Conferences 101

Going into a photography conference without a clear game plan is a little like walking into Target without a shopping list — you’re probably going to leave with an area rug and three picture frames but forget that you went in for shampoo. Likewise, when you attend a photography conference, a little pre-planning can go a long way. Here are a few ways to get the most out of any conference.

Choose wisely.

Before you buy your ticket and book your hotel room, do some quick research. What will you gain from this particular conference? Is it the best option for you? If you’re a wildlife photographer, for example, a wedding industry conference might not be worth your time and money. Or if you’re scrimping and saving to fly to a conference across the country, make sure there isn’t an equally-awesome one happening in your own backyard.

Make a budget.

You’ve got the registration fee and travel costs covered, but make sure you also account for the little things that pop up. Like food. And crazy-high hotel taxes. And parking fees. And the new gadget that you get sucked into buying at the trade show. And that round of whiskey you put on your tab at the meetup. Those incidentals add up fast. On that note, don’t forget to keep your receipts — your CPA can help you figure out which expenses can be written off, which could help offset the cost of your next conference.

Read the class list…

and not just on the cab ride to the convention center. Check the registration deadlines. Make a list of the classes and seminars that sound most interesting to you, and see how many you can feasibly squeeze into your schedule. Then fill in empty spaces with stuff that isn’t as time-sensitive, like walking the floor of the trade show. (Don’t skip the trade show. Yes, it’s a hotbed of gear lust, but you can find game-changing goodies in those booths. Plus, your favorite vendors are probably giving out some sweet discounts.)

Don't skip the Trade Show.

Leave room for relaxation.

Make sure you block out a few hours each day for sightseeing, trading headshots, grabbing drinks, taking a catnap, whatever. You’ll be glad you did. Things run late. Things come up. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Oh, and if you’re at a seminar and it’s a huge disappointment? Make a quiet exit and use that time for something else.

Take notes.

Okay, so you’re at a seminar that’s totally life-changing and you just want to be present in the moment and soak it all in. That’s great, but you need to respect the fact that you’re (we’re just guessing) a permanently-sleep-deprived photographer with five million things on your to-do list and it really couldn’t hurt to take a few notes so you actually remember it later. So go ahead and be a teacher’s pet. No one’s judging. And whenever you need a dose of inspiration, you can go back and read those notes.

Go ahead. Be the teacher's pet.

Network while you wait.

You’ll wait in line at check-in, you’ll wait to chat with vendors at the trade show, you’ll wait for classes to start, you’ll wait in epic lines at Starbucks. While you’re doing all that waiting, resist the urge to check your email or post seminar selfies, and actually strike up a conversation with the person waiting next to you. Introverts, take heart — it’s less daunting when you already know you have one big thing in common. Ask what kind of photography they do, what they’ve seen so far, where they’re going next, or what else they’re attending this year.

Start a conversation with the person next to you.

Take it easy at the after parties.

Yeah, we know, after endless hours of staring at Lightroom and procrastinating in Facebook forums, it’s awesome to finally hang out your photografriends in the flesh. But remember that you might regret that third Jack and ginger when your 8 a.m. seminar rolls around. Not to be your mother, but drink a glass of water between libations, mmmkay?

Take it easy at the afterparties.

Go twice.

If it’s your first time, team up with someone who’s been there before. If you enjoy it, go again the following year. Becoming a repeat attendee can help you get more out of the experience — the second time around, you’ll already know the lay of the land, so you won’t waste time on logistics. (Which hotel should I book? Where should I get lunch? Can I make it to the 1:00 product demo and the 2:00 keynote?) Think of the first visit as an overview, and the second as a chance to really zero in on the most interesting stuff.

Follow through.

All those photographers you’ve met? Friend-request them and follow their businesses. All those photos you took? Post them with the conference hashtag. All that amazing stuff you learned? Implement it. The conference may be over, but the experience doesn’t have to end there.

Not over