Top 5 Tips for Attending a Photography Event or Workshop

My top 5 tips for attending a photography event or workshop is today’s topic. As always, both I’ve included both audio and the written version (pics too!), along with a section containing all the links I mention in this piece.
Here we go!

The question has been posed

“Should I attend a photography conference or workshop?” Well, my hands-down opinion is YES!  Heck, I’ve built entire businesses by attending conferences. Not to mention getting to HIRL (hang out in real life) with friends I’ve met online – all by going to both conferences and workshops.

Lauri Novak and I talked about that in our recent conversation about art and business.

True fact: there is NOTHING that will ever take the place of real-time, face-to-face connections, no matter how many ways we can do it virtually.

That said, conferences and workshops not for everyone. Plus, there are so many options nowadays, how do you decide where, when and how to invest the time, money and energy?

Here are five tips I think might help you.

1. Ask Yourself WHY?

Knowing your “Why?” is the key to clarity in pretty much anything – including your purpose in life! (Seen Simon Sinek’s TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” It’s allll about the mighty “Why?”!)

The thing is, answers are great. But you get to the defining answers by asking the right question!  “Why?” is like a gateway question, because it triggers your mind to answer you. The question “Should I?” rarely does that, since pretty much the only answers are “Yes”, “No”, or “I don’t know”. End of conversation.

So, for our purposes, Why?” opens the door to this most excellent question: “What would I love to accomplish/experience/have happen?”… which is the sort of query that really gets the juices flowing, because your mind wants to answer the question and it gives you all kinds of information.

If your answer includes any of these feelings:

“I want to expand my world, meet new people, make new photo friends, establish next-level connections for my business and/or avocation, learn what else is out there for me, discover new techniques/ideas/gear… or experience new parts of the world with a group of like-minded people”

…then yeah, chances are you’ll want to attend a conference or workshop. What’s more, you’ll want to choose one that aligns with one of your most heart-felt desires.

One of my “The Artist’s Voice” photo retreat groups enjoying Villefranche-Sur-Mer.

2. How do you find events to attend?

Depending on how and where you’re connected, you can begin by checking with:

  • Social media
  • Photo friends
  • People whose photography you admire
  • Camera stores
  • Photo clubs
  • Eventbrite. I mention this site, since in the past year or so, the vast majority of the best workshops, conference and events I’ve attended or spoken for are advertised there. There may be others, but Eventbrite has emerged as the hands-down, go-to choice for photography events. (Putting on an event? Wondering the best way to get the word out? Go here. You’re welcome).
3. How do you decide which events to attend?

The answer to this question once again circles back to your “Why?” (see how pivotal that puppy is?).

  1. First of all, event type. Your desire may be to simply meet more like-minded people and make new photo-friends. If so, might want to check out events on the free-to-inexpensive end through:
    • Camera/photo clubs
    • Drink and Click events
    • Photowalks
    • Workshops. You can find free ones, as well as one-day, weekend or multi-day workshops of all sorts, at all different price points out there.
  2. If you wish to expand your professional circle – or even dip a toe into those waters, you might consider:
    • Conferences. There are the giants like Photo Plus Expo and Photokina; as well as smaller, more personalized events like the Fujifilm Festival and Out of Chicago. New ones crop up all the time.
    • Workshops, IF you find one which involves the people and opportunities that you desire.
  3. Looking to take the “next step” in your photography? Then consider:
    • Workshops. Of course, pre-qualified by finding the one(s) that speak to YOUR desired focus.
    • Conferences. (See above)
  4. Be the master of your destiny!  When selecting ANY of the above options, be clear about:
    • What do you want to learn/experience?
    • What are your expectations?
    • How will you know when those are met?
finally, Do your homework!

You want to know as much as you can about the event, who’s running it, the courses offered, the instructors, who’s attended it and what they had to say about it all. Your due diligence done in advance puts you way ahead of the game and lessens the chance of being disappointed by unmet expectations.

Get your desires in the crosshairs and do your RESEARCH!

