photo camp: Q&A with hillary sloss

In Community, Guest, News

Today’s guest is Hillary Sloss, creator of Firefly Institute – a new and ongoing series of photography camps for women.  Hillary is a dear friend from my hometown whom I met – along with so many others! – at the first Camp Shutter Sisters back in 2010.  (Thank you Tracey Clark)

Hillary’s love affair with photography began in high school. She worked for years as one of the very few women in photojournalism – telling amazing stories but ultimately feeling like she was missing something. That something was the connection with other women photographers with whom to collaborate and share inspiration. After leaving the world of photojournalism, she founded a boutique stock photography agency, created art photography at her studio in Sausalito, CA, and currently teaches digital and film photography at the San Francisco Waldorf High School.  Creating Firefly Institute is a long-held dream come true for her.

Hillary wants to spread the love of photography and offer women photographers a place to learn and share and be with kindred spirits.


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Q & A with Hillary:


What is Firefly Institute?
It is a series of photography camps for women. The fall camps will be for “seasoned” photographers – intermediate to professional. The spring camps will be for beginners. Our first fall camp is in Sonoma, CA next November, 2016!

What happens during camp?  Are there classes?  Why is it called “camp”?
Campers will choose between four classes in the morning, four in the afternoon.  Twenty classes total will be offered over the course of the five day camp in many genres of photography. We will have some of the best photography teachers of national and international renown.  Campers will be able to learn solid skills, gain new understanding and inspiration, and make new photographs for their portfolios.

It’s called “camp” because we’re going to live together in cabins, eat together in the dining hall, and have a TON of fun in summer camp style – singalongs, campfires, skits and square dancing – with lots of other fun camp traditions sprinkled throughout.

Why are you dividing the camps between beginner and intermediate/professional photographers?
When I was creating the curriculum, I realized many levels of photographers would be coming. I needed to figure out how many classes would be for beginners, how many for intermediates, how many for professionals. In order to supply the right classes to the right students and to make sure everyone was served well, I decided to divide the camps into two.

What was the catalyst that led you to create Firefly Institute?
Many reasons! The idea has been incubating for many years…  as far back as my photojournalism days.   I went to Squam Art Workshops in 2009 and on my way home I thought how great it would be to attend something similar but with all photography classes.  And at Camp Shutter Sisters Tracey Clark said something that reverberated for me so much – “I created what I needed.” I realized that I needed to have a place where I could be with and learn from other women photographers, and I think I’m not the only one.  We are kindred spirits!  We “get” each other and our love of photography!  It has all been fueling the idea in my mind and in my heart. And when I found the perfect venue — Westerbeke Ranch — I knew it was time to start Firefly.

Why is it for women only?  What is the importance of creating community for women photographers?
All of my photography and photojournalism teachers were men, so I learned a very male way of photographing. It wasn’t until I discovered Shutter Sisters that a shift happened. I didn’t think this new world of women photographers was my place at all, initially. I had to unlearn all I had learned in the masculine world of photojournalism and find a new way to see the world through my camera. I felt like I was coming back to myself when I started that journey.

I believe strongly that we women need our own space – we need to learn from and be with women photographers, teachers and photo friends.

I also must say there there are a lot of great men who shoot with heart and soul who have already expressed an interest in coming to camp.  Maybe someday I’ll do a coed camp.  For now, it’s for us gals – because we need it!

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Firefly Institute launched officially today.
Registration will open January 10 for the first fall camp in Sonoma, CA, November 9 – 13, 2016.

video by kim thompson steel


  1. This Looks like what I have been waiting for all these years. Can’t wait hope I can get in this coming year of 2016. Thank you for your time and effort. Can’t wait 🙂

  2. What a beautiful opportunity! I wish you every success with this endeavor, Hillary. So much success, in fact, that you have to launch an East Coast outpost to keep up with all of the demand 🙂

  3. Thank you, Kim, for wanting to share the news about Firefly Institute! And thank you for ALL the help you have given to the project … the gorgeous video, so many brainstorming and editing sessions, and for listening to all the “camp talk” over these past months and years … and most of all, for bringing your video teaching to camp in November! xxxHills

  4. Entertaining a restaurant in University Place Wa this morning I noticed your flyer. It was the camera. Yashika twin lense. I have one I haven’t used in years. 110 with 2″ negatives I believe? Great for closeups & portraits. Took a picture of the flyer to pass along to a couple women I know who spend alot of time with their cameras.

    • Hiya Harold! Maybe you’ll be inspired to dust off your Yashika?
      Thanks for spreading the word about Firefly Institute! Your friends would be welcomed at camp! If you do know women who might want to come, they might want to register soon … Camp is almost full!
      All the best and happy shooting,

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