Make the most of events. Here are my recommended photography conference tips.
Getting ready to attend a photography conference? Conferences can be a great way to get some photography education, connect with industry vendors, and network with your peers. Going to a conference will consume a bunch of your time, and probably a lot of your money, so you’ll want to be smart to get as much as possible from the experience. We’re moving into what seems to be photo event season in the fall and winter (and if you’re looking for an event, Eventbrite can find events that event planners have registered online).
Here’s how to do conferences right. Many of these tips apply whether it’s a one-day seminar or a multi-day event. These conference tips and event suggestions will help yo make the most of your time and money investment.
Let’s break things down into a set of photography conference tips for before, during, and after the event.
Preparing for a Photography Conference
Before we get into the list of photography conference tips and tasks, the biggest thing to understand before the conference is what is your primary goal for the event? Is it to learn something new? Network with peers? Connect with vendors? You might have multiple interests, but if you know your main thing, you can use that to help craft your priorities.
- If you’re traveling, find out if the event is being held at a hotel or if there is an official hotel for the conference. Especially if this is your first time at the event, I recommend booking your room at the official hotel (even if it’s a few dollars more than somewhere nearby). In addition to eliminating any sort of commute time to and from the event, you’ll find that the official hotel will be come the de facto place to hang out. Other conference-goers will be at the hotel bar(s) and the hotel’s restaurant(s) will become hosts to various meetups.
- Do some price shopping with the hotel’s rates. Even when there’s an official rate or room block for the conference, you can occasionally find a better deal via another booking source.
- You’re a photographer, yes… but figure out how much camera gear you really want to have with you. If this is a shooting workshop, then by all means, bring the gear to get the shots you want. But if you’re attending an event that’s less hands-on, consider whether you really need to bring a big bag of camera gear or whether you might be able to get by with less. I haven’t brought a DSLR to a conference in years. I’m happy with images coming either from my Olympus mirrorless camera the OM-D E-M5 Mark II or from my iPhone.
- Speaking of gear, set yourself up to not lose those various little cables, adapters, cords, earbuds, and other things that can vanish when in a backpack, purse, or other bag. There are a few good options, I’ve used the Grid-It and been pretty happy. The Think Tank Photo Cable Management 2.0 is another great option.
- Pack power, aka the friend-maker: a small portable power strip. Very few events have enough outlets for attendees, and you’ll be popular (and always able to find an outlet) if you bring your own to share. I like this Belkin model that features three outlets and two USB ports.
- Consider whether you want to have business cards to share either with other attendees or with vendors. Don’t be pushy! It’s better to get a card than give a card.
- Figure out the conference #hashtag on Twitter, and start watching it. Participate in conversations about the conference ahead of time.
- Reach out to other attendees, vendors, or instructors that you wish to meet.
- Make a plan for which sessions, vendor booths, and other activities you want to attend, but also see the first item in the next section…
At the Conference
- …feel free to ditch your plan if something comes up that’s a better opportunity and aligns with your big goal for the event.
- Never eat alone. Meals are a great chance to network with new connections (or to reconnect with old ones).
- If you’re an introvert, you might like this article I wrote a couple years ago about being an introvert at a big conference. You too can have conference success, but allow yourself some downtime.
- Continue to use the conference hashtag, and tweet or post to Instagram about what’s going on. Use social media to connect with other attendees. See if there are any informal meetups happening. If not, consider starting one yourself. It can be as simple as posting something like “Who’s here at #WhateverConf and wants to chat more about DSLR Flurbing? Meet at the lobby coffee shop at 4pm!”
- Stay hydrated! If it’s warm outdoors it’s extra important, but even if you’re just inside hotels and conference rooms make sure that you drink plenty of fluids. Keeping yourself hydrated is a key step to staying healthy overall. And speaking of liquids…
- …if you’re going to drink, drink smartly. Nothing good will come from getting hammered at the conference bar or parties. Have a drink, maybe two. Drink water as well. You want people to remember you after the event, but not because you were “that guy” at the party.
- Don’t let your non-conference life get ignored. Some of this is a preparation task, but figure out how you’re going to handle the fact that you’re still going to get email and phone calls while at the event. Clients will be trying to reach you. Future clients might want to chat as well.
After the Conference
You made it! But don’t neglect to wrap things up neatly. There’s no sense in spending a bunch of time and money on an event and then letting things slip away or go to waste because you didn’t follow up.
- Review your notes. I’m sure you took some… now’s the time to review them whether they’re on paper or in a digital format. Identify the key points and file them away if they’re for reference. If you have action items or tasks, get those into OmniFocus or your task system of choice. If you have a plane/train/other ride home, this is a great time for review.
- Throw away the brochures or other material for which you have no purpose. Don’t just throw the bag o’ swag1 into the corner, but figure out what’s important. Do you think you’re going to do something with the company in the next week? Keep it and do it. No? Maybe? Make a digital note somewhere and trash the papers. Don’t add to the clutter pile. Do you really need another branded keychain?
- File things for follow-up. Plan some time to sit down with a cup of coffee, or tea, or beer, and send follow-up notes to those who you met and hope to build relationships with in the future. This might be a vendor, a workshop instructor, or another photographer. Send them a short note, remind them how you met, and offer to help them if possible.
- Write a blog post about your experience; share some images. Your clients would love to know that you’re investing in your photography education and connecting with the industry. It builds cred, yo.
Hopefully this helps you make your next photography conference experience a great one! If I’ve overlooked any photography conference tips you’d like to share, please leave a comment below.
- swag, noun: stuff we all get, aka those trinkets given away by vendors at trade show booths. ↩