Imaging USA 2015 – Nashville

Goals are good, although something I am not particularly good at.  As it turned out, 2014 was a year of setting photography goals for me. In April of 2014, I declared my candidacy for CPP (Certified Professional Photographer) and began my studies.  During  the same time, I ended up missing the North East District print competition deadline by two hours. (One step forward, two steps back!)  As August approached along with the International Print Competition (IPC) deadline, I entered four images without the benefit of the critiques I could have received had I made the NE District submission deadline. In 2013, I had submitted three images in the IPC. One went Loan, one went General, and one, well…went out the window. As luck would have it, my photographic and Photoshop skills allowed all four of my 2014 images to merit, placing all four in the IPC’s General Collection and earning me a 2014 Bronze PPA Photographer of the Year Award.  Which brings me to this year’s 2015 Imaging USA. This would be my second year of attending the annual convention….a bonus of which for me would be being recognized on stage during the Grand Imaging Awards ceremony as a Bronze Photographer of the Year!

My flight to Nashville was slightly delayed due to winter storms but I arrived just in time Saturday night to connect with a couple of the photographers I had met in November  when we all attended the 3-day CPP study course in Atlanta at PPA headquarters. All three of us had taken the written exam and passed. (There are three steps to becoming a CPP: first is declaring your intentions; second is to take and pass the written exam; and third is submit a portfolio for review by 5 judges.  As I write this today, I am within one week of learning my portfolio review status and possibly earning my CPP by the end of the month.) It was great to meet up with Vanessa and Hank for dinner. We talked all things photographic: from the CPP exam and portfolio review, to the array of classes and speakers at IUSA, and speculated over what would be seen on the Trade Show floor.  After dinner, Vanessa and I popped into the PPA Charities Celebration where we purchased benefit tickets in the hopes of winning a $35,000 full studio setup, the components of which were donated by various photography related companies. It was my pleasure introducing Vanessa to PPA speaker,  friend and incredibly talented Photographic Master Artist, Thom Rouse, as well as to one of the “about to be appointed” PPA Board members and excellent Photographic Craftsman, Jeff Dachowski.  The charity event is a great place to connect with everyone and is a fun pre-convention event.

Trying to choose the classes to sit in on is one of the most difficult decisions to be made during the IUSA convention. For any one time slot, you are deciding from a list of 6-7 seminars conducted by some of the best professionals in the creative field.  Maybe you want to follow a Portrait track, a Business track, a Photoshop/technique track, a Wedding tract, an Inspirational tract, a School Sports or a Senior portrait track.  Always, at least once a day, you are forced with deciding between 2 or 3 seminars in the same time slot that you desire to see.  Since splitting yourself in two doesn’t quite work, and time travel isn’t a current available option, figuring which course will be best is a far from easy task with so much talent and knowledge on the line.

Welcome to Imaging USA!
Welcome to Imaging USA!

The first two I had to choose between pitted my talented friend Thom Rouse and “The Case for Fine Art” against Audrey Wancket’sBeauty and Grace of the Classic Portrait“.  This was extremely difficult for me as I absolutely love Thom’s creativity. In the end, I chose Audrey’s class. The deciding factor being I had seen Thom speak a few times and had attended one of his workshop’s a few years earlier, and with my CPP portfolio review on the horizon, Audrey’s Classic Portrait class would assist me in creating my portfolio.  Audrey’s class did not disappoint .

Rod Evans High Fashion Lighting for Seniors was next on the agenda followed by a quick run through a portion of the Trade Show to receive a cherished autographed print from Thom Rouse at the Hahnemuhle booth on my way to the IPC Merit Cafe for their mini talks on various aspects of print competition.  Using Titles to Your Advantage was being discussed by Larry Lourcey followed by the topic of The Judging Process was offered by Donna Goodhale and then  Print Presentation demystified by Carl Caynor.  I picked up some good tips and look forward to using them in my next set of competition prints.  Perusing the Award Winning Images both on the computer monitors and those that were hanging is something that always inspires and awes me. Creativity and technical expertise prevail throughout these meriting images. It is an honor to have four of my images included and I feel humbled by the experience.

