The Truth About Success and Savings At Photography Trade Shows

The photography community is blossoming with intimate workshops and inspirational retreats, all kumbaya and firepits and therapeutic craft classes where you can braid your own vegan leather camera strap. And we LOVE it. (Seriously. Take us there. Now.)

But not every day is Christmas, and not every photography experience can be bottled in a mason jar, infused with elderberries, and swaddled in the folk-punk strains of a band you’ve never heard of.

Some learning can only be done in a hotel ballroom; some purchases can only be made under the glare of a fluorescent bulb; and some life skills can only be attained in one place.

You got it: the photography trade show.

Because where else are you going to find every single album crafter, print lab, camera company, and sales software on the planet? Where else can you meet a National Geographic award-winner side-by-side with an image-maker acclaimed for photographing newborns in giant flowers? And where else can you buy a coveted vintage film camera AND a state-of-the-art digital body while drinking an adult beverage from a 2-foot-tall neon-green plastic cup with a built-in twisty straw?

To help you make the most of your trade show experience, we asked ShootProof’s own trade show afficiando (and Community Builder) Kayla for a few tips!

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Photo by Ian Schneider

#1. Psych Up for Social Hour

Whether you’re traveling with a friend or flying solo, the networking aspect of any trade show should not be overlooked.

“Staying at the trade show hotel or near the show venue (if it’s not in a hotel) is a great way to be at the center of the action – but with easy access to a quiet place to refuel,” suggests Kayla. “At any time, you can walk out of your room and you’ll be only a short walk from the trade show floor!”

Attending a trade show with a friend can make the entire experience less lonely – and less expensive! Splitting hotel costs can save hundreds of dollars, and extroverts everywhere will agree that sharing a tiny hotel bathroom with at least 3 other people is so fun, y’all!

If you’re one of the many introverts among us, however, you can retain your sanity and still fill your social quota by meeting one of the thousands of unfamiliar individuals who have also come to eat, drink, and breath photography.

Sleep solo, then look at your trade show map for the “speaker lounges” or “conference dens” (each show has its own lingo.) These are attendee-only areas for relaxing and unwinding after a long day on the show floor. Typically free to attendees, the living room-style spaces often include complimentary beverages and snacks. (Bring cash for cocktails!)

An added perk? Trade show lounges are full of photographers just like you who are ready to kick back with a like-minded creative. Make a new friend, find a dinner date, or share ideas over coffee. 

In addition to the lounges, trade shows typically sponsor parties in the evenings, meetups in the mornings… Some events require pre-registration or a small fee, but all are excellent ways to connect with your community.

“Your favorite vendors are likely hosting or sponsoring their own after-hours events, as well,” Kayla noted. “Give ShootProof a call and find out where we’ll be when we leave the trade show floor. We’ll point you in the right direction!”

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Photo by Cathryn Lavery

#2: Prioritize Your Splurges

There’s no end to the deals, classes, and one-of-a-kind experiences to be had at the world’s top photography trade shows. Before you know it, you’ll be drowning in trinkets, swag, and – what’s that weird hat you’re wearing?! Narrow your options and hone in on the products and presentations that truly matter to you and your business.

Kayla recommends prioritizing with Top 3 lists, like these:


List 1: Products & Services
List the top 3 products/services that you NEED for your business’ growth. Example:

  • Dual-Camera Neck Strap
  • Eco-Friendly Album Company
  • Studio Management Software

List 2: Speakers & Education
List the top 3 class-types you’re interested in and/or speakers you want to see. Example:

  • In-Person Sales Class  
  • Sam Hurd
  • Off-Camera Lighting Workshop

List 3: Experiences
List the top 3 experiences you hope to have during the trade show weekend – they can be show-related or not! Example:

  • Register for a photo walk to improve my street photography.
  • Eat dinner at the best local sushi restaurant (yum!)
  • Meet the folks at the ShootProof booth because they’re all exceptionally friendly and attractive.*

*widely-accepted photo industry rumor


“Don’t get distracted by things that aren’t on your Top 3 lists,” says Kayla. “Have a small budget for impulse purchases, but don’t let that cut into the investments that really matter.” 

In other words, don’t blow your camera strap money on a gold-plated mug that says “I shoot people for a living.” (Trust us: that’s last night’s margarita talking.)

