Out of Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Plant, Flower, and Garden Photography Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

March 19 to 23, 2023

Photo by Anne Belmont


Join us in Phoenix, Arizona for an immersive experience focused on photographing some of the best collections of unique desert plants in North America. This conference is limited to 45 attendees to make this a more intimate, personalized learning experience. We will spend most of our time together at the Desert Botanical Garden, which features 140 acres of desert plants, including cactus, succulents, trees, and flowers from around the world, showcased in cultivated outdoor exhibits and along naturalized trails.

We will be timing our visit with the Garden’s spring flower season, with opportunities to photograph blooming cactus, an extensive range of colorful desert plants, butterflies, and possibly hummingbirds. This conference will also include an extended day trip to Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. During the conference, you will have extended time to work with each instructor, photograph on your own, and create a cohesive portfolio of desert plant and flower photographs. Deserts are sometimes perceived as dry, inhospitable places. This conference will challenge that perception through an exploration of these amazing, specially-adapted plants, with the gardens proving a broad range of inspiration for any nature photographer.

"Out of Chicago garden conferences are something not to miss. I have had amazing experiences learning new techniques and learning to be aware of what truly hits my heart. The instructors have always been first-class in their knowledge and incredibly kind and patient in their teaching. My photography has truly improved since attending these conferences."




Out of the Desert Botanic Garden brings six leading creative flower, plant, and garden photographers together for an intimate conference experience. With guidance and coaching from the instructors, you will have the opportunity to photograph the beautiful landscapes of the garden, small scenes, and get up close to photograph macro images of flowers and plants. During the conference, you will spend one full day working with each pair of instructors, allowing for extensive hands-on, personalized instruction in a fun, supportive environment. You will also have the opportunity to meet for a scheduled one-on-one session with one of the instructors during our time together. This team brings together a broad range of photographic styles and diverse perspectives on photography in one place.

"I have attended four in-person Out of Chicago conferences and every time I have been blown away by the quality of the programming and more importantly the instructors. All of the instructors are incredibly talented both technically and creatively. More importantly, they are invested in teaching. In fact, they genuinely seem to be as excited to be there as we are. They go above and beyond to ensure that participants are learning regardless of their level of expertise and that we leave the conference with a sense of accomplishment in addition to memory cards full of photos."


Anne Belmont

Alan Shapiro

Colleen Miniuk

Charles Needle

Chrissy Donadi

Gerri Jones


What makes this conference unique?

Over five days, we will explore two of North America’s most impressive desert gardens, the Desert Botanical Garden and Boyce Thompson Arboretum, as you photograph alongside six of the best flower, garden, and plant photographers in the world.

All field sessions are offered in a small group format, and your small group will spend one full day working with each pair of instructors. You will have ample time to receive personalized instruction and photograph on your own, with coaching always available when you need it. In addition to our time at the gardens, we will have group conference sessions together during the middle of the day, along with an in-depth online orientation session in advance and an online image review after the conference wraps up. This event is limited to 45 attendees. 


  • Learning about a diverse range of approaches to garden photography through extensive hands-on field instruction time with each instructor
  • Developing a more creative workflow, including mindfulness, slowing down, deeply observing, fully exploring your subject, and conveying emotion
  • Time for experimentation and trying new ideas to expand your creativity and explore subjects in different ways
  • Finding compelling subjects and learning to see more abstractly, exploring varied compositional techniques, and improving your compositions
  • Finding inspiration in the garden, along with refining your vision and style
  • Working with shallow depth of field as a creative choice, and learning to create beautiful and harmonious backgrounds
  • Photographing desert plants in black and white
  • Applying techniques for plant and flower photography, including aperture choice, depth of field, focus stacking, and working with all different kinds of natural light
  • Close-up and macro photography approaches, along with photographing garden landscapes and small scenes
  • Working in the garden with a range of lenses, including wide angle, telephoto, macro lenses, and specialty lenses like Lensbaby and Helios lenses
  • Using filters for plant and flower photography, including polarizers and neutral density filters
  • Photo processing, including key techniques, workflow, and developing a personalized approach
  • Developing a body of work that reflects your learning at the conference
  • And much more…

"A flower photography conference with Out of Chicago in a world-renowned Botanical Garden is like a week in paradise you get to bring home. The instructors, the staff, and the places they choose make these conferences my first choice as I plan my next year's adventures. They not only bring their heart and soul to the conference, they share them with us, helping us bring out our hearts in the artistry of photography."



