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How to attend conferences for less than $100 – TOTAL

First off, I’m not writing this based off tips from other blogs, and I’m not writing this to get SEO juice or eyes directed at my work (which I hardly even show on here anyways), or because I want to look like some expert on the topic.


I’m writing this because I want you, the reader – to gain some ideas on how to attend important events that will better your business.  These ideas are comin’ straight from the brain, and hopefully they will work for you – as they have for me in the past.


So first off, let’s address how much a conference costs, shall we?


Most conferences/workshops/seminars I’ve been to are 2-3 days in length.  If you’re lucky, they’re in your home town – but if not, the cost of airfare and transit can almost DOUBLE the initial amount that you’re paying for your registration.  On top of that, the event takes place in some uber-fancy hotel in a major metropolitan city – racking up the total cost to almost THREE TIMES the cost to attend.


So let’s find a way we can cover these costs – I’ll do my best to come up with a few solutions for each obstacle, giving you some options depending on your comfort level.




For conferences, the average cost of a ticket is about $4-500.  Here are the ways I’ve approached getting the cost covered when I first started out in my business.


  1. Offer to help on the admin side.  The conference coordinators are usually so over-whelmed with planning that they NEED to delegate certain duties.  Last year, I attended a conference where I served as part of the ‘friendship committee’ and was offered a free pass to attend.  While I don’t necessarily need a break on the financial side of things, it’s also a GREAT way to meet attendees as well as all of the speakers that will be presenting.  When I look at this role, it has massive value.  Pays your ticket, and it puts you in a spot to meet almost EVERYONE!  The downside is that you might have to sacrifice hearing certain talks in order to manage your staff duties.  But hey, partial access for free is definitely better than not going at all!
  2. Book 2nd shooting gigs in advance.  Bring up the idea to photographers you currently help assist, and let them know you want to attend a conference to improve your skills.  When phrased that way, it’s not only helping YOU out, but helping them by investing in a portion of their own work.  Odds are you’ll be turning out better photos after attending, so they get to see a reward as well – just as a bonus for paying you in advance for work that you’d already be doing!
  3. Contests and sponsorships.  There are often times that these events will put out a contest on Facebook or Twitter to either discount the cost of a ticket, or even offer an ENTIRELY FREE admission based on participation in some sort of contest.  I’ll fill you in on a little secret – these contests…they DON’T get ‘that much’ participation.  The odds of winning are a hell of a lot better than usual…and if you’re the type of person that feels like you ‘never win anything’ – these contests may very well be your best bet.  I’ve actually received news that I’ll be in a position to offer these kinds of contests/scholarships for 2 conferences in particular, so if you’d like to find out about them in particular – email me at  (Tomorrow I’ll actually be posting a comprehensive list of the conferences & workshops that I’m familiar with/been to in the past)
  4. Work for the speakers.  While not all speakers are actively pursuing more conference work, the ones that *are* could definitely use help marketing themselves for future events.  Email speakers prior to a conference and inquire about photographing them or recording video of their talk.  This kind of content is great for them to use in marketing material or to self-critique their stage presence for future gigs.  *Note* – be sure to check in with the conference organizer to make sure that it’s okay for you to do this.  Some speakers are particular about content being released to the general public – particularly video recordings.  I’d suggest making it clear that the video would be used only for personal review by the speakers, and that it won’t present any conflict of interest.  This past week, I had my friend Mark take photos during my presentation, and my friend Vlad provided me with video of my talk.  I also helped my friend Matt with getting him photos of his talk.  While we all did it as favors for each other, I would have no issue paying for this kind of service if it helped someone make it to the conference.



I’ll do my best here, but these are probably the most difficult to save on out of all the different expenses.


  1. Book early, and on a weekday.  I’ve read SO MANY articles about the best time to book airline tickets and a lot of times it’s conflicting advice, but most of them (as well as based off my personal experience) will tell you to book your flight on a weekday, and over 2 months in advance.  For this most recent trip, I paid about $250 for my transportation, while a friend of mine who booked 2 weeks out paid $500.  I should also mention that flights on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Mondays are often cheaper than those on Fridays or Sundays.
  2. Check multiple websites – I suggest hipmunk, Travelocity, and kayak.  Also be sure to check direct airlines like Southwest that don’t provide their rates to 3rd party sites, and look into nearby airports to the destination of your choice.  You never know when you’ll be able to save $200 just by finding an airport that’s another hour or two away from your final destination.  (While it might not be worth it for some, I know I sure as hell would take that discount when I was in my first few years of business).  Also check for trains and busses.
  3. Don’t get a rental car, and if you do – check other locations outside the airport for their rates.  I’ve seen as low as $7/day for a rental car in Colorado.  It can all really depend on the city, too – so sometimes you can just be screwed.  Unless you’re planning on doing a bunch of sight seeing during your trip, I’d save the additional cost by traveling by bus, shuttle, or group taxi to get to your hotel.  Maybe offer to treat someone local (meet someone new) to dinner if they pick you up from the airport – kills 2 stones with 1 bird and makes your ride something more personal.
  4. See if you can find people from your city (or local area) to pitch in on a road trip.  It’ll help them save money, and on top of that – provide a ‘scenic’ route to make some great photos along the way.  I personally feel like those experiences building up to the conference are valuable in their own right!  If you REALLY can’t swing the gas money, offer to drive YOUR car as long as others take care of the cost of fuel.  That way, they don’t have to worry about driving, putting miles on their car & can get work done on laptops, etc.




