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WPPI – Sleepless in Las Vegas

First, what the heck is WPPI? WPPI is ‘Wedding & Portrait Photographers International’, and they have their annual convention in Las Vegas every spring. It’s a big deal, and there are plenty of speakers and events to keep you busy. Not to mention the whole  ‘Las Vegas’ part; the town is still a big playground for grownups.

Now, shouldn’t that title read ‘Sleepless in Seattle’? Or ‘Leaving Las Vegas’?

Well, yes and no…  my flight to Seattle was delayed, so I missed the connecting flight to Vegas. Darn, shucks, whatever. Horizon Air did the right thing and put us up in Seattle, and comp’d two of us to First Class for the Vegas flight the next day. Nice.

But I didn’t get to see either Jesh de Rox or Jerry Ghionis speak on Monday morning, because the plane didn’t even get there until 9am. Of the four speakers I really wanted to see at WPPI, these were TWO. Double dang!

And just for a little extra salt with that wound, I found out that Jesh really really rocked his gig, to the point of bringing half the audience to tears.

But I caught Jerry doing his shtick on the trade show floor later, and almost bought into the ICE Society on the spot, he is that good a presenter & educator. And his photos don’t suck, either. Me? I don’t do too shabby; WPPI also affords photographers a chance to practice shooting while traveling (important if you’re a ‘Destination Photographer’), and it’s also a chance to shoot our favorite subjects during the winter slow season:

So todays lesson: Direct flights rock. I knew this from the last 30 years of travel I’ve done, but for some reason I thought I’d save $200 this time. Dumb, dumb and dumb.

[b]ecker’s Headshots

I decided to have a little fun with this one. Becker is such a good sport I knew he’d just roll with it. For starters, if you’ve never seen Becker do his rapid fire headshots thang, check this out. First, Professor Becker gives us all some pointers on how he shoots, and how he interacts with his clients. He never says ‘Smile!’, but everyone does:

The simple thing about his style is that it works anywhere; the ground behind the person becomes the background of the image, and focusing on the eyes is simpler to do this close.

But let’s transport ourselvels into the world of the Becker client for a moment… What would it be like? It was my turn for a headshot next, so hold on… here we go…


Ok, ok, a cheap shot. Literally and figuratively. But what the heck? He got a chuckle out of it too. I took a few frames like this, but I’ll spare you the animated GIF version. For now.

Needless to say, I think I figured out why he makes all the girls giggle… 😛

The Fast Track Shootout

Right after Becker, and right down the strip, was the meeting place for the Fast Trackers Shootout.

In keeping with the mantra of ‘small, quick, easy to apply bites of info‘ that FastTrackers  / Dane Sanders are know for, lets get right to todays lesson: Fast Trackers are a friendly, helpful, motivated bunch of supportive folks who are ‘For Each Other‘. So if you are a photographer that think you might benefit from a stronger sense of community, and tired of going it alone, reach out to them.

First, Dane gives us the lowdown, then we set out to shoot…

Every scavenger hunt in Vegas needs an Elvis:

And a Pirate…

And a… a… whatever this is:

And of course this is WPPI, so a bride on the strip, surrounded by photographers is commonplace:

Then it was time to hoof it back to the MGM and get in line for Jasmine Star. The room just before she started was a real zoo. David Jay did the intro just after this:

And that’s when Jasmin said a few pretty profound things:

Vegas, if you are at WPPI alone, SUCKS. Yep, she said it, and I agree with it. The only thing worse than not being at WPPI and getting Twitter and facebook updates from other people having fun at WPPI? Actually BEING at WPPI, but not with anyone else. Major downer.

Don’t try and be anyone but yourself. The smartest thing I heard the entire week was the answer to common conundrum. We are often told to “Be Different” or “Be Unique”. So everyone tries to be creative and invent something – when all along they missed the mark because just being themselves would have been unique enough.

Don’t go broke with advertising. Her deal is ‘Keep it real’, and she has grown her client base by just being herself, being honest, and talking about things in her life that matter to her. Too easy.