Thom Rouse at the trade show. Larry Lourcey & Carl Caynor at the IPC Merit Cafe.
Thom Rouse at the trade show. Larry Lourcey & Carl Caynor at the IPC Merit Cafe.

Ben Shirk wrapped up my first full day at IUSA. His image collages, montages and composites are incredible. Ben shared several good tips on extracting and masking. He is such a talented man with great vision. Being able to view his award winning images in the IUSA Merit Gallery both last year and this year has left an indelible mark in my mind.

Day Two started with a bang to my brain as I listened and watched Kira Freidman & Nathan Rega discuss and give a live demo on “Photographing Ideas – The Unconventional Path of Conceptual Portraits“. Their brainstorming and pre-visualization work on commercial accounts was stimulating and the finished images were mind-blowing!

I stopped in briefly to Russ Harrington’s seminar on “Music & Celebrity Portraits“.  The amazing Julianne Kost was just one room over.  I have seen her present before…actually at IUSA in Phoenix the year before. She is witty, over-the-top knowledgeable in Photoshop – as in off-the-charts intelligent.  I couldn’t resist leaving Russ’s seminar to attend Julieanne’s on “From Camera to Client – Winning Workflow for Success” and I was not sorry. Julianne gives so many useful “nuggets” I wish I could speed write: particularly so, after looking at my nearly indecipherable notes! This woman is AMAZING.

A trip to the trade show allowed my brain to slow down a bit all while being barraged with the sights and sounds of new products and live demos. A true cornucopia of photography related items, the IUSA Trade Show is really one of the best I’ve attended in years.  Even though it is slightly smaller than the PDN Photo Plus Expo held in New York every fall, the live demos and wealth of information available at IUSA’s trade show is so much better….and the vendors are friendlier.

Another stop at the IPC Merit Cafe enabled me to catch additional presentations on print competitions by Ryan Brown and  Jeff Dachowski. Topics ranged from, Recognizing Impact to the 12 Elements of a Merit Image. Each day I was able to network with photographers whether it was grabbing a quick bite to eat at lunch or while waiting for a seminar to begin. Back at the IPC Merit Cafe, I listened to Gabriel Alonso speak on Becoming A Master Photographer while Doran Wilson captivated us with “What the Heck is the Artist Category?”

I missed the last seminar slot of the day which included Hanson Fong  in order to get dressed for the Grand Imaging Awards ceremony where I was recognized as a Bronze Photographer of the Year. How honored I was to stand on stage with the likes of Jeff Dachkowski, Madonna Lovett Repeta, Dennis Harmon, and so many more talented image makers! It was amazing to witness the makers and their images as the higher awards were revealed. The works of the Grand Imaging finalists are outstanding and I congratulate each and every one of them. Several U.S. photographers are in the running to receive the International  Grand Imaging Awards being decided upon this April. Best of luck to you all! For me, a celebratory dinner was in order following the ceremony with my friend and fellow photographer Vanessa Picard.

The Grand Imaging Awards Ceremony. GeminEye Image's Susan Goralski at far left in the center top photo.
The Grand Imaging Awards Ceremony.
GeminEye Image’s Susan Goralski at far left in the center top photo.

The third and final day of Imaging USA dawned bright and early with a stellar line up of speakers. First up for me was Bry CoxBringing out the Best in Every Image – Quick Retouching for the Most Common Situations & Adobe Solutions“…real world examples and crazy shortcuts for tweaking portraits were some of the gems we left with.  Bry is a great speaker injecting plenty of humor into his presentation.

Next up…back to another of Julianne Kost’s seminars. Yesterday’s class was a reminder of just how much I totally love this woman’s classes. This one was on “Mastering Selections, Layers, Masking and Typography to Create Seamless Composites“.  How I wish I could spend a week with this woman learning Photoshop, but then I think my head would explode! In the meantime, I can get my “Kost-fix” and try my best to keep up with her on the Adobe blog.Now if I could just get a recording of her singing the Photoshop A,B,C’s!   🙂

One last lunch with CTPPA photo friends, Marie and Glenn Curtis, before my final trek through the Trade Show. The drawing for the $35,000 studio was taking place and that area became a magnet for people as the excitement built. I didn’t win but the man who did was present at the drawing! He was overwhelmed and so grateful. It was delightful to witness and partake in that joyfulness. The Texas School booth always draws a lot of attention as well. I hear that it is a phenomenal school. One of these days I hope to attend.

