Just My Thoughts

What to Bring to a Photography Conference

Photographers and Model at Photography Conference
2019 Create Photography Retreat

A couple of years ago I shared my thoughts about the advantages of attending a photography workshop. I won’t repeat myself here, other than to say that a workshop gives a photographer the chance to simply focus on his craft, learn new skills, improve her technique and benefit by the presence of other like-minded people. Giving yourself a few days to immerse yourself, away from the routine demands of life, is beneficial on a lot of levels.

That’s one of the reasons that I have attended the Create Photography Retreat for the last few years. And, assuming the pandemic doesn’t close the doors at the last minute, I’m going again next month. The event will be held in Greenville, SC, which is just down the road from me!

There are a lot of workshops to choose from, of course, but that one seems to suit me well. Part of the reason for that is the interactivity and the emphasis on hands-on experience. Of course, there are classes; times to just sit back and take notes. But much of the day (and night) is centered on actually shooting. And there is a lot of variety: portraits, landscapes, model bays with studio lighting, macro, astro, weddings, and some things you’ve probably never even thought of!

So, with all of those options, how do you know what to bring? And what are you better off leaving at home? I’ve taken the time to list a few things – and my reasoning behind each of them. This list may not be comprehensive, but it will give you a pretty good head start at knowing what to bring to a photography conference where you are going to have the opportunity to shoot.

Comfortable Clothes

The days can be long at a conference like this. Sometimes they begin with a sunrise shoot and don’t end until well after the sun has gone down. The last thing you’re going to be wanting to deal with are multiple wardrobe changes. Additionally, as photographers, we know about bending, kneeling and even lying on our stomachs at times. So plan accordingly.

If you are planning on doing any kind of landscape or even street photography, remember to bring some extra layers. Check the forecast for the area and remember if you are shooting outside at dawn, or dusk or the middle of the night it will be chillier than you think. Especially since you will be standing still! Misty waterfalls also have their effects. If you are coming to South Carolina from the west, where it is dry, the humidity here may surprise you. Think cool and damp (potentially). Stuffing a hat or even gloves into your bag may not be a bad idea.

Camera and Gear

Obviously, you are going to bring your camera. But don’t forget about extra memory cards, extra batteries and your charger. Lens wipes, microfiber cloths and perhaps even something to protect your camera from the elements if you are planning on shooting outside, will be a huge help.

Landscape and astro shooters will need to have their tripods. And don’t forget remote shutter releases. While it isn’t strictly camera gear, this seems like the right place to mention a headlamp. Remember, if you are going out to shoot the stars, you will want a headlamp with a red lens. Your fellow photographers thank you in advance. Your night vision will thank you, too!

The Create Photography Retreat team will set up studio lighting in a number of locations to allow you to shoot models. There is no need, then, to bring lighting modifiers, like softboxes or umbrellas, but having your own flash trigger would be very helpful. This year, all of the lighting equipment will be Godox/Flashpoint, so if you have one of their triggers, bring it. (Make sure you get the one for your camera brand and put your name on it.) If you don’t have one, don’t worry. The retreat will have several on hand that we will be able to share.

Personally, I always have a speedlight in my bag. I carry the TTL version of the Flashpoint unit with the rechargeable battery. (Make sure you get the model for your camera brand!) Their manual version is really inexpensive. Both work with the trigger I mentioned. There may be a time when I will want to use it during a photo walk. Who knows? It lives in my bag anyway, so it won’t be an additional burden to bring it,

Finally, bring a single bag that is big enough to carry all your gear. You may want an additional bag for your laptop (we’ll get to that later), but having your gear in one place will make your life much easier.

Lenses

The general rule of thumb at a photography conference is that zoom lenses are preferred over primes. There will be times when several people will be shooting the same subject at the same time. A zoom helps us stay out of one another’s way.

So the starting point for lenses is to suggest that you bring “the trinity”. A wide angle zoom, a medium range zoom (24-70 or so.) and a longer range zoom (like a 70-200). Of course, if you don’t have those lenses you do not need to run out and buy them. Just bring what you have!

If you have room in your camera bag, you might even want to bring a lens that you are still trying to figure out, or that you want to work with. Have a macro lens that is gathering dust? This is a great chance to pull it out, and learn how to use it from other macro shooters in the crowd. Have a “portrait lens” that everyone raves about, but you’ve never been able to get the results you want? Bring it along (if you have room) and take advantage of the time to run it through its paces.

In the specific case of the Create Photography Retreat in Greenville, I do not think that there is a need to bring a super long telephoto (500mm or 600mm).

One final note on lenses. Remember that you will have the opportunity to try some photography genres that may be new to you. So if you typically shoot portraits with an 85mm that never comes off your camera, don’t just bring that lens – and only that lens – to the retreat. Challenge yourself to broaden your vision, and your skills!

Laptop

I often use my laptop to take notes in some sessions. Additionally, there will be some classes on processing. It’s a lot easier (and more productive) to actually follow along, rather than just taking notes in a class like that. Beyond that, you will want to be able to process some of the pictures that you take during the conference. In past years there have been competitions within each of the genres, or for each of the locations, that we have shot during the conference. So be prepared for some late night processing!

This probably means another bag. I would suggest one that not only holds your laptop, power cord, and external drive(s); but also a notebook, pens and business cards.

Yes, business cards. One of the best parts of any photography conference is the opportunity to meet new people! Some will become friends. Others will become great resources. (Many will become both!) Having a card makes sharing contact info a lot easier.

Some people have a bag that is large enough for their laptop, camera and a single lens. They find it easier to carry this throughout the day, and then grab their full camera bag as the need arises.

Other odds and ends

A water bottle is always a good idea. Especially given all the challenges of this year. Personally, I keep a few energy bars nearby. Sometimes it helps with the mid-afternoon haze!

And of course, it is 2020, so you will want to have a mask at all times. I always have hand sanitizer and sunscreen in my bag, but I will double-check my supply before leaving for Greenville.

What to bring to a Photography Conference?

Maybe you have all of the gear that I mentioned. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you agree with my list. Maybe you have your own ideas. In the end, the gear you bring is only a small part of the equation. The most important thing to bring to a photography conferences is enthusiasm. Whether you are just getting started in photography, or have been shooting for years, come ready to learn, participate and have fun! To a very large degree, what you take away from the conference will be directly proportionate to what you bring to it.

So, what did I forget? Let me know what you think we should bring to a photography conference in the comments below.

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