For anyone who is serious about pursuing photography as a career, attending at least one WPPI convention is a must. Held annually at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, it is the biggest gathering of wedding and portrait photographers in the world, and of course, comes complete with an all star line-up of celebrity photographers.
While it’s fun and educational, it can also be quite overwhelming. Here are some of my takeaways for those planning to attend in the future (especially for those looking to not blow a lot of money):
Register early, there’s an early bird special. Register with other photographers as each registration comes with a full access guest pass (2 for 1 basically), and each guest pass after that is only $150. Or you can always sell your guest pass to offset your cost.
If you’re in driving distance to Las Vegas, drive. It’s great to have a car while you’re there. This allows you to stay a bit further away from MGM, where the hotels are more reasonably priced, but still be able to get to the Convention Center easily. The Riviera, Circus Circus, the Stratosphere, and Rio all have nice rooms, are a bit further up the Strip and are a fraction of the cost of MGM ($30-50s v. $150-200s). I haven’t done the math, but perhaps renting a car while there is worth it too. Aside from MGM, the Excalibur and Luxor are also in walking distance. Room with friends and/or other photogs if possible.
Las Vegas is in the desert so it’s fairly hot in the middle of the day but very cold in the mornings and evenings, so dress accordingly. I was freezing the first two days and eventually dug out my pashmina scarf from the bottom of my suitcase and kept it with me. Wear comfortable shoes, you’ll be walking a bit.
Keep a supply of snacks on you during the day to keep your energy up. MGM’s food court, restaurants, and buffet is a bit of a hike from the main Convention area (and pricey unless you’re eating fast food). WPPI does provide dinner (at least every night I was there).
Full registration comes with access to all the Platform Classes, these are held in very big rooms with hundreds of people. Master Classes, PLUS Classes, and WPPI U are all additional, but done in much smaller classroom settings. I only attended Platform classes so I’ll just speak to those.
There are huge differences in quality between the various Platform Classes so definitely spend some time doing your research on the speakers. Some speakers just end up giving a sales pitch, luckily I was able to avoid those. SLR Lounge did a great review of the speakers from WPPI 2010 that I found to be very helpful. You’re allowed to pre-board for five classes which guarantees you a spot, and I ended up switching all five of my classes a week before the event after a bit of research, and I was pretty happy with the classes I attended.
Sue Bryce did an amazing talk on her marketing strategy and how she built up her business in the first year, and delved into very specific business tactics she implemented to create the best possible experience for her clients. She was the only speaker I saw who received a standing ovation at the end, and it was well deserved. She’s also hilarious.
Suzette Allen did a very helpful demonstration of Photoshop tricks. All her tutorials can be found here.
Dane Sanders and Colleen Wainwright both talked about competing in today’s economy and the use of various social media platforms. While the information wasn’t entirely novel to me because I’ve been following the writings of Seth Godin for years, and his philosophy was central to both their presentations, the classes themselves were still well worth the time. (Seriously though, read Seth’s works.)
I also really enjoyed presentations by Jerry Ghionis, Jasmine Star, Joe Buissink, and Jason Groupp (basically if their name starts with “J”, you’re good).
The amount of information thrown out is immense and you quickly realize that every photographer has his or her own philosophy towards their art and business, and often contradict each other. For most people there, the goal is to just walk out of each class with 1-2 actionable takeaways.
The trade show can be extremely overwhelming, and most photographers advise going in with a very specific shopping list and sticking to it. I didn’t really need to buy anything specific so wasn’t swept up by the shopping frenzy, instead I used it as a way to get a thorough overview of the products and services available to me. There are some good deals to be found at the trade show, so if you are on the market for certain items, this could be a good place to get them, but do your research.
In addition, many photographers and speakers do mini presentations on the trade show floor. Since I missed some classes due to a conflict in schedule with other classes I wanted to attend, I was able to catch a few condensed versions at the trade show.
Jesh de Rox actually skipped presenting a class altogether this year and just did small demonstrations at the trade show, and he was amazing! He demonstrated a technique he developed over the last few years called ‘Beloved’, where he gave people prompts that encouraged them to access their real emotions in front of the camera. He took volunteers from the audience and had them laughing and crying in the middle of a Las Vegas trade show floor, it was incredible.
Overall, WPPI was a great experience and I came away with many ideas that I want to put into action.
“There are no such thing as perfect pictures, only perfect moments” – Joe Buissink