Preparing for a Photography Conference or Workshop

I recently returned from a seven day photography trip to Chicago.  I attended two back-to-back events. One was a photography conference, the other a two day workshop. In addition, I also allowed for a day and a half of free time for myself.  A trip like this requires a little planning.  I'd like to share some of my tips all of which are based on US  travel:

  • Research, research research! I took the time to check out the hotels in the area as well as the hotel where the conference had a block of rooms.  I opted to stay at a different hotel within the same walking distance from the conference center.  It had all of the amenities I wanted including a hotel restaurant. I didn't need a car and therefore the only other arrangements I needed were the flights. Google Flights made that a quick task. I also checked out local restaurants and points of interest and made a list of must sees.
  • If you are a AAA member, take advantage of free guidebooks and maps. You might even be eligible for discounts at the hotel.
  • Check to see if there are any guidebooks specific to the region you are visiting. In my case, the organizer of the conference has an ebook that was extremely useful:  The Photographer's Guide to Chicago: 100 of the Best Locations and How to Photograph Them, which is available on Amazon. Click here to check it out.
  • If you are on any type of medication, make sure you bring enough with you to last for the entire trip.  The last thing you want to do is search out a pharmacy and to need to contact your physician to get a prescription refill.  If you are in a remote location, this might be difficult and can take a chunk of your time you weren't planning on.
  • If there will be a lot of walking required for any part of the conference or workshop, you might want to start gearing up for this a month or two before the trip if you are not generally active on a regular basis.
  • If you are planning on buying a new pair of walking shoes/sneakers, break them in before your trip.  The last thing you want to find out is that your new shoes are not comfortable for long periods or worse yet, develop blisters during one of your walks.
  • Bring a hat,  sunglasses or sunscreen if you need them.  You will also want to carry water with you.  You could be out for several hours and may not have a way of purchasing water. If you are traveling in the summer months, getting heatstroke or heat exhaustion can ruin your trip.  
  • I always make two packing lists for any trip; one for gear and one for everything else.  I do this weeks in advance and every time something comes to mind, I add it to the list.  I use Evernote as it's always with me wherever I go.  I keep all of these lists filed in Evernote by trip name.  For this trip I started by copying a list from my last photography adventure and made the adjustments based on my new location and time of year.  My list is slightly different based on climate, trip duration, type of photography I will be doing, etc.  When it comes time to start packing, all I do is pull up the list and put everything in my suitcase and carry-on bags.  I barely have to think about it at all.
  • During the thought process of building my gear list, I think about what type of photography I will be doing and how I want to carry it.  This will dictate what type of bag(s) I will bring and what type of gear. I generally steer away from backbacks in the warm summer months. For Chicago, it was mostly street shooting, so I knew I would be light on lenses.  I did bring two bodies and the reason is that I had a camera fail on me for an important occasion and I did not have a back-up.  That will never happen again!  Here's the gear I brought with me and why:
    • Bodies: Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 Mark II. I used the Mark II as my primary as I was doing mostly street shooting and since the E-M5 Mark II has a completely silent shutter, it's a no brainer.
    • Lenses: 9mm body cap, 12-40mm Pro, 17mm,  25mm, 60mm macro.  I brought the 17 and 25 for street shooting, the 9mm body cap for some architecture shots, the 12-40 for general all around shooting and the macro as I expected to visit the botanical garden and I love taking flower shots with this lens.
    • Manfrotto BeFree aluminum tripod for night shooting
    • Extra batteries with a charger, SanDisk memory cards, lens pen, lens cloth, lens wipes, Peak Design Cuff wrist strap and Leash camera strap.  
    • Headlamp or flashlight for walking around at night.  You may need it to walk a path or to retrieve something in your bag.  Don't rely on the light from your phone.  If you've been out all day, you may be running low on battery and you don't want to have a dead phone when you are out at night.
    • Laptop with charging cord for those sessions that require image processing/sharing.  You can also do this with an iPad.
    • I also make sure to carry a bag of cords with my iPad and iPhone cables and chargers, headphones, camera connection kit, etc.
  • Know your gear! You don't want to be trying to learn a new camera when you are on a workshop.  You'll end up missing shots and the workshop leader might not be familiar with your camera brand.  
These are the bags  I brought along to Chicago.  The Synapse backpack and Tenba Switch 8 were my carry on bags and fit under the seat.

These are the bags  I brought along to Chicago.  The Synapse backpack and Tenba Switch 8 were my carry on bags and fit under the seat.

I try and bring as few bags as possible, especially when traveling alone.  I carried a Tom Bihn Synapse backback (video review is coming soon) with my personal items and some camera gear stowed inside as well as my laptop.  I also packed my Tenba Switch 8, which I reviewed in yesterday's post, and one medium suitcase with my tripod and clothes.  Stuffed inside the backpack was the Tenba BYOB9 and the Packlite.  This configuration allowed me to choose from the Switch 8, the Packlite and the Synapse as options for  carrying around my camera gear.  I also packed my Tom Bihn Side Effect in case I needed a light purse for going out to dinner. It's also useful to carry some small lenses if I need an extra bag.

Conference Planning

  • Plan your itinerary carefully.  The conference I was attending offered many different classes and photo walks.  Do some research on the presenters if they are new to you. Leave ample time in-between classes, leave time for lunch and think about how much walking you want to do. 
  • Make a list of goals for your conference or workshop.  Is there someone in particular you want to meet? Is there something specific you want to learn? If you have a list prepared, your more likely to meet your goals than relying on memory for all of the things you want to achieve.
  • Check the weather before you venture out for the day - do you need an umbrella, will you need a rain cover for your gear, do you need a jacket? Dress in layers and carry water!
  • Bring business cards if you have them!  You will be meeting lots of people.  If you want to network, this is a great way to connect with people. If you are doing street photography, business cards come in handy if you want to offer to people to send them the photo you took of them. Hand them a card and tell them to contact you.

Well, there you have it, these are all the things I do when planning a trip.  I hope you found something useful in this post. If you have any trip planning tips, please share them in the comments section below.  I would love to hear from you!

Cheers!