How to Prep & What to Pack for Inspire Photo Retreats

December through April are the “off-season” months for wedding photographers in New England – a time to slow down, take a breath after a killer season and then start gearing up and preparing for what’s ahead. This time of year is also what I like to call conference and retreat season which I love tremendously (and not just because I run a pretty fantastic retreat this time of year). Since it’s a slower time for me, I like to search out opportunities for me to learn, network and prepare for the future of my business to make me a better photographer and a better business owner.

One of my absolute favorite photography retreats is Inspire Photo Retreats in Newport, Rhode Island and ever since my first year in 2014, it has been a necessary part of my business to block off the time to attend. The impact this New England photography conference has made on my business and personal life have been tremendous from the start and it just gets better and stronger every year. I learn from some amazing and talented people in smaller classroom settings (my style), chat one-on-one with my favorite vendors (who remember my name), and connect with some of the best people who have easily become lifelong friends that I know have got my back.

As the time to pack my bags and prepare for this year’s Inspire draws near, I wanted to share with you all some of my tips on how to prepare and what to pack for this incredible retreat workshop, so here goes!

How to Prepare for Inspire

  • Extend your stay to Sunday-Thursday
    • Honestly, this is one of my biggest pieces of advice. While the retreat may “officially” be from Monday-Wednesday, it starts bright and early Monday and is jam packed all the way through Wednesday. After my first year attending, I realized I was far too rushed in the beginning and far too exhausted at the end to have any desire to leave as swiftly as possible. Ever since then, I’ve checked in on Sunday so I can settle in at my leisure and checked out on Thursday so I can relax and rest up before the ride home. Plus, hanging out with the folks who are the last around is pretty neat.
  • Be sure to sign up for a Monday Intensive Class
    • At Inspire, the price you pay to attend includes attendance to any and all classes which is pretty great – there is no extra fee to attend a Monday Intensive. These classes are the longest classes at Inspire and focus on some pretty great hands-on learning and experiences. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to look into the available classes and sign up for your favorite. It’s important to know that these classes can fill up, so signing up when they are first released will definitely give you a better shot at getting into your top choice.
  • Don’t feel like you always have to be attending a class
    • There are so many great classes every year, but another great thing about Inspire is the flexibility. You don’t have to attend a class just because you feel you need to be learning. There will be all kinds of opportunities to learn outside of the classroom as people organize spontaneous sessions and put together plans for hands-on learning on-the-spot. If you need time to process something you just learned in a previous class and don’t see a class in the next set that you really want to go to, then definitely take that time to process and work through what you’ve been learning. It’s not very often once you return to your own office that you’ll have such uninterrupted time to plan things out while also still having the folks you learned from on hand if you have any questions. There are also portfolio reviews and mentoring going on constantly, so you can always take part in one of those great things as well!
  • Sign up for mentoring and/or portfolio reviews
    • This is an amazing opportunity to sit down with some knowledgeable peers in the business to soak up their knowledge and experience in an extremely small setting (a max of 5 people). There will be mentors available on all different types of subjects and some will also be doing portfolio reviews. If you can’t fit everything in during the set mentoring time that will be on the schedule, there will definitely be people around who will happily make the time for portfolio reviews or mentoring.
  • Join the Inspire Alumni Facebook Group
    • This group will be the mobile communication hub while at Inspire. In addition to the billboard that they will have on site, this Facebook group is the best place to find last minute roommates, to hear about impromptu mentoring or workshops, to find some evening plans or some new friends to go into Newport with. If you want to be keyed in to all the non-scheduled happenings and take advantage of the full Inspire experience, this is where you need to be.

What to Pack for Inspire

  • Comfy shoes – there’s just a bit of walking, so definitely let yourself be comfy. And heck yes, Inspire throws a dance party or two in the evenings and it’s definitely worth having shoes you are super down with dancing in!
  • Slippers – I’m a huge fan of comfy feet and while I’d rather be barefoot, cold feet are a real struggle and walking barefoot through a hotel is usually frowned upon. Don’t be surprised to see other folks in their cozy slippers walking around later in the evening, either!
  • Snacks – for the munchies in between meals. There are vending machines, a Starbucks in the hotel and there are some snacks here and there in the conference center, but having some of your own will be hugely beneficial. I usually bring some granola bars, grape tomatoes, celery sticks and peanut butter (there are tiny refrigerators in the rooms).
  • Reusable water bottle – there are places in the conference center to fill up.
  • Thermos – there’s hot coffee and hot water for tea available in the mornings as well as coffee makers in the hotel rooms.
  • Business cards – you’ll be networking, yes, but there are also giveaways and it makes it much easier to toss your business card in than write down all your information.
  • Sweaters/sweatshirts – hotel temperatures are usually on the colder side, so be prepared for being chilly in some classes.
  • Notebook – I honestly do recommend a notebook even if you intend to bring a laptop or tablet. Being able to doodle and chart out things can often be more beneficial than typing it all out.
  • Camera gear – besides the opportunities to shoot, there will be on-site cleaning and calibration that is totally worth taking advantage of.
  • Portfolio (printed or digital) – there will be countless opportunities to have your portfolio reviewed and I highly recommend it!
  • Business plan – whether you’ve started it, completed it or never put pen to paper, Inspire is the perfect opportunity to work on your business plan and the future goals of your business. Some of the classes you take are going to open your mind in ways you didn’t think possible and you are going to be ready to go with planning out the steps to achieve everything you envision for your business. Definitely have this on hand!
  • Headphones – not all of your time will be spent in class, and if you’re like me you work best when listening to your jams (not hotel tunes).
  • Moisturizing lotion – because hotel air systems are dry as all get out and having dry, itchy skin is no fun.
  • Onesie or Footie PJs – okay, so this isn’t hugely necessary, but a group of us bring our footies and chill from time to time, usually Tuesday night or, for those who stay til Thursday, Wednesday night, and you totally want to be part of that crew!

The countdown is on for this year’s Inspire so I’m going to go get a start on my own packing! Hopefully this list has helped you get ready and feel slightly more prepared for 3 (or 5) days of incredibly awesome learning, networking and community. If you want to learn more about Inspire Photo Retreats, head to and I hope to see you there in the coming years!

  • Kathleen Porter

    Was searching for what to pack and found your list! Thanks Hilary! While I don’t have footie pjs, I’ll be bringing my fave slippers for sure. See you soon!

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