This is probably my favorite way to split costs, just because there is so much potential for value.


  1. Share a hotel room.  I strongly believe in having a room at the same hotel as the conference – it just adds so much when you run into people casually in the hall and strike up conversation.  Less time in transit, and more time spent with the people you want to spend time with.  To bring down costs, split the room with someone.  To bring it down EVEN MORE, find others who are trying to cut down on costs and opt to sleep on the floor if you can pay a discounted rate.  [Hypothetically - let’s say you have 4 people, and the room is $140/night.  To opt for having a bed, it’d be $50/night.  Floor would be $20/night.  Over the course of 3 nights, you each would only spend $150 and $60 respectively.  Wayyyyyy better than forking out $420 on your own to cover the cost of an entire room.]
  2. AirBnB – awesome resource.  This website lets people rent out rooms or entire houses at rates cheaper than hotels, with sometimes even better hospitality.  I prefer doing this for my personal travel – I’ve met some really cool people by doing this, and I now consider them friends.  It gives you a local’s perspective of your destination and something different than a chain hotel.  A lot of times they’ll either be cheaper than a hotel, or closer to the location you’d like to be.  I’m using this in May when I attend the Chrisman’s workshop in Oakland.  The airbnb is located walking distance right down the street, while the nearest hotel was a 10 minute taxi away.
  3. Hostels – whenever I tell anyone about this, they always give me this look like “that’s only for poor Europeans…I’d NEVER do that.”  Granted, the standards are definitely lower than a hotel, you get an opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and you save A LOT of money.  You can often get a private room for $40/night, or a shared room for something like $10/night.  That comes down to a ton of savings.  Hell, if I didn’t value the community feeling of being at the hotel – I’d definitely opt for this route.  I don’t have problems affording a hotel, but I just love meeting new people from different countries.


If you decided to take the ‘most’ cost-cutting route above, you could really have just about everything paid for.  Maybe $60-$100 total, including ticket, room, and travel.  How the hell can you not afford that???  It’s an investment if anything.


When it comes down to it, all of these discounts…all of these ways of cutting costs…I really think the big issue that’s getting in someone’s way when they say “I can’t afford it” – is that they don’t recognize the value of these experiences.  OR they just don’t make them priorities.


It’s really unfortunate, because I feel that these conferences will ultimately provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to make your business very successful – to the point where you don’t need any of these cost-cutting tricks.  The content that you learn will bring you more income in the following year, and will serve to PAY OFF the expense it took to attend.


Don’t let your pride get in the way of your successI’m not above any of these ideas mentioned, and I’d have no shame in experiencing it the same exact way as someone making every last penny count.  Those who would judge you deserve a slap in the face, because really – these conferences are the most valuable to the people who can benefit from the tips mentioned in this post.  You SHOULD be there, and it should be expected that someone is making these kinds of sacrifices to get to experience these events.


I’ll leave you with the tail-end of one of my favorite Dr. Suess quotes that I think of just about every day in my life:


“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”


PS – if you’re a photographer interested in attending conferences, workshops, or seminars – but don’t know where to start…I’ll be posting a comprehensive review of everything I’ve attended and all the workshops I’ve done ‘tomorrow’ on this blog.  I’ll provide brief descriptions of what each was about and hopefully you’ll find a few you can vibe with.  Email me with any questions – I’m happy to help.

PPS – if you have any other tips to share, please do so in the comments below so that others can benefit from them too!

Here’s a photo I took of Matt Ebenezer during his talk at Canada Photo Convention last week.  His talk, as well as our conversations we’ve had outside of conferences have made a tremendous impact on my business.


Twyla - Tim, this is great – but you didn’t include bed and breakfasts other than AirBnB! In Canada at least, they are cheaper than hotels, include food and often some lovely conversation, and often you can split them multiple ways. Also, is a fantastic resource that not everyone knows about – that’s a place free accommodation and I’ve hosted and surfed plenty. It’s very safe and a great resource.April 29, 2014 – 1:30 pm

Cory Robbins - Hey Tim, I’ve been really trying to get back into photography for the past couple years now, and I have not spent enough time researching any workshops (or attending any at that matter). Just finding the time between learning the basics (taking phot101), and finding time to get good practice in, its difficult to see myself going on a four day adventure while working a normal 9-5′r and all. But in spite of all that, I know there are some good local workshops here in San Diego you are aware of and I will definitely look into those. Your article was very helpful in the sense that workshops, seminars, etc. are probably often times easily over looked, or underestimated, and it really was helpful… Good read, and inspiring like always! We met years ago at State, and still wish I took you up on that flag football invite… and I almost jumped on that little road trip to Mexico… maybe we will bump into each other at one of these seminars someday. Thanks for sharing!April 28, 2014 – 6:06 am

Steph MacKinnon - Great article Tim! I met you briefly 2 years ago at the 1st Canada Photo Convention in Vancouver. Would love to hear your thoughts on all the conferences you’ve attended as always want to go to the best of the best and interested in your perspective. Keep up the great work. Sincerely, StephApril 27, 2014 – 11:22 am

Lee - Hey Tim, Thanks for this post. Defintely does helpApril 27, 2014 – 10:49 am

Tracey - Great advice Tim! I am looking to network with other photographers and I think attending conferences is the perfect opportunity for that. Looking forward to your next blog on that. Thank you for your willingness to help others succeed! Very much appreciated :)April 27, 2014 – 6:28 am

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