• Thursday , 20 February 2020

How Sony Is Using Experience, Community, and Education to Build a Brand Like no Other: Kando 3.0

Code Canyon

I recently outlined seven reasons why I was excited to go to Sony Kando 3.0, but now that I’ve been, there was so much more to it than I initially thought. 

That’s the reason for this follow-up article. What I thought going into the event was all accurate; it just turned out to be way more than I expected. There was Sony support on-site, and they took amazing care of all my gear that I dropped off for free, and there were some crazy good giveaways too, from lenses to cameras and even multiple airplane rides to do aerial photography with Chris Burkard. But after experiencing everything Kando had to offer, here is what you should know. 

The Anti-Trade Show 

To be clear: This is not a tradeshow. It’s the anti-trade show. When I first heard about the sponsor area, I assumed it would be similar to WPPI where there are lines of booths filled with people trying to sell you. I expected gear behind glass cases and tables filled with pamphlets and brochures: look, but don’t touch. 

What I saw when I first arrived wasn’t even close. Instead, the booths were set up in a show-and-tell manner. They encourage you to see, feel, and use everything they have with no pressure to buy. The Epson Printer booth had printers and prints to show. But instead of stopping there, everyone that showed up was encouraged to print their own work right on the spot. Eddie, the Epson rep, was genuinely excited to see people’s prints come off the roller. 

The Light and Motion booth had Stalla lights to show along with a small lighting setup plus a model so you could even shoot yourself. They too didn’t stop there. Every person had the ability to take the lights and go out shooting. Countless times, I even saw the Light and Motion rep out in the field, but she wasn’t talking, pitching, or selling. She was holding lights, changing out modifiers, and simply helping people use the product. That’s one thing that separates Kando from every other trade show or conference. Sony doesn’t want you cooped up in a building filled with booths and salespeople. They didn’t set up a labyrinth of sponsors with no foreseeable way to escape. Instead, they had a small number of sponsors that could help guests express their creativity. They want you to see what they have on site, and if you like anything, they encourage you to actually experience it in a real-world environment. They want to inspire you and then send you out into the wild. 

In fact, there was so much gear on-site that had I not wanted to drop my gear off at Sony Pro Support, I could have shown up without a single piece of gear and been totally fine. Sony alone had 150 of the yet to be released a7R IV cameras (pretty much every unit in existence). From there, they had well over a thousand other bodies and lenses for people to check out and use. Then there was still gear from Light and Motion, Rotolights, Profoto, Manfrotto, B&H, etc. 

To remove all boundaries between you and creating, they had a building filled will models, clothes, and accessories. And these were not work-for-free-or-trade style models. These were models found on ad campaigns and fashion show runways. You could even check out a good-looking puppy for a photo shoot if that’s what you wanted. From there, they had multiple sets scattered across the grounds. 

From simple backdrops hung between trees to giant neon signs or big foam blocks, they wanted the space to be conducive to any creative inspiration you may have had no matter where it was leading you, even if that was shooting the famous Loki and Nori on a mirrored stage floor set in front of a sky and cloud backdrop. 

If the surrounding space wasn’t what you were looking for, Kando had multiple excursions and adventures you could participate in throughout the day, such as sunrise shoots in a field with horses and cowboys or a sunrise kayaking trip through tree canopies and fog. They even had a hot air balloon that you could not only photograph, but could actually take up for a ride. 

Learning From Pros, and Learning With Pros 

Classes were scheduled every day and even every night so that everyone had a chance to attend them. From run-and-gun filmmaking with Garrette and Amber Baird to night photography with Rachel Jones Ross, there was something for everyone. 

Out of all the classes I took, I had two that stood out as my favorites to attend. The first was learning portrait photography from celebrity photographer Brian Smith. He spent the first half telling stories of past shoots in a way that helped you learn some of his techniques. He then followed it up with hands-on instruction showing light setups, modifiers, and in-the-moment guidance. 

The second class I really enjoyed was getting out of a creative rut by Benjamin Lowy. While I don’t feel I’m currently in a creative rut, the techniques, and more importantly, the mindsets he talked about would help anyone take a closer look at how they create. Ben later showed up at dinner with a bag full of smoke bombs for some on-the-spot inspiration at one of the many setups. 

But the education didn’t stop at the classroom door. Simply standing in line for lunch, you could find yourself next to music photographer Greg Watermann. It was here I learned how he structures every job he takes and how he feels it’s a key ingredient that helped get him where he is today. 

Simply walking around one of the many sets, you could stumble upon Eric Ward and see how he works a scene. Then next thing you know, you’re heading out with Pratik Naik and Francisco Hernandez to photograph a model, working off each other’s ideas and collaborating on where to go next. 

Being Seen, Heard, and Engaged With by All Levels of People at Sony 

When I first wrote about being heard by the movers and shakers at Sony, I didn’t truly know what to expect. I envisioned a big room with the people from Sony on a stage and down below, a crowd of guests passing around a microphone until time ran out. Instead, what I found was a small intimate environment with around 10 people, half Sony engineers and reps forming the other half. Every person got a chance to speak about anything they felt needed improvement. You could see the Sony reps listening intently and taking notes as everyone spoke. 

It wasn’t until two days after my time with them that I truly understood how much they value these sessions. On the way back from dinner, I ended up sharing a seat next to one of the Sony engineers and was able to chat with him a bit longer. Not only did he remember who I was, but he remembered the things I had talked about. From simple improvements to the way custom buttons work to implementing a feature not currently found on any other camera, he remembered it all. And this right here shows just how much they value the options of their users. 


Saving the best for last. The community that filled the space called Kando 3.0 was second to none. Every event I have ever been to, there is always some type of segregation between student and teacher. Teachers are always open and willing, but there is always that invisible line that makes you feel like you are lower on the totem pole. Teachers’ lounges or reserved seating. Special name tags or entry badges that say “you are not equal.” But at Kando, that feeling just wasn’t there. There were more than 100 Sony Artisans and Collective members, and each one had the same credentials as the attendees. During breakfast, lunch, and dinner, everyone shared the same space, and there was no reserved seating. At any given moment, you could find yourself sharing a table with Neil Leifer, grabbing a drink at the bar with Paola Franqui, or even getting a random hug from Prince McClinton. There was no “us” and “them” mentality. 

Having an event like this with such a strong bias towards the community is a catalyst for creative inspiration. I’m not a huge fan of shooting models on sets, but seeing other creatives get excited and motivated, it’s hard not to feel the itch to shoot, the itch to create something new and different. 

I’m also not a landscape photographer, but hearing people get amped up after dinner about their sunrise shoot will quickly lead to you getting up at 3 am so you can catch the sunrise at Crater Lake. 

The Kando community gets you comfortable with being uncomfortable — shooting what you don’t normally shoot and learning to apply it to what you do. It grows your network and more importantly, your self-worth. And as my friend Kish once said: “Few photographic companies today understand or accept that the concept of branding has shifted. ‘Brand’ is no longer an external image, but internal behavior. It’s now based on a vision of the future driven by those with beliefs that align.” And in that vein, Kando, for Sony, is an extension of who they are. 

Yesterday, August 19th, was world photography day. To kick off the next phase of BeAlpha and to celebrate Kando and the community, Sony just released this video. I think its a good representation of what I’m trying to say. 

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