How to Host a Meetup – Part 2

In my previous post, I explained about why meetups were a great idea, and gave the preliminary steps for setting one up.

Let’s continue, after the jump.

The Food. Now that I’ve done this a few times, here’s what I’ve learned.

  • You need to have plenty – so buy stuff where leftovers won’t spoil
  • Costco is your friend (Or Sam’s or BJ’s, you get the idea.)
  • Hot food on a cold day is really a good idea.   One of my shoots was unexpectedly a bit chilly (cloudy and overcast).   I had two crockpots, one with chili and another with a vegetarian pototo soup that were very popular.
  • You need to feed the vegetarians.   When you make the Paypal button for people to pay, add in a drop-down selection box that asks if people are vegetarians.   I also include a “comment” box, so people can say things like, “can’t eat dairy products”, or whatever.   Some people, for example, belong to cultures that will eat meat, but exclude pork.
  • Lots of fruit is good – apples, bananas, and grapes work well.   Oranges, not so good.
  • Costco has good “salad kits” – everything you need is in a single bag.   These are popular.
  • Assume 2-3 bottles of water for each person.   I buy 4 per person, just in case.   Sometimes people will take a bottle for the drive home – I encourage this
  • Cookies and M&Ms round out the day.   (Never had a complaint about offering cookies.   I get the nicer cookies, and get a selection.)

The Gear. With anything more than 2 photographers, you’re going to have a lot of gear.   If you can get the group talking to each other about who’s bringing what gear, then there’s going to be a lot more fun on the day of the shoot.   If someone has something special – a Vagabond, a beauty dish, or is setting up something like a big white seamless, then try to make sure everybody gets to see it, and try it if they want.   (The big white seamless is a party maker.   Great fun.   It’s almost impossible to get a bad shot once the lighting is dialed in and the exposure is set.)

The Instructions. Make sure people have a cell number, so they can call if they get lost.   I actually tend to ask someone else to be the contact number, because I’m handling a lot of other stuff that day.   That works out well.   Especially make sure that everybody has the address, directions, and the expectations for the day.

The Insurance. Many venues will require you to have a $1 million Certificate Of Insurance policy for that day for the shoot.   This is available through a large number of providers.   If you do not have business insurance (and you should!) – then contact the provider of your home insurance.   If you have no other insurance, then a one-day policy could cost approximately $250-400 depending on where you live, who the provider is, etc.

Two to Three Days Before. Make sure everybody is reminded, they have directions, they have all the information they need, etc.

The Day. As people arrive, greet them.   Steer photographers to a place where they can unload their gear.   Steer models toward a place where they can put their clothes, and change.   Make sure everybody knows where the bathroom is, and where the bottled water is.   If you’re in a non-obvious location, or something that has a series of shoot locations, then a tour for the photographers is good.   Specifically state any off-limit areas, or concerns.

Then shoot, and have fun!

Tips for success:

It’s a really good idea to state something like “Payment is non-refundable, but is transferable” on the meetup announcement page.   My first meetup, I had to refund several registrations because people just didn’t show up, demanded a refund later (usually with a lie big dramatic story about why they blew it off couldn’t show up), and I didn’t have a “policy” in place.   This messes up the budget and denies other photographers the chance to participate.

A “no sniping” rule is a good thing.   This is when one photographer will set up the lights, or set up a shot, and another photographer will shoot over their shoulder.   This is disconcerting to the model (they lose the rhythm of the shoot, their eyes are bouncing back and forth between photographers), and it’s rude to the primary.   Some people will even get on the same channel of your wireless trigger, and steal your lights – which results in missed flashes, and messed up shots.   Instead, appoint a bouncer to pound on people teach people to wait until the primary has got their shot, and ask if they can borrow their setup.   Most folks will agree.

The flip side of this is “don’t hog the lights”.   Encourage people to work in small groups, and agree beforehand on how long a “rotation” should be – 3, 5, 7 minutes?   Give each person in the group a chance to shoot.

