Shutterfest 2018: Mayhem & Madness Over Two Crazy Days

With the stunning Union Station Hotel lobby in the background, Hal Masover gives model Caterina Clayton a print of a photo taken two nights before.

Every year, right after Easter, over 2,000 photographers gather in St. Louis, Missouri, for ShutterFest, a two-day photography conference that’s more like a festival. Really, it’s just kind of nuts!

ShutterFest has a very accurate tagline—“Shoot. Learn. Party.”—and attendees come from all over the world.

The invention of Illinois photographer Sal Cincotta, ShutterFest is held at the historic Union Station Hotel, the perfect location for this crazy conference, with its massive size and wonderful variety.

Union Station was originally built between 1892 and 1894 by the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis. Ten years later, it expanded to accommodate the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Until the first half of the 20th century, it was the largest railroad station in the world.

In 1971 Amtrak took over the railroads feeding into the station, and in 1978 they moved operations to a new station next door. Then developers took over and renovated the old station into a hotel in 1985. It was renovated again in 2000 and is now operated as a Hilton hotel.

Hal photographed Sarah Orgeron in the train station museum of the Union Station Hotel (from ShutterFest 2017).

It remains an amazing building. The old Grand Hall is now the hotel lobby. Historic museum-piece trains sit in the back under the old train-shed roof. In between are hotel buildings, restaurants, a lake, a conference center, and a new aquarium, all under the massive roof.

The conference dates this year were April 3 and 4, but photographers started showing up several days ahead and stayed several days past the end. I arrived in time to shoot for 12 hours the day before the conference actually started. Next year I’m planning to go yet another day earlier.

So what are people doing? Shooting. We’re shooting in the Union Station Hotel, at the St. Louis Arch, in the City Museum of St. Louis, and at Busch Stadium, not to mention in parks, in parking garages, and on the riverfront. Over 300 models are available at these locations, with more than one photographer shooting at a time.

Kaitlyn Bland wears her mother’s wedding dress on a lighted floor in the Union Station Hotel.

Classes are held all day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and big parties fill the Grand Hall lobby each night until midnight.

Model Theresa Rousselot-Vandiver in a balcony overlooking the Grand Hall of the Union Station Hilton

On Monday, April 2, I shot from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m. I went to classes on Tuesday and then shot from 9 p.m. until midnight. I attended classes again on Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then squeezed in more shooting from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Guess what comes immediately after ShutterFest? Slumberfest!

If you are a photographer who likes to photograph people, register now for next year. This conference fills up quickly.

If you aren’t a photographer, go visit the Union Station Hilton. The hotel alone is worth the visit, but the nearby St. Louis Arch and City Museum of St. Louis make it a great trip.

Hal Masover is a professional photographer. Reach him at, or visit