When building your Top 3 lists, consider your ROI – Return On Investment. Every item on your Top 3 lists should directly benefit your business in a quantifiable way, either by saving you money, saving you time (which is money!), or creating a new stream of income altogether. (Except the sushi. That’s just because you have good taste.)

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Photo by Mia Domenico

#3: Learn From the Best

Some people are blessed with the gift of making friends whenever, wherever. Whether it’s the teller at the bank or the person in front of them in line for the restroom, these psychopaths kind souls don’t know a stranger. (But really, we’re in awe.)

If you’re of that ilk, trade shows are your own personal heaven. But if you feel a bit shy in a crowd of, say, 15,000 or so people, then you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of options for more personal experiences – even at the world’s largest conventions.

“Some of the most popular classes are packed with hundreds of people,” Kayla describes. “It can be nice to scale down a bit and interact with a teacher in a more intimate setting, like a photo walk or a Master Class – even if you have to pay a bit extra for the privilege.”

This isn’t to say that the larger, trade show-included classes aren’t a worthwhile option. With no additional fees and a wide range of options, you’ll have plenty to choose from – though you may have to pick and choose. Due to the sheer quantity of excellent speakers, it’s impossible to prevent scheduling overlap, and you’ll invariably find that the 7 photographers you want to see most are all teaching at the exact same time.

If this happens, you have 2 choices: quit photography and go back to a life of misery and despair, OR look for alternative ways to learn from that speaker. (We totally recommend option 2.)

Check the schedule and familiarize yourself with each speaker’s full schedule. Most speakers participate in more than one class, panel, and/or workshop. Some of them even align with vendors on the trade show floor, offering casual, personable educational experiences dedicated to a particular product or service. It’s a great way to connect with a photographer you love while learning their technique in a hands-on environment! 

Last but not least, don’t forget about the unofficial teachers at every trade show: your colleagues. “You may think you have nothing in common with the photographer next to you on the elevator,” Kayla shares, “but we’re all at the trade show for the same reasons. We love photography, and we want to spend time with people who love it, too.”

Reach out to the creatives you meet during your trade show experience – and be ready to pass out a few business cards so you can stay in touch. You may have more to learn from one another than you’d ever imagine!

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Photo by Delfi de la Rua

#4: Map Out the Trade Show Floor – Twice!

Because classes are scheduled and inflexible, photographers tend to plan out their class time yet leave their expo time to chance. Don’t do it!  Saving the trade show floor for the last-minute and running through like a headless chicken puts you on the fast-track to overspending and stress-eating nachos. (Although, really, how bad is that?)

Before the trade show, block out 2 – 4 hours on your calendar to visit the expo floor, preferably on the first day it opens. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the booths, intentionally visiting all your Top 3 vendors, and making time for other vendors whose products and services catch your eye.

The only rule for this first visit? Don’t buy anything! The first walkthrough of the show floor is for data collection only. This is your chance to put your organizational skills to the test!

  • Snap pictures of the booths (and booth numbers) you’d like to research and revisit.
  • Jot down details shared by vendor representatives – and their names!
  • Make note of any show specials that interest you.
  • Place “keeper” vendor materials in a special bag or envelope so you don’t lose them among all the other swag you’ll accumulate.

At the end of the day, use the information you gathered to determine which vendors you’ll revisit and which deals you’ll buy.

When you re-visit the trade show floor, you’ll go with purpose and a plan. No need to worry about overspending, overcommitting, or missing out on something better. You’ve already done your research, so you know exactly what you’re getting!

“Attending a photography trade show is a lot like buying a car,” says Kayla. “If you wander in with no concept of what you need or what you can afford, you’ll pay too much for something that may not even work for you,” she explains. “But if you go in with a defined budget, a clear sense of style, and a big picture vision, you’ll leave with a product that truly improves your business.”

Do your research, stock up on business cards, plan your budget – oh, and drink lots of water. (That’s what you have in that 2-foot-tall neon-green plastic cup with the built-in twisty straw, right?)


Join tens of thousands of photographers worldwide who are shaking up the status quo with ShootProof!

Then come meet the ShootProof team at these upcoming shows:

SWPP  •  London, UK  •  January 2017
Mystic  •  Portland, OR  •  January 2017
WPPI • Las Vegas, NV •  February 2017
Inspire  •  Newport, RI  •  February 2017
The Photography Show  •  Birmingham, UK  •  March 2017
Way Up North  •  Rome, Italy  •  April 2017


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