Bry Cox & Julieanne Kost presenting on the final day of Imaging USA. The $35,000 Studio Raffle caused a last minute ticket buying frenzy.
Bry Cox & Julianne Kost presenting on the final day of Imaging USA.
The $35,000 Studio Raffle caused a last minute ticket buying frenzy.
Trade Show fun with Clay Blackmore at Canon's Booth and the great lighting exhibit from Sigma.
Trade Show fun with Clay Blackmore at Canon’s Booth and the great live lighting demo from Sigma with Jim Schmelzer.

I struggled to decide which photographer would receive my undivided attention for the last seminar I would be attending that day. Would it be the charming and mesmerizing personality and talent of Peter Hurley? Or would it be the gentle soul and amazing pet photographer Barbara Breitsameter who’s personal story is just as compelling as her animal portraits?  In the end, Barbara’s presentation “Best in Show – Creating Fine Art Pet” won out over Peter’s “From Zero to #SHABANG!”  I have been working with an animal rescue organization for the last seven years.  Having recently seen a Creative Live workshop with Peter Hurley, I thought it would serve me best to attend Barbara Breitsmeter’s class. Her class was inspirational to say the least. This is one amazing lady who’s fine art pet portraits knock your socks off and who has persevered through some very rough times physically to emerge a true winner. I was truly sorry I had to pass on Peter’s class but as luck would have it, I met him in person at the Closing Party later that night.

Day three did not disappoint! What an incredible educational day filled with warmth, humor, compassion, and artistry. A real winner capped off by the PPA Award & Degree Ceremony and the Imaging USA Closing Party.

PPA Degree Awards were bestowed on the last night. Congratulations to friend and talented photographer, Ella Carlson. Madonna Lovetta Repeta photographs me photographing her while Vanessa Pickard joins in on the merriment.  PPA - BE MORE!
PPA Degree Awards were bestowed on the last night. Congratulations to friend and incredibly talented Master Artist photographer, Ella Carlson. Madonna Lovetta Repeta photographs me photographing her while Vanessa Picard joins in on the merriment.

A couple of quick closing notes…..the IUSA Closing Party was held on multiple levels. Having arrived there fairly early on, we didn’t realize there were “things” happening in different areas so we did miss out on some of what was going on.  The complex that the convention was held at,The Gaylord Resort and Conference Center in Nashville, is a 58 acre enclosed resort. Although the garden area was lovely (complete with indoor waterfall) this was one of THE most confusing complexes I have ever stayed at.  I have been fortunate enough to travel throughout the world including being on various cruise ships of all different sizes. Never…and I do mean never….have I ever gotten so confused trying to get from point A to point B. Trying to access the convention center via the hotel hallways was like being in a rat maze. I was not the alone in this observation.  It seemed to be the convention joke. I do hope that PPA will reconsider holding future events in this space. Other than that, the 2015 IUSA Convention was a success from my point of view. Great speakers…good trade show….fun closing party.  I’m looking forward to the 2016 IUSA scheduled in Atlanta next January. With any luck, I will have earned enough exhibition merits to receive my Masters Degree and will walk the stage as a new CPP.  Goals are good.  🙂

This Local Photographer’s Work Goes to International Exhibition!

Press Release

Photographs created by Susan Wacht Goralski of GeminEye Images in New Hartford have recently been accepted into the Loan  and General Collections of Professional Photographers of America’s 2013 International Photographic Competition. Wacht-Goralski’s work will be on display at the Phoenix Convention Center January 12-14, 2014, in Phoenix, Ariz. This International Photographic Exhibition is held in conjunction with Imaging USA, an annual convention and expo for professional photographers and several photographic associations.