Control the photographer to model ratio.   You don’t want photographers standing around too long waiting to shoot.   You don’t want models standing around with nobody to take pictures of them.   A 3 to 1 ratio (photographers to models) seems to work well for me, and the people I hang out with.

Teach photographers how to work with models.   Many beginning photographers will take shots, chimp, and just walk away.   Teach them how to engage the models.   Teach them to show the models the images on the back of the screen – the models often have NO idea what the situation looks like, they just see strobes going off.   If you can show them that they’re looking good, the images are good, they’re going to relax and things will get even better.

If the models are getting dressed in anything that takes more than 5 minutes, and/or they are getting makeup done (see comments about the MUA, above), then schedule the models to arrive AT LEAST an hour before the photographers.   At one of my recent meetups (the Victorian-themed shoot) – it was taking the models an hour to get ready – so photographers were standing around for an hour waiting.   Nobody complained – but I felt bad.   So, don’t repeat this mistake.

A great way to get a mobile dressing room is to use one of those EZ-up canopies that are available everywhere.   Get a tarp for the sides (if you get a 10×20 tarp, it will cover two sides).   Put a couple of folding chairs in there – I hate dressing rooms with no benches or chairs.

Encourage the other photographers to get on Model Mayhem.   Some models will ask, “Who are the other photographers?” – and if you can point to a few high quality portfolios in addition to your own, you’re more likely to get the better models.

Put spare AA batteries in the budget, and offer them if anybody needs it.   Nothing stops a shoot quicker than dead batteries.   Don’t pass them out like candy, but make them available if anybody needs them.

Follow up about 2 weeks after the shoot, to make sure that photographers are delivering their images.   If you get a lot of deadbeat photographers, word will get around in the modeling community, and pretty soon nobody will show up for you.   If, on the other hand, you develop a reputation for “wow, great shots, I get my images quick” – then models will seek YOU out, and want to join the next meetup.

Some people will have lots of skill, others will be beginners.   Try to play matchmaker a bit, so that the beginners can hang out with the more experienced shooters.   Encourage the experienced shooters to explain what they are doing, and allow the beginner to take shots using their setup.   I also encourage beginners to bring notepads, and maybe even a point-and-shoot camera so they can take pictures of the setup.

Encourage the beginners to bring the instruction manual for their camera!   We’ve had people show up that didn’t know how to set their camera in manual, and it was time consuming trying to figure it out.

If you can set up a mini-workshop, even a brief 30-minute description of some stuff, then the beginners will have more fun.   One that I tend to do is “How to set up a portrait with one light on the subject and one light on the background.”   Another example, if you see someone doing CLS and overpowering daylight, point it out, ask that person to explain what they are doing to the rest of the attendees who are interested.   If someone has a ring light – point it out.   Let people play!

Encourage the photographers to put their images up in flickr – and as people put pictures up, add a tag to the pictures you like.   Then the next time you host a meetup, you can key the pictures off the tag, and models can see that you’re getting great shots.   For example, I recently hosted a meetup here in Frederick, MD.   It had a Victorian theme.   This was one of the larger “productions” I’ve hosted:

You’ll see the link, and if you click through, you’ll see the tag that I used.   When I was reviewing some of the photos, I put this tag on photos I liked.   The Victorian-themed meetup had 20 photographers, and 12 models.   I was able to coordinate models, photographers, the owner of a local house that had a big role in the Civil War ( and a costume rental / designer who wanted pictures of real live people wearing her costumes.   She came and let us use the costumes for free, we got the house rental for a great deal, the photographers had a great time, and the models got shots that they would never have been able to get otherwise.

Odd props (a bright red chair, an apple) will add a lot to a photo.   Think about what you can bring that will take the image to the next level.

Remember that the main goal is to have a good time, and learn stuff.   Push the boundaries of what you think might work “¦ if it works, great, if not, now you know.

Collect all the model info, and distribute it to the photographers after the shoot, so they can send out images – either mailing out discs, or posting the images in online galleries for the models to download. Make sure you follow up with the photographers about two weeks after the shoot, to make sure they are delivering their images to the models!


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