Photography conferences are great occasions to learn something, meet old friends and make new acquaintances, and get to visit new cities.
Many photographers, however, often come home from a conference feeling they have missed something and haven’t made the most of their time there. These kinds of events can be expensive, so I think it pays off to prepare oneself so that attending a conference or a workshop doesn’t end up being a waste of time and money.
Here are some of my suggestions that I hope will be useful.
Get To Know Your Heroes
Don’t just go to a talk and listen passively. Introduce yourself, shake hands, compliment the speakers personally. Most speakers love it when attendees do these things, so don’t be shy and speak up. I have yet to see a photographer with a big diva complex.
Never Eat Alone
Lunches, dinners, and coffee breaks are great opportunities to meet new people. When going for lunch, scan the room to see at which tables there seems to be an interesting conversation going on or where are some of the people you want to meet. Never eat alone, always introduce yourself and, when going together with a group of buddies, don’t sit at the same table as your friends. You have the rest of the year to hang out with them. Make this all about making new friends.
Join As Many Social Activities As You Can
Attend as many dinners, parties, photowalk, birds-of-a-feather events, pub crawls as you can. Many valuable and interesting things happen at the edges and not inside the venue.
Always Follow Up
After you come home, if you collected business cards or email addresses, immediately write a short email, just to say Hi! or to thanks people for their time. Do not wait six months, or until you need something, before doing it.
The secret here is that 99% of the people will never do this. By following up, you are sure to stand out in a positive way.
What Items To Bring
Unless you have signed up for a specialized workshop, do not bring all of your gear. You will end up not using most of and being worried about its safety. Bring the smallest kit you can get away with, ideally one camera and one lens.
Of course, if you plan to attend a wildlife photography workshop, that 400mm f/4 lens might be useful, but only in some very special cases.
Favorite Photography Conferences
My favorite event, which I had the pleasure of being a speaker at for the first time in 2017, is the Out Of Chicago Summer Photography Conference. This is a small event that guarantees a level of camaraderie and intimacy that gets a bit lost at bigger events. Aside from the lectures, there are a lot of photowalks and workshops happening at all times in the streets of Chicago, so it’s absolutely impossible to get bored.
A few years ago, I learned a lot and had lots of fun attending one of the GPP Popup events. This one was in London, with Joe McNally, David Hobby, Zack Arias, and Gregory Heisler, all photographers that I admire a lot and being able to connect directly with them was such a great experience.
I have also asked a couple friends to tell me about their favorite photography conferences. Here are their opinions.
Valérie Jardin: FujiLove LIVE is the new kid on the block and with a very promising start! I had the honor to be one of the 4 speakers for its debut in NYC last February and it was a fantastic experience. A top notch team and an amazing audience made for an unforgettable weekend. I look forward to the next one!
Steve Simon: There are many great conferences out there and I really do enjoy them all. But one of my favorites is Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai. Why? Well I love going to Dubai, it’s a very different culture and environment from my normal and having been there a few times now, have really got to know the great people that have been organizing and growing it for years. (and I get to leave the snow for the hot sun) Like many conferences, there are awesome instructors which attract great students and since we all generally are staying in the same place–every night instructors and students get together over drinks to continue the conversations we started during the day.
How can you find local and international conferences to attend? A great tool to use is Eventbrite. In a few steps, they allow photographers to register directly online for many conferences and enable organizers to promote their events and also manage bookings.