How to Host a Meetup – Part 1

As photographers, it seems like a lot of the work we do, we work alone.

So, where do we go for inspiration, and to improve our craft?

The internet has been a huge boost to education for the introverted – they can go online, and get any number of “experts” to tell them everything under the sun.   It seems like everybody is an online expert these days (examines navel momentarily), and the good, old-fashioned “let’s meet in person” concept is from bygone days.

No more, I say!   Let us meet!

I have hosted several meetups here in my local area for photographers; I thought I’d share a bit about what goes into a meetup, how to host a meetup, and how to make sure it’s successful.

First, a meetup is a gathering of like-minded people.   In my case, I was getting photographers together, to do a photo shoot.

Why would I do this?   Well, to be honest, I like working with other photographers to see what they will come up with, given that we have a similar situation in front of us.   We are confronted with the same model, the same location, and (usually) have access to the same equipment (lights, camera capabilities, etc.).

I have been honestly astounded with some of the results that people have gotten from the same situations.   They have different eyes, different creative processes, and different visual memories – so they come up with different shots.

So, what does it take?

An Organizer. I belong to a couple of flickr forums that are “local” (all of the photographers are in the same geographic location).   One day, I saw a message that said something along the lines of “somebody should host a meetup”¦” and that little light went on.   “I can do this!”   “Yes, you can.” – came back the chorus.   Another possibility is

I happened to attend a meetup before I got into organizing my own.   Basically, somebody decided a location, and a bunch of photographers showed up, and stood around, and looked a bit awkward, until they split off and started taking pictures.   There was no direction, no goal”¦   I happened to bring a photographer friend, so we took turns taking pictures of each other.   That was “¦ inadequate and unsatisfying.   I wanted to take pictures like Don Giannatti takes ( or Kirk Tuck (   I realized I wasn’t going to get those kinds of pictures unless I could get more attractive people in front of my camera.   (In defense of my friend, he felt the same way about me.)

So, I decided to host a model shoot.   I really wanted a place I could play with Zack Arias’ seamless white setup ( so I knew I needed a high ceiling.   I also wanted to experiment with several different people, and see how people, lighting, lens selections, distance from model to photographer all worked.   It was better for me to host a meetup, and have a wide variety of people on hand, than to try and schedule a bunch of different models to come in one-hour blocks.

I found this building locally that was under construction – the roof was closed in, most of the windows were there, but the inside was a big empty shell.   It took some shoe leather to find the owner, but once I did, he was cool with the idea (for a fee, of course).

Next, I needed:

A Theme. I decided to just make this “a model shoot” – and I advertised that I was going to have the white seamless set up, as well.   A theme is a great idea – it will tie together stuff, and give people a goal for shooting.   I’ve done meetups with “bridal / trash the dress”, Victorian, and I’m doing one in May at the Eastern State Penitentiary.

Now, I had to advertise and find:

The Photographers. I basically dropped a note in a couple of the local flickr forums, stating what I was doing, where I was doing it (I posted scouting photos, so people could see that it was a cool place to shoot, so they could see themselves getting great shots there).   I also put up a link on my own website / blog, with a Paypal link to that people could pay.   (One of the bonuses of using Paypal is that you get real names and email addresses for all the people who pay, instead of cryptic flickr names.)

I determined the cost by adding up all the expenses, then dividing by the number of people I expected to come.

Expenses include:

  • location fee
  • make up artist (MUA) – more on this later
  • food
  • insurance (Certificate Of Insurance for the property owner)

I included food as part of the day – remember to get enough food for the photographers, the models, AND the models’ escorts – there should always be plenty of food and water, and people don’t feel bad about taking some stuff for the trip home.   I scheduled the shoot from noon to 8, and stated I’d be providing bottled water all day, and the food would arrive about 4.   People got the hint and ate lunch before they came.   At another meetup where we were traveling to different locations throughout the day, I used Panera, I passed out order forms, they filled out what they wanted, and the food met us at a pre-determined location at lunch time.   That worked out really well – Panera has great vegetarian selections.

Limit the number of photographers.   Start your meetups small, then as you gain experience, increase the size.   A 3 to 1 ratio of photographers to models is good.

The Models. After asking around, I was told that model mayhem ( was the place to go to find models.   (It takes a couple of days to get approved, so don’t wait until the last minute to sign up.)   I was lucky to have images in my portfolio that were “attractive” to models (I had taken Don Giannatti’s amazing workshop on lighting) – so I searched based on zip code, and basically went down the list looking at the various portfolios, picked out those profiles that I liked, and sent a message like this:

Hello …

I really like your look, and I was looking for an opportunity for us to work together.

I’m organizing a photographer / model meetup for Saturday September 27th, from noon to 9 p.m. in Frederick, MD. It’s an amazing location.

We are offering TFCD to all models. We will have an MUA.

The last meetup we did was amazing – lots of great glamour style pictures. One photographer even brought a wedding dress. This one is going to be even bigger – with a large variety of setups, models, and photographers.

Here’s pictures of the location:

[I included a link to a flickr gallery with a bunch of scouting pictures]

I expect up to 15 photographers to come – so you could get a lot of different pictures for your portfolio in a short period of time.

I’m telling the models to bring different outfits, there will be several different photographers, so you will get a wide range of looks, photos, poses from this.

We are not fussy on clothing – I’d recommend several different outfits, ranging from casual to club wear. No nudity. We’re willing to work with you, if there’s a particular look you’d like to add to your portfolio.

We will also be working with a large white seamless, like this:

This could be huge exposure for you – you’d get to network, and meet a lot of local people.

Free food for models and their escorts.

Send email to [email protected] if you are interested.

Bill Millios
MM # 623705

(Note that Model Mayhem is Not Safe For Work viewing, and may even offend some people.   Explicit images are commonplace.)

I also forwarded this to the various photographers who signed up, in case they had friends or knew models who might be interested in participating.   A few of the photographers brought models they knew, so that helped.   I let models come for free.   (I’ve heard of other meetup organizers who charged the models.)   I also encouraged them to bring escorts (some models will test you, asking “Can I bring an escort” – if you say no, they won’t show).   I always encourage the escorts because then we have additional people to hold the lights, if needed.   Usually they wise up within the first couple of hours, and disappear for the rest of the day, but at least we got a little work out of them, right?

TFCD (or TFP) means Time For CD – means they show up in exchange for a CD of images.   Most models will also accept an online gallery with download capabilities instead of a real CD.

The Make Up Artist. Several of the models I contacted had “MUA required” in their profiles.   Now, personally, I don’t see why women who put makeup on their own face every day need a MUA unless we’re doing something weird or different (and there’s plenty of that on Model Mayhem).   I was looking for simple, clean, pretty.   But, I realized that there’s a psychological component to this – it’s not all about how I think they look, but how they think other people think they look.   An MUA makes sure they’re looking good .. and the models feel better.   This shows in the pictures.

I found the MUA through a local cosmetology school.   A “regular” MUA could be a couple of hundred bucks a day – I found an advanced student who would come for $75, which basically covered her kit fee, and her time.   I also promised she’d get copies of all the photos (this is standard) as well as a new head shot for her online portfolio.

If you don’t have a local cosmetology school, then Model Mayhem will also allow you to find MUAs.

Next – the food, the gear, the instructions, and more”¦

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