The Out of the Desert Botanical Garden Conference includes two online sessions (one before and one after the conference), extensive photography time in the gardens, group conference sessions, scheduled one-on-one time for personalized feedback, and informal time with other attendees and the team of instructors. Out of Chicago events are designed to provide a fun, encouraging, and immersive environment in which you can explore your creativity, experiment with new ideas, build your technical skills, create a portfolio of photographs you love, and build your photographic community.

In-depth online orientation session (Tuesday, March 7, 12:00 pm CT)

Check in to Sonder, The Monarch Hotel in Scottsdale, AZ (conference check-in starts at 3:30 pm)
Welcome reception to meet the instructors and fellow attendees, followed by a group dinner
Welcome by Chris Smith, founder of Out of Chicago, and opening presentations

Breakfast at The Monarch Hotel
Morning field session at the Desert Botanical Garden
Group lunch and midday sessions at the Saguaro Scottsdale Hotel
Scheduled one-on-one sessions with instructors
Afternoon field session at the Desert Botanical Garden
Dinner on your own or with your group

Breakfast at The Monarch Hotel
Extended field session at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, including boxed lunches
Afternoon break followed by scheduled one-on-one sessions with instructors
Dinner on your own or with your group

Breakfast at The Monarch Hotel
Final photography session at the Desert Botanical Garden
Check out of hotel (11am)
Group brunch, closing instructor presentations, and closing remarks (conference will end by 1:00 pm)

Online photo review and photo celebration session (Tuesday, April 4, 12:00 pm CT)
*Both the pre-conference and post-conference online sessions will be recorded and available to any registered attendee who is not able to attend the live presentation.

Conference Location and Accommodations

Photography Excursions: Desert Botanical Garden and Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Conference Sessions & Lodging: Sonder, The Monarch Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona (formerly known as Saguaro Scottsdale Hotel)

The conference will be based at the boutique-style The Monarch hotel, which is steps away from Old Town Scottsdale and its extensive range of excellent restaurants, shops, and art galleries. The Monarch is a gem of the Sonoran desert, with a colorful, lively feel. It will serve as our place to stay, gather, and relax together on the hotel’s grounds during the conference. The Monarch is a short 10-minute drive to the nearby Desert Botanical Garden. After you get your fill of photographing desert plants, two pools and a margarita will be waiting for you back at the hotel. You can learn more about the hotel here. The Monarch Hotel is a 15-minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX).

Conference Price

$3600 double / $4200 single

Reserve your spot with a deposit of $1,500. The remaining balance is due 90 days before the event. This event is limited to 45 attendees. With the smaller group size than other Out of Chicago conferences, you will have ample opportunity to work with all of the instructors and build deeper relationships with fellow attendees.

Choose single occupancy to have a room to yourself or double occupancy to be paired with another attendee of the same gender.


  • Opening dinner, 3 group breakfasts, and 4 group lunches
  • 4 nights of hotel accommodation at The Monarch Hotel
  • Daily hands-on instruction during immersive, extended field sessions from six instructors
  • In-person presentations from each instructor during the conference, along with other interactive conference sessions including the full instructor team
  • Charter Bus transportation to and from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport on the opening and closing days
  • Charter Bus transportation to and from the hotel to all Desert Botanical Garden and Boyce Thompson for conference field sessions
  • A comprehensive online orientation session to help you prepare for your time at the conference, and an online image review and image celebration with instructors after the conference concludes
  • One scheduled one-on-one session for personalized feedback (30 minutes) and lots of hands-on time with each instructor in the field
  • Group admission to Boyce Thompson Arboretum
  • Private online community to connect with other conference attendees and share photos from the event


  • Airfare
  • Membership to the Desert Botanical Garden. If you have a membership at another botanical garden, it may work for reciprocal membership at the Desert Botanical Garden. Please check in advance. If not, you will need to get a Desert Botanical Garden membership at the Aloe Vera Club level ($89) in advance of the conference. We will provide detailed instructions about how to make daily reservations in advance of the conference, as well.
  • Except for the first night of the conference, dinners are on your own or with other members of your group. Many excellent dining options are available within walking distance of The Monarch Hotel.

"I was introduced to Out of Chicago a few years ago and have attended 5 conferences. I’ve never been disappointed, my expectations were high and the conferences surpassed everything I dared hope for. Instructors are gifted and talented and take genuine pleasure in seeing you learn a new technique or master a new skill! An added bonus is all the new friendships I’ve formed with instructors and attendees, friendships that continue long after the conference ends."


