Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chris's NYC Photo Plus Expo guide for 1st timers...

So it is October... and with that it is almost time for the annual Photo Plus Expo held at the Javits center in NYC! This is the MUST-GO-TO event for photographers in the area. It is the best opportunity you will have during the year to shop, learn, network, and over all move forward in your craft and push your business.

If you have never been to this event you absolutely MUST go. Going to my first expo is what made me realize how huge the photo industry was and how much there was to do with it. My casual client work turned into a full blown business in just a few months after that.. and every year that we have gone since has helped drive me forward one way or another.

Now.. I know from Facebook conversations that there are a few people who plan to go for the 1st time this year. To help you all I have written up some things of what to actually expect and some pointers on how to take full advantage. Remember.. this is the only expo of this size in the area and it is only done once per year... take FULL advantage of it! :)

Firstly.. every single major manufacture of camera gear will be there, and they will have on display everything they sell. Canon, Nikon, and Sony always have GINORMOUS booths. They have every single camera body there for you to handle, use, and ask questions about. Every lens in their inventory is on display. For canon they always have a 2nd huge booth for their printer technology. Nikon always has a stage where they have leading industry people speak on various topics. Sony does similar things, and Olympus is kinda an also-ran with a smaller booth. The other lesser volume brands are there but with smaller displays.

If you are in the market for anything.. tripod, camera bag, or whatever.. this is the hands down best place to shop. You can bounce from brand to brand handling the products and ask questions. I have always thought this process was great for camera bags and cases since all of the major brands are there (Lowepro, Tamrac, etc etc) and they literally have every single bag out on display where you can grab it and mess around with it. Once you pick out what you want you can head over to the B&H order desk and place your order.. usually with a show discount, inexpensive shipping, and zero tax unless you are shipping to NY. Adorama, Unique, and others are there as well with the same deal. So definitely bring $$ with you if you actually looking to buy. (Credit card, AND some cash... )

In addition to camera gear, there are booths for just about anything you want or need for a studio.. lighting, modifiers, stands.. you name it. If you are unfamiliar with this stuff this is a great place to learn. Many of the booths have displays of their equipment setup as they would in a studio, and they even have demonstrations with models shooting standard head shots, 3/4 length shots, and so on. (more on that later)

Computer software and hardware is also very prominent. Adobe has a HUGE booth with a stage for demonstrations and speakers. NIK, OnOne, and others are always there. The big thing, once again, is demonstrations. For the hardware you are looking mostly at storage solutions, memory cards, readers, and a few input devices.

For studio products obviously the major labs are there (WHCC, MPIX, National, etc), and about a zillion photo album makers. Other booths are for the photo product sellers like jewelry, novelties, fancy wall mounts, and just about anything else you can make or print photos on (metal, acrylic, etc). There are also handfuls of manufacturing equipment makers if you were really interested in mass producing the photo crystals and the like.

Companies offering services are also at the expo.. things like web hosting, online shopping carts, backup solutions, stock photo, marketing and promotion, and customer management...

Three other things I will mention as far as who is at the expo hall....
First... One of the other great things to shop for at the expo are props and backdrops. Backdrop Outlet, one of my favorite vendors for that stuff, always has a huge selection of stuff at discount prices. They always bring a boatload of props and sell them first come first serve... 

Another thing.. the expo hall always has a large selection of start-ups offering the latest "must have" gadgets or problem solvers. Definitely plan on spending some time checking that stuff out.. you never know what you will find.. but don't just rush out and give them money at the show. Do some research first because you just may see there is something similar out there which is less expensive to obtain. 

Finally... the expo is a place, above all else, to be INSPIRED. Don't just focus on the equipment and shopping.. also look at all the photographic work being displayed.. (especially in the printer booths.. Canon, Epson, HP..). There is a TON of awesome stuff to look which (At least for me) helps spur my creativity and gives me ideas of what to try over the next year.

Another big part of the expo is education. There are a TON of seminars which are given every day on every topic imaginable. Photography, Lighting, Business, Creativity, Photo manipulation, and so on. These are all taught by industry pros or other notables. Unfortunately they also cost $$. I have attended a few and can tell you that your mileage may vary with each one. The seminars I think fall into two different categories:
1) Strict how-to based off of a lesson plan offered in the speaker's latest book.
2) The speaker basically goes through their latest book or their latest work, presenting it while discussing the topic at hand, then opens up the floor to questions which *usually* fill in the blanks.

Both formats are good.. but it really is speaker dependent on if you will get your money's worth. I have had good and bad.

Now.. here is the secret with the show.. you do NOT have to pay $$ to learn! On the expo floor at least 50% of the booths have some kind of demonstrations going on. Most of the major booths have full blown stages and presentation areas. Most of it, obviously, is geared toward getting you excited about the products they sell and (of course) encourage you to buy them. Whether you use it or not, or plan to use it or not, it makes no difference.. you WILL learn something.

Another very cool thing is many of the booths setup opportunities to do some shooting. I've seen BMX tricks done in a half-pipe setup by Nikon (to promote their sport shooting gear), Models doing full blown body painting demonstrations (yes.. topless) at the Unique booth, and mock fashion shows where you can stand there like a real fashion photographer shooting the models on the runways. You never know what you are going to see.

Some tips:
  1. Get there EARLY and plan on spending the entire day even if you only plan on doing the expo floor. If you can, and especially if you have lots to do, consider a 2nd day.
  2. Prepare ahead of time... Make sure you review the list of booths on the expo web site and make a rough plan on who you are most interested in. Take into account what you may be shopping for..  make a list of topics you are interested in and things you want to know more about. Use that as a driver to focus you on the right booths, and the right demonstrations.
  3. First order of business should be to get a lay of the land and identify which booths will have demonstrations and speakers... make a plan to attend as much as possible. You may be able to get that info off the various web sites but usually it is only avail at the show. 
  4. Be on the look out for some notables in the industry talking/teaching for free.. Rick Sammon, Scott Kelby, and others are regulars but sometimes only appear ONCE. Don't miss it. (especially check out the NIK and Unique Photo schedules...)
  5. IF you are in the market for props etc get to Backdrop Outlet's booth ASAP and preferably on the 1st day of the expo. Most of the good props on display will be gone very quickly (you can still order and have them ship it to you though).
  6. Bring your camera! But don't bring a huge bag with you. Walking around the floor you will not be able to get around easily with a big backpack or shoulder bag.
  7. When looking at the non-free seminars.. factor in bang for your buck when deciding what to go to. Remember that Unique photo runs many similar classes at their facilities in NJ.. and consider that most of the time these seminars are primarily a vehicle for the speaker to sell more copies of their book(s).
  8. factor some time in to smell the roses and take in all the work hung up on the various walls..
  9. As much as you may have the urge to wait in the long line at the Canon booth to put your hands on a $8000 1Ds your time may be better spent elsewhere. Leave stuff like that to the end after you have achieved your goals. Remember to stay focused.. put your energy and time into the things that are important and will push you ahead in your business and/or craft. This is a once-per-year event and nothing else comes close... MAKE THE MOST OF IT! :)