J* was great because she is fairly new, and has already faced all the same challenges I am facing right now.

Then it was off to the Garden Arena for the opening night party and beer. If you skimmed the last bit of text and missed the part about Vegas being a lonely place if you’re alone, then you’ll understand why I only had one drink and left. I didn’t recognize anyone from earlier in the day, and I was pretty pooped, so I grabbed a burger and hit the sack. I think it was 11pm.

Day Two

I was supposed to meet Patrick and the Calgary gang for an early breakfast, but for the life of me I couldn’t find the Cafe. It was just a little further into the casino – which is HUGE – so I never got a chance to say hi.

I did get a seat in the John Michael Cooper Platform Class. The basic message was to be really engaged during the consultation – don’t just ask the basics – but really dig, and you are pretty much guaranteed to create far more meaningful images for your clients. Having created my share of what I call ‘passport photos’ I know exactly what he meant.

And for all the folks that left his presentation early: You missed the big reveal at the end: All those crazy poses he had the audience doing? He had already sketched those out – and for anyone pressured to come up with something super-creative on the wedding day – you’ll know how smart this is, and how much his clients appreciate the results he gets.

I had time to check out the trade show floor; nothing really grabbed me in terms of product, but the integrated services from shootdotedit, albumexposure, and kiss is pretty cool. Right now I use zenfolio for hosting album page previews, and while it works well, the client feedback part of albumexposure is pretty sweet. And it would fit with my workflow, too.

By the time I got to Dane Sanders in the afternoon I was wiped. I knew that Dane would be an impactful speaker, so I actually went in somewhat guarded – I actually thought about the fact that when people are very tired they can become suggestable, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to drink the Kool-Aid or not.

Guess what the first thing he asked us to do? Drop the guard, don’t sit passively, and participate. Ok, ok, Dane. You want me ‘All-in’? You got it, babe.

And for the next two hours I found out what’s been bugging me for a long time – and how to fix it… but that’s a topic for another post. I had to get down to Centerfuge for the DS Afterparty, and I learned what a great bunch the FastTrackers are. Dane is coming to Calgary in May, so if you’d like to come along, drop me a note. It’s not free, but it will be worth it.

I drank the Kool-Aid, and took his advice to the audience that some of us could use a nap. I dropped like a rock when I got to my room, and woke up an hour after the [b]party started. Rather than wait for a cab I walked to Mandalay Bay and it woke me up, so I was pretty chipper when I finally found the party. And yes, the party was good :)

Lorrie – next year we seriously need to set up a styled shoot in the desert. Just because. And if any brides want to change their wedding date to February 20 or 21 of 2011, and want to get married in Vegas, you’d be in for a treat…

Day Three (I think…)

The morning was supposed to be a big indoor/outdoor shootout, with models and studio space supplied, but the weather was pretty bad, so we ended up all crowded in Eric Guideng’s studio, but it still made for some pretty good shooting.

I have to give a special shout out to Chantel Tull, she completely blew everyone away with her pinup style. And this is only her second shoot. O-M-G!


I had some really good intentions of doing more WPPI stuff that day, but it was time to sort through some of the days shots, and have a nap prior to the evenings big event,  the WPPI Print competition awards.

One thing I wasn’t ready for: Print Judging is SO SERIOUS!

And even better: A local photographer, Brandy Anderson, won the Fresh Faces award:

Day Four (Thursday? I lost count…)

In the a.m. the photoignite presentations were HILARIOUS! Uncle Bob, Jerry G singing, it was all pretty good fun:

The Trip Home

And my parting gift from WPPI? I got to fly from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, then to Seattle, then home to Calgary, and the airlines didn’t lose my luggage! Whoo hoo!

Along the way I thought a lot about what I’d learned, about myself, about my relationships, about how I live my life, and even a little about wedding photography. It’s amazing that we spend most of our lives being busy instead of doing the things that really matter.

Oh, and I learned that Vegas isn’t a scary place, that I want to go back for next years WPPI, and that I don’t want to go alone. I guess I’ll see you there!

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