WPPI 2013 Recap


This past week I attended, for the first time, an annual photography conference called WPPI which stands for Wedding & Portrait Photography (not sure what the I is for) in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel. The conference and classes run just over a week long and I was there for about 3 1/2 days.

The conference offers a variety of classes and an expo area that allows for vendors big and small to come and show their stuff.  The expo filled two halls and has big names like Nikon, Canon, etc. and the other hall had smaller vendors with a lot of gadgets and equipment to drool over.   

Four takeaways from WPPI: 

  1. Work hard.  You get out what you put into your business.
  2. Network like crazy.  This is a referral-based industry.
  3. Use your time efficiently. Automate what you can and redirect the new time to building your business.
  4. Believe you can do it.  

Here's a recap of how I spent my time at WPPI: 
Going to Market: Maximizing Portrait and Wedding Profits, Dane Sanders
Dane is a family portrait photographer out of Orange County, CA.  He's also a teacher, author and founder of a Facebook group I've become pretty active in called "Better Together".  The premise being that we're better together as photographers vs. trying to go it alone.  

In his talk, he went over the sales process from campaign to connection to the client and walked through step-by-step how he handles the end-to-end workflow.  He also talked about a popular topic among photographers which is, how to exploit what's unique about you when everyone seems to have a camera these days.  This should allow you to attract the clients you want and repel the ones you don't. Very nice session and a good way to kick off the conference for me.  

From Start to Finish: The Contemporary Portrait Shoot, Tamara Lackey
Tamara focuses mostly on children and families.  Similar structure to Dane's class but very different sessions.  Tamara has a great energy about her and gave a really nice walk through of a day in the life on a shoot with children.  On the business side of things, these are points I noted:  

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

How to Avoid What Most Small Businesses Do - Fail, Zach & Jody Gray
Zach & Jody are a couple that I've known about for a few years now.  They are a married couple that focuses on the wedding market.  I first saw them on a DVD where they were talking about lighting, posing and editing techniques they use in their business. They are fun to watch, listen to and learn from.  They seem to actually practice what they preach. Novel idea, right?

For this session, they gave an overview of how they structure their business.  Here's an outline of their framework: 

  1. Purpose - What is your vision, mission, values and goals?
  2. Brand - All aspects of your business (visual and otherwise) should resonate a consistent experience for your client that support your purpose.  Its more than just marketing.
  3. Sales - Qualify the client, build rapport, educate and close the deal.
  4. Systems - Set up processes and environments that allow you to be consistent and efficient.
  5. Momentum - Focused intensity + Time = Momentum
  6. Belief - Our only limitations are the ones you set on yourself.  Believe you can do it and you will!

For me, Sunday was about: 

  1. Figure out the purpose of your business
  2. Exploit what's unique about you throughout the business
  3. Believe you can do it and don't let anything stop you

Get Lit "Live", Dixie Dixon 
Dixie is out of Dallas (I think) and shoots fashion and commercial work.  I feel more and more like this is the type of work I want to shoot more of.  Since I had a shoot planned for later in the day, I was only able to stay for a short time.  One take-away was that I heard her say she makes sure to set a nice atmosphere for everyone on set and builds a connection with the model and other crew which helps her produce the type of images she's enjoys.

Photo Shoot in the desert
As soon as I knew I was going to this show, I started to put together concepts for a shoot and scouting for models and make-up artists (MUA).  The day didn't exactly go as planned but what day ever does.  

I rented a car because it seemed that I was the only one with transportation.  I arranged for Enterprise to "pick me up" but they were running late and it seemed to be how the whole day went for me.  I got to the model, Meli, about an hour later than I hoped.  We then drove to the MUA, Summer, but her place was in the opposite direction of where we were shooting.  By the time we left Summer's place, it was close to the original time I thought we would be finishing the whole shoot.

On the upside, once we arrived on set, it was exactly what I was hoping for.  We got there around 1:30 and shot until close to 4pm. This unfortunately, meant that I was going to miss a class I thought I'd have time for in the afternoon back at the conference.  