A panel of 43 eminent jurors from across the United States selected the top photographs from nearly 5,000 total submitted entries at Gwinnett Technical College in Georgia. Judged against a standard of excellence, just over 1,800 images were selected for the General Collection and 682 (roughly 7 percent) were selected for the esteemed Loan Collection—the best of the best. The Loan Collection images will all be published in the much-anticipated “Loan Collection” book, and over 200 selected General Collection images will be published in the “Showcase” book by Marathon Press.

Titled “All Hung Up” and “Waiting to Exhale”, Wacht-Goralski’s photographs, one of antique outboard motors and another of a sunflower about to open, will be in the International Photographic Exhibition alongside other top photographic works from the competition and traveling and special invitational displays. These images constitute one of the world’s largest annual exhibits of professional photography gathered simultaneously under one roof.


“All Hung Up”   copyright 2013 GeminEye Images

In the photography industry since 1998, Wacht-Goralski has had numerous images published in local and regional tourism brochures and magazines. She has been a member of PPA and Connecticut Professional Photographer’s Association (CTPPA) for over 6 years. Both of her images, “All Hung Up” and “Waiting to Exhale” received blue ribbon merit Awards of Excellence at the recent CTPPA annual state convention held in March of 2013. “All Hung Up” received a 3rd Place ribbon in the Art/Electronic Imaging Category. “Waiting to Exhale” was honored with a Judge’s Award and the Lenzart Award for most creative in its category as well as a 3rd Place ribbon in the Unclassified/Creative Category.  Wacht-Goralski just recently donated a 30″x40″ canvas gallery print of “Waiting to Exhale” to benefit the Hartford Gay & Lesbian Health Collective’s One Big Event on Oct. 26th in Hartford, CT.

Competition Print Time for Connecticut Professional Photographers Association

It was that time of year again….annual Print Competition for Connecticut Professional Photographers Association. It comes along usually in February or March. This year it was on March 15th at the Hartford-Windsor Marriott.  The print judges included Ella Carlson, Jack Holowitz, Steve Bedell, Bernie Littlefield, Nylora Bruleigh, Diane Miller and Joan Genest as print chairperson.

Print competition is always a fingernail biting kind of experience. There is so much riding on the panel of judges. How many women vs men will be on the panel? Will it make a difference in how the numbers fall? Will they appreciate floral still life’s? Will they enjoy seeing lots of wedding images? Will they prefer more traditional poses or perhaps embrace a more contemporary style? Will they understand the Art/Electronic Imaging category and give points for creativity and the hours of work that might have gone into creating such an image? Or the ultimate, burning question…the only one that counts at the end of the day…..Will they/Did they like my image?

I consider myself fortunate this year, having received three “deserving of a merit” blue ribbons and three “above average” red ribbons. In addition, I was surprised and elated to receive a “Judge’s Award” from Steve Bedell for my “Waiting to Exhale” image of a sunflower yet to bloom. That same image was also selected for the Lenzart Award for Most Creative in its’ category as well as taking a third place ribbon in the Classified Category.  The awards were well beyond my expectations and I am humbled and grateful that the judges awarded my image in so many ways.


My other two blue ribbon winners were “All Hung Up”, an HDR (High Dynamic Range) composite of antique motor boat engines hanging on a wall, which received Second Place honors in the Art/EI category, and “Floral Origami”, of a tulip opening.



My additional three images in the red ribbon category are titled: “Head’s Up”, an HDR image of a field of sunflowers; “Opening Day”, a peony in bloom; and “Siren Sea”, a portrait of a young woman and her reflection.

At the end of the day, I was able to answer that burning question (Did the judges like my images?) with a resounding “YES!”  Does that mean I can rest on my laurels?  Not even close!  There is so much more to learn and still higher scores to earn. But for a few moments, I could breathe easily and happily knowing I had pushed myself and in doing so, had received the most blue ribbons and awards I have to date.




 I will continue to enter print competitions searching for the Holy Grail….first to place all 6 in the blue merit category and then to score a perfect 100 on at least one image. Kudos to those photographers who have scored 100 on each of four of their entered prints in the National and International Print Competitions where only four entries are allowed.   I don’t know if I will ever reach such lofty goals but if I sit on the sidelines, I’ll never know.

All images copyright 2013 GeminEye Images.