WPPI 2011 | Las Vegas, Nevada

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Tens of thousands of photographers in Las Vegas? It must be WPPI, the annual Wedding & Portrait Photographers (International) convention. This was my first time at WPPI, and I was prepared to be completely overwhelmed and hoping to be inspired. As it turns out, inspiration trumped overwhelmed-ness, and all in all, I had a great time.

First, some images from my DSLR, which I left in our hotel room all day, so all of the images are just from in and around the hotel. The four of us (Shang Chen, Nicole Chan, Kevin Yau, and me) stayed in the Cosmopolitan, a very new, very popular hotel, since Kev wanted to rack up his Marriott points. It was a 30-minute trek over to the MGM convention center, which I didn’t really mind so much, but understandably, it’s more convenient to actually stay in the MGM where WPPI is held.

The view from our room at the Cosmo, night and day.

Roomies: Nicole Chan and Shang Chen.

A very interesting “feature” in the room: you can see the shower from the bed. I guess it goes right along with Cosmo’s motto, “just the right amount of wrong.”

The bamboo pool by night.

The Vegas strip by night.

Cosmo and Bellagio fountains.

And the iconic Cosmopolitan chandelier (on the right).

Ok, now for the good stuff. Below, a review/reflection on each of the WPPI Platform talks I attended, roughly from least favorite/useful to favorite.

1. Deanne Fitzmaurice- Storytelling: Pictures and Motion

My takeaway: Get back to my documentary roots.
Review: Deanne is a photojournalist for the SF Chronicle amongst others. She does a really good job of storytelling through her photos and multimedia presentations, but this presentation didn’t have as much practical information for applying this to weddings.
Useful Tidbits:
  • The best ticket to gaining access is being genuine and sincere.
  • For video/multimedia presentations, audio can carry the piece.

2. Elizabeth Messina- The Heart & Soul of Photography

My takeaway: Get back to your personal interests. Shoot personal projects.
Review: Elizabeth Messina is a film shooter who creates beautiful work. This presentation was mostly her showing slideshows (like 6-7 slideshows) of her work, and not as much practical information though.

3. Jason Aten- Marketing that Makes $ense

My takeaway: It’s all about your ideal client. Identify your ideal client, market to your ideal client, sell to your ideal client.
Review: Jason was actually replacing Mitch Graffe who couldn’t make it, so given the last-minute notice, Jason did a fairly good job with the presentation. But he was overly apologetic for not being Mitch, and it did seem like his presentation suffered a little from trying to fit it to what Mitch would have spoken about (top 10 promotions of all time).
Useful Tidbits:
  • Identify your ideal client- you should be able to tell their story like you’re writing a book. Jason’s ideal bride is 27-35, already owns her own home, shops at Williams Sonoma, Apple, is trendy, at the center of her social circle, and travels. Your ideal client isn’t necessarily just like you, and they aren’t necessarily your typical client right now.
  • Marketing: Send handwritten letters to other vendors,.
  • Selling: The four best words you can use: “Most of our clients ___________”.

4. Jose Villa- Fine Art Wedding Photography

My takeaway: Master your technical. Make it a part of who you are. It frees you to be as creative as possible.
Review: Jose tried to fit too much into the two hours, from technical to getting your work published, and a lot of the information was rather geared towards beginners, but his work definitely speaks for itself, and there were plenty of useful tidbits thrown in.
Useful Tidbits:
  • Don’t show anything you’re not 100% happy with.
  • Shoot for yourself.
  • Create a clean canvas for your background.
  • Tricks for posing: Tell the couple to close their eyes. Keep eyes closed! Ok, now try to find each other and kiss (giggling ensues). Or, walk and kiss simultaneously.

