What to Bring to the Improve Photography Retreat

The Improve Photography Retreat is just around the corner and I couldn't be more excited about the event.  My wife, Emily, and I have put in hundreds and hundreds of hours to prepare for it and it's almost time to start packing our bags.

If you've never been to an Improve Photography event before, here are the things I'd recommend you bring with you.

Camera Gear

I recommend not going too crazy on the amount of gear you bring.  Usually attendees end up bringing too much gear to an event like this, instead of not enough.  Also, you don't need to buy even one new piece of gear for the Retreat.  Bring what you have, but if you want to try something new, then check out BrentRentsLenses.com who will be at the conference.

  • A laptop and charger – We will likely be doing lots of post-processing and it's nice to be able to follow along.
  • Your camera
  • A wide-angle zoom lens – Even if you're primarily a portrait photographer, you'll find lots of uses for a landscape or architecture lens.
  • A mid-range zoom lens
  • A longer zoom lens – Probably no need to bring the big guns (400mm) and up, but a 70-200 could be useful.  Usually I bring the 70-200 but won't carry it around with me all day and will just pack it from my room on the days when I really need it.
  • A tripod and ballhead
  • Extra camera batteries (especially if you shoot mirrorless)
  • A large memory card so it won't fill up on you while shooting
  • Flash gear (discussed below).
  • One single photo bag that can carry the photo gear you'll need including your tripod.
  • A small messenger bag that can hold just your laptop camera, and one single lens for when you want to attend the classes but without carrying around 30 pounds of photo gear.  Then you can grab the big bag when it's time to go on-location.

Note On Flash Gear

Even if you're “not a portrait photographer” you'll probably want to dabble in some portraits during the Retreat.  We have some awesome setups for portraits and you'll be kicking yourself if you don't have any flash gear.

PLEASE PLEASE, if you don't already have a flash setup, BELIEVE ME that this is the one you want: get a YN-560 IV and a YN-560TX Transmitter.  It works with any camera system and it's what 95% of the people who go to the retreat are using.  If you get this system, then it means we can set the flashes up and everyone can shoot simply by changing the channel on your transmitter.  It also means that the instructors will be able to help you with your flash.

Seriously, just trust me on this one.  You'll be happiest at the retreat if you have these two pieces of gear.  If you shoot a proprietary system you'll be totally fine, but you'll be more on your own with setting things up.

For modifiers, I might recommend just bringing one simple modifier (an umbrella, a small to medium softbox, etc).  You'll be doing so much sharing and communal photo making that there are usually lots to go around, but it's nice to have one of your own.

What to Wear

It's hilarious that I'm giving fashion advice as I write this blog while wearing pajamas.  I'm a total blogger cliche right now.

The retreat is a casual affair.  The weather will probably be nice this time of year.  So if you'll be out shooting at night, you'll probably want a light jacket and jeans.

Jeans and a t-shirt is perfectly appropriate for the event.  I recommend wearing comfortable shoes that you don't mind getting dirty since every day will involve some kind of on-location shoot.

What NOT to Bring

I'd recommend avoiding prime lenses at this event–or really any photography workshop or conference.  It's not that I'm a prime hater, but it means you can't zoom and you'll often be in a line shooting a model or landscape with other photographers.  That means if you want to get the composition how you want it, you'll want to step out in front of the line of photographers to get your shot.  A zoom lens is much more useful when shooting in a group.  Again, don't go out and buy something if you don't have it already, but if you do have a good zoom, it'll be far more useful than the prime.

Other Things

It's a good idea to bring some business cards along so you can easily pass your information to people you meet.  Also, start an Instagram profile if you don't have one already.  That's probably the easiest way for photographers to connect.

It'd be smart to bring along a water bottle that you can refill in your hotel room each morning, as well as some snacks like Cliff bars if you need a little more energy.

We will have several opportunities to have FREE portfolio reviews done at the conference.  If this is something that interests you, then please put together 14 of your very best images in a folder on your computer or in a Lightroom collection.  You'll show them to your reviewer on your computer screen and they can talk through them with you and give you encouragement, advice on what to focus on next, etc.  When putting images in your portfolio, I'd recommend that each photo is from a DIFFERENT shoot.  Including multiple photos of the same model or same location won't give your reviewer as much of an idea of where your skill level is and how to help.

Ride Sharing

We'll likely be doing lots of ride sharing at this event as we travel to photo locations.  Attendees are responsible for transportation.

If you are getting a rental car, then consider getting one size larger than you normally do so that you could invite photo buddies to join you on the way to locations.  It's more fun to travel in a group and get to know new people anyway.

If you don't want to get a rental car, no problem.  There will likely be lots of people willing to ride share.  But be sure to download the Uber app on your phone.  Then enter in promo code jimh2479ue.  That will make your first Uber ride free!  Uber is a less expensive (WAY less expensive) alternative to a taxi.  So if you're ever at the conference needing a ride somewhere, you open the app and click the “Pick me up” button and a driver will be there within 2 or 3 minutes.  It's really inexpensive and super convenient.  I rarely get a rental car anymore when I go to a bigger city because Uber is so handy.  This way you don't have to pay for parking too.

Let's Do This!

It's normal to feel a bit apprehensive if this is your first Improve Photography event–especially if you don't know anyone before coming.  I promise you'll leave with many new friends if you make the effort to get to know people, share rides, and let yourself loose.

I see previous IP meetup attendees attending each other's weddings, going on vacation together, meeting up at old locations together and re-living our workshops, etc.  Just come with a positive attitude and you'll have an absolutely wonderful week.

2 thoughts on “What to Bring to the Improve Photography Retreat”

  1. Wow, I am a photographer just starting out really, been shooting for a few years now but just really started building my brand, website and clientele. I am so excited about attending this event. I am very eager of learning new and improve photography in my business. Thank you so much for putting such an awesome and informative conference together. It definitely is a blessing for me and cannot wait to meet and see everyone in 2018.

  2. P. Shawn Faherty

    What a great location. Charleston is my favorite place in the US. My wife and I actually went to university there and go back quite often to visit family, enjoy the scenery and the FOOD! I hope I can make this event and learn from your amazing instructors.

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