Frequently Asked Questions

Plan to arrive for conference check-in by 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 19th. The conference will wrap up at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March, 23rd.

We will have a bus to pick up attendees at the airport several times during the day on Sunday, March 19th. The bus will also be available to take you back to the airport after the conference finishes on Thursday, March 23rd. Details on times will be available soon. You are also welcome to rent a car at the airport and drive yourself.

We have a rooms reserved for all registered attendees.

We’re excited for this smaller conference format experience, including everyone staying together at The Monarch in Old Town Scottsdale. Our hotel contract requires us to fill our room block, which is why we are including the hotel price in the ticket. We may be able to offer a conference price without hotel for a limited number of local attendees. If you live in the Phoenix area and hope to stay off-site for the conference, email chris@outofchicago.com for availability.

After registering, you will get an email with details about the conference including key dates, hotel information, and more. Be sure to stay connected via email to receive crucial event communication including surveys about your preferences and updates as needed.

We are chartering a bus to take everyone back and forth from the hotel to Desert Botanical Garden and Boyce Thompson Arboretum throughout the conference.

Yes, you need a membership or a reciprocal membership to enter the garden. If you do not have a Desert Botanical Garden membership or a reciprocal membership, we recommend getting the Desert Botanical Garden membership at the Aloe Vera Club level ($89) in advance of the conference. Membership information can be found here. Reservations will need to be made for each excursion to the garden and you will receive detailed information on how to do this before the event.

As with visiting any garden, this conference will include walking to access photography locations, carrying your gear, and being on your feet for extended periods of time. Most photography locations are accessible from paved paths. There are some hiking-style trails for those who choose to visit them.

March is an ideal time to visit Phoenix.  Temperatures normally range from 74°F to 82°F, rarely falling below 64°F or exceeding 91°F. The biggest challenge in the heat is staying hydrated, so we encourage frequent water breaks, wearing a hat, and making sure you are protecting yourself from the sun (light-colored, lightweight clothing, sunscreen, etc). Chances of rain are usually small in March.

All levels of passionate photographers are welcome, from photography enthusiasts to working professionals. Just be ready to eat, sleep and drink desert plant photography for five days.

Yes, there will be desert plants with flowers as well as many wildflowers blooming during March, but we hope to get you really excited about photographing the beauty of desert plants!

You’ll want a DSLR or mirrorless camera, a tripod, and lenses for plant photography. While no specific lenses are required to participate, we encourage a mid-range zoom, a macro lens, a telephoto lens, and specialist lenses like Lensbabies if you use them. We’ll share detailed equipment recommendations before the event. We also suggest bringing a laptop so you can work on your images during the post-processing and critique sessions.

Yes! Throughout the week, you will be working together in the garden for extended photography sessions. During the day, there will be opportunities for one-on-one sessions with instructors, along with time to enjoy meals together. There will be plenty of time to ask questions and get to know your favorite photographers. While our instructors sometimes take out their cameras to help with teaching, their main goal is to help you create photos you love, improve your technical skills, work on composition, and help answer any questions you have.

No, the most important part of this conference is the ample time you will have working with instructors in the field twice a day. Time for presentations, one-on-one sessions, and other activities will be at the hotel around lunchtime, with photography time in the morning and afternoon.

Your schedule will be available in the weeks leading up to the conference. You will be assigned to a group with interests similar to your own that you will stay with all week for the field excursions, and your group will rotate through each team of instructors, working with each instructor team for a full day. This schedule is one of the main benefits of this conference format, since you will have extended time to work with each instructor in the field, with a lot of time for hands-on, personalized attention.

Both the pre-conference and post-conference online sessions will be recorded. Everyone registered for the conference will receive the recording a few days after each session.

Of course! They are welcome to join us for the group presentations at no charge. The in-the-field teaching excursions are reserved for conference attendees only. A meal pass will be offered at an additional charge so that they can join us for group meals.

You can read the refund policy here.

With the evolving COVID pandemic, we continue to observe recommendations by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and local guidelines for events. This includes physical distancing, masking, health screening, and sanitation protocols. We may require proof of vaccination to attend the event, as we have for our previous events, along with required masking during indoor conference sessions. This will be determined once we get closer to the event and you will receive any information about COVID requirements in advance of the conference.

You can view all of the events you’re registered for by logging into your Out of Chicago account. In the upper right corner of the website, go to My Account and My Conferences. You should see your conference(s) listed there. If your conference is not listed, please email us at support@outofchicago.com.

If you have any other questions, you can email info@outofchicago.com for more information.

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