5. Julies Bianchi & Joy Bianchi Brown- Marketing

My takeaway: Best networking is real networking. There are lots of creative ways to market yourself collaboratively.
Review: Wow, these two twins are definitely high energy, always jumping in and talking over each other. It was a little much for me, but I can see why they’re doing well with their portrait business. Most of their promotion ideas were for family and pet portraits, but some of their points were useful for weddings too.
Useful Tidbits:
  • Partner with other vendors or community members. Work on events together, teach workshops. Cross-promote by partnering with other organizations.
  • Sales: Get rid of sales obstacles. Get rid of decision making whenever possible by eliminating choices and giving incentives for making the decision they already want to make. Know where you can afford to give more value or discounts.

6. Julieanne Kost- Lightroom 3

My takeaway: Lightroom is incredibly powerful. Learn the shortcuts and develop your workflow.
Review: Julieanne is hilarious, playing on her neuroses and having conversations with the voices in her head, while spewing useful information left and right. There was a lot of information about Lightroom packed into this platform.
Useful Tidbits:  The whole presentation was basically useful tidbits, so as an example, here were some useful shortcuts for toggling the effects of the sliders in the Develop module:
  • There are “light switches” at the top left of each panel that toggle to show or hide the effects of that panel.
  • You can reset any individual slider by double clicking its name.
  • And you can reset a whole panel by Alt-clicking.
  • A lot more information is available at her blog: http://blogs.adobe.com/jkost

7. Jonathan Canlas- Film is Not Dead

My takeaway: Get a film camera and start shooting!
Review: Jonathan is a great speaker, funny, laid back, and clearly loves film and loves getting other people to shoot it. He’s extremely transparent and loves sharing knowledge. Read the two hilarious quotes below.
Useful Tidbits:
  • Cameras: Jonathan shoots primarily with Contax 645 and 80mm/2.0 Zeiss lens. He also recommends Canon EOS3 over other Canons.
  • Film: Kodak Portra 400 and Fuji 400H.
  • Always overexpose the Fuji 400H. Kodak can be properly exposed. Meter with a handheld light meter.
  • Awesome quotes: on Kodak 100, a very saturated, vivid film. “I would not shoot this film in the winter with white people. You, white people, when it gets cold, your cheeks get rosy. This film, it’s red.”
  • On whether clients ever dislike the fact that he shoots film. “If I were a client and you told me you shoot on spam, sure. I don’t care! I love spam.”

8. Stillmotion- Storytelling

My takeaway: Think of the WHY. Make meaningful decisions and create meaningful pieces
Review: Have you ever seen a Stillmotion video? In a sea of pretty looking wedding videos and all sorts of epic shots, Stillmotion is actually telling each couple’s story, and doing it amazingly well. This is no coincidence. They are actually doing something different from all the rest. And their storytelling skills have gotten the attention of even the NFL (they shot the Superbowl this year). Does it sound like I love Stillmotion? I do.
Useful Tidbits:

  • “A wedding is nothing. People are everything.”
  • It’s predictable to document the wedding day. It’s more challenging and meaningful to tell each couple’s story.
  • Stillmotion often meets with their couples for hours to get to know them. They call them their “couples” and their “friends,” not their “clients.”
  • Videos are intensely personal, packed with quirks and symbolism specific to the couples.

Other notes:

  • Meeting other photographers in person was definitely one of the most useful parts of WPPI.
  • I ate more McDonald’s in those 4 days than in the past 4 years. All the food court options were either extremely overpriced or they were McDonald’s. So that was sad.
  • The trade show was fun. I did an excellent job of window shopping and not impulse buying. It’s given me good ideas for future investments (effort and money-wise) too.
  • Our 5:30am trek to the desert for With Etiquette’s “We Bring the Sun” concert was awesome. See my blog post here and Stillmotion’s film here.
  • Staying with friends was great. I would have been lost and sad had I come alone.
  • Verizon wins. Best service, including 3G almost everywhere. But I had to carry around my phone charger since the HTC Incredible battery dies around late afternoon every day.
  • I went to a lot of the smaller platform workshops because I had niche interests in film photography and video. I did feel like I might have missed out on some things with the most-talked-about platforms by Jesh De Rox and Jerry Ghonis, for instance. But you can’t see everything at WPPI, so in the end, I’m ok with that.