Comfort is Key

Whether you’re moving around the conference by foot or by wheels, we recommend prioritizing your comfort above all else! Bring shoes and clothes you feel most comfortable in. Don’t forget to bring your reusable water bottle to stay hydrated too. And pack some snacks for the road!


Get Your Honky Tonk On!

Just because Imaging USA comes to an end, doesn't mean your trip to Nashville has to! There are so many ways to explore Nashville and so much to do. Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. offers tons of deals and discounts on tickets, special offers for Nashville businesses, giveaways, and more as well as a great guide of ideas for The First Timer. 

You might also consider checking out Trip Advisor for Nashville Tour ideas. The Underground Donut Tour begins in the Sobro (South of Broadway), meanders through downtown, and ends in the Assembly Food Hall. If you’re one for spooks you’ll enjoy the Ghosts of Nashville Walking Tour. The tour begins after dark at the Tennessee State Capitol and covers local haunted landmarks such as churches, music venues, drinking dens, and more. A family friendly tour, the Nashville Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour takes you on a 90 minute tour with 14 stops, more than 100 points of interest, and live commentary!


Ways to Save

We’ve compiled a list of ways to cut down on costs in this handy article


Work Hard, Play Harder

Start the conference off on a high note at Imaging USA’s Welcome Party on Sunday from 8-10pm. On the final day of the conference, get loose at Imaging USA’s Closing Party from 7-10pm. Reconvene one last time with your new friends and cut loose!