4. What should you bring to a conference?

You’ve made your choice and signed up. You’re excited! Now you’re wondering… what do I bring with me?
Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • A good attitude, first and foremost! You’re challenging yourself to grow. Hey, congratulations on that! It also means that you might actually feel, well, challenged along the way. Keeping your good attitude firmly in place will help you keep things light, even if you have one of “those” moments along the way. Not that I’ve EVER experienced anything like that! (sheepish smile)
  • A camera. Ummm… you’re going to a photography event. Just sayin’.
  • Notepad – or some kind of note-making option, digital or otherwise.
  • Business cards, if you have them
  • Healthy snacks of your own. Nobody talks about this – but keeping your energy in the right place and your brain able to focus is paramount! These events usually mean long days, new ideas, loads of people. Keeping up with it all means you need the right kind of fuel! I always bring my own food, since the repast generally available is full of carbs and literally puts me to sleep.
  • Comfortable clothes. You might be sitting alot, walking alot – or doing SOMEthing that you don’t always do alot of. Be comfortable doing it.
  • Water. Most events offer water… but I’ve been really thirsty at the ones that don’t! Dehydration and brain function don’t play well together.
  • Something to carry the swag you pick up along the way. Conferences in particular are full of vendors offering freebies. These can be anything from pens, notebooks and thumb drives to samples of whatever their latest product is. I learned a long time ago to bring my comfortable bag or small backpack. Keep this in mind too: you might go somewhere after-hours with a group of friends, without enough time to drop stuff off at your hotel room! So pick a bag that can easily take you out to dinner and beyond.
  • If you’re going on a photowalk… comfy shoes and – depending upon weather – clothing layers!
  • If you have a website, a product, book or whatever… prep it ahead of time, so that when you tell the folks you meet about it – they’ve got somewhere to go check it out and sign up for your newsletter, if you have one.

If you’re going to be walking alot, comfy shoes are KEY!

5. Important do’s and don’ts for event attendance


  • Come with positive expectations! Keep an open mind and expect awesomeness. You generally get what you actively focus upon in life, so I always advise people to expect The Awesome.
  • Participate, join in, ask questions, mingle – get in there! Even if you think you already know all the answers. You might just hear what you think you know in a whole new way and it changes your life. I’ve had it happen.
  • Have the attitude that if you walk away with one useful idea, your time and money are well spent. It takes the pressure of towering expectations off – and you usually receive so much more that way.
  • Come with an idea of what you’d like to learn… and some idea of how you’ll know when you have gotten it. Along the way, if you’re not getting it, then be proactive and go git it! Don’t whine about it later.
  • Say YES to cool opportunities that come your way. Invited to a late-night photowalk that you feel too tired to attend? Go anyway. You’re there to expand, which sometimes means stretching yourself. That’s not always comfortable. The thing is, you simply never know whom you’ll meet unexpectedly that might change everything for you. Hey, it happens all the time.
  • Open your mind to new ideas and different ways of looking at things. If you find yourself shutting your ears by thinking to yourself “I already know that”… stop it. Now.
  • Be rude to ANYone. Aside from not being good karma, photography is a very small industry. You meet the same people on the way up that you do on the way down. Just a thought.
  • Be shy about mingling and meeting people. Networking at events rules the day!  Doing it with all your heart is the key to both discovering lifelong friends building a business, depending upon which you’re looking for. Maybe you want both! Well, get out there! #NoWallflowers.
  • Be a know-it-all. OMG, I’m sorry (not really), but this is one of my personal peeves. People who have that smirky, “whatever you think you know, experienced, or imagine you ever will be… I’ve already done it.” attitude can just stay home. But they never do – and you may encounter one. If so, be gracious, then bow out of the (very one-sided, all-about-me) conversation ASAP and go find some positive, fun people on a mission of joy and jump in with both feet! If I just described you… then I would suggest therapy and experiment with listening more than talking. Everyone wins.
Get out there and enjoy!

Photography is fantastic! And so are most of the people you’re likely to meet along the way. There are SO many options out there to expand your knowledge, network of friends, colleagues and your overall joy in the sport. With a bit of forethought, you’ll choose the events that leaving you wanting more, instead of bitterly regretting your choice.

Whether you opt for local and/or free events… or choose an experience-of-a-lifetime like my own “The Artist’s Voice” photography retreat in the French Riviera, my wish for you is the most enriching, fulfilling and joyous experiences you can allow yourself to have.

Now get out there and enjoy!


links mentioned in this piece:

Conversation with Lauri Novak, where we talked about networking.
Simon Sinek’s TED talk: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”
Drink and Click
Photo Plus Expo
Fujifilm Festival
Out of Chicago

The Artist’s Voice Photography Retreat (the one I lead in the South of France).