I dropped the model and her husband off at their place, grabbed something to eat, drove to return the lens I rented from a local shop, got the car washed since it was pretty dirty from being in the desert and then dropped the car off.   Well, almost.  One thing I forgot to mention was that I brought the car USB charger for the phone from home but forgot to bring it out with me that day.  So, because I was using navigation on the phone, it takes up more battery than normal use.  By the end of the day, I was out of battery.  I was completely out of battery just before I returned the car.  I ended up returning it to the airport with about 15 minutes to spare before I would have been charged for another car rental day.  I caught a cab back to the hotel at a few minutes after 6.  Here's one image from the day.  More to come soon. 

Dinner at Diego's mexican restaurant
Someone was nice enough to arrange for a dinner for a large group and part of why I was at this conference was to network.  I was running late from dropping off the car but was determined to get to this dinner.  There were about 15 people there.  We had a nice time chatting it up about the work we do and getting to know each other.

Retouching & Enhancing Techniques: Instant, Easy and Useful, Jack Davis
I attended two retouching/editing classes.  This one was great.  The other one, not so much.  Jack's tools of choice are Lightroom & Photoshop.  I've mainly used Aperture for my editing to date but have been curious about Lightroom since many use it.  He switched between the two and had such a great, quick way of explaining and demonstrating technique.  Something he emphasized throughout the session was to create presets and automate as much as possible.  I'm a big fan of this as well and I need to do more of it.  It also goes with a common emphasis of finding ways to be efficient.

Visit the expo
I had a few goals in walking through the expo.  First, I wanted to just take it all in.  I also wanted to spend some time at the Nikon booth and talk a bit about video.  I had a nice conversation with a rep at Nikon that was helpful.  I also wanted to visit a friend of mine, Mike S., that I've shot with before.  He was exhibiting with his wife on a photo booth and software they've built.  This has been an area of interest for me as well.  It seemed like they had some good activity at the booth and they had Elvis with them as well.  I hope they got some good traffic.


I also sat in on a couple sessions in the Expo.  I hadn't heard Kevin Kabota speak before but he had some interesting work to shot and lots of simple and inexpensive ways to be successful on set.  One funny example that comes to mind was to use a battery charged leaf blower to create the wind-blown look for a model.  That's thinking out of the box.  I love when behind the scene's shots are shared.  It gives you a sense of how different you can make something look with light and some simple tools.

Finally, I attended an expo talk by Vanessa & Rob on their "Same Day Edit Workflow".  Pretty impressive the amount of stuff she gets done on the night of the wedding thanks mostly to an efficient system and help from an assistant.  There are a bunch of practical take-away's from this session for me.

Bridal Show 101 for Photographers, Dawn Shields
The last session I sat in on before heading to the airport was about how to be successful at Bridal Shows.  She had done lots of interviews with brides as they walked through a bridal show and then interviewed them for feedback on the photographers booth, what they liked, or didn't like about the overall experience. She also had lots of statistics that really helped if you were going to dive into this world.  Very informative.

Lots of stuff going on and so much to see and do.  A friend of mine that I used to work with, Gary Cirlin, was also there and since it was my first time, he warned me over dinner that I will likely leave with a mixed set of emotions that would be a little anxious, excited, inspired and frustrated all at the same time.  He was right.

Many things about the conference were great but there are a few things I would do differently next time.

  1. Stay closer.  I was staying in the MGM but it was a 15 minute walk from my room to the classes.  There are rooms that were much closer but I didn't realize that until I was there.
  2. Get a roommate.  Not sure about this one but I would consider it to save money. Vegas is more expensive than NYC for some things. 
  3. Stay longer.  I think one more day would have been useful for me.
  4. More networking!

Can't wait to go back again next year.

Update: I just came across this video that was done by StillMotion last year that gives a good sense of what its like to be at WPPI from the exhibiter's perspective. -> http://vimeo.com/37354985