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Meet Lisa – A story of Luck and Vegas

If you’re keeping tabs on me, you know that I was just in Vegas for WPPI, and decided to add on a two day workshop (a WPPI Plus class) with Kay Eskridge. As it happened, the photographer I was sitting beside was Lisa Jeffries… and what a remarkable woman she is. She has a poise and grace that really sets her apart from everyone around her; if I had to peg her to a stereotype … I couldn’t. I think she’s one of those people that gets reincarnated quite often, and I convinced myself she was both a southern belle and Playboy bunny in past lives. And it doesn’t hurt that she really does have a wicked little sense of humour.

Our class was a pretty fun group; at one point we were done shooting for the morning, and some of the women photographers ended up against a big window in the MGM Conference Hall, posing as our models did (actually, hamming it up a lot, but I’ll spare you the group-hands-on-butts shot, gotta keep it classy!)

That's Lisa and Kay in the middle

Now let’s take a little diversion, since we are in Sin City, and gambling is a big deal. I’m not a gambler – but I do believe in a sort of luck, the kind you can make for yourself. It has to do with being ready, making opportunities, and then taking chances when it looks like the deck is stacked your way. But you have to know that you might jump any minute, and in what direction. Photography is much the same; it’s one thing to have the camera in your hand; but an entirely different thing to know that an amazing shot is happening right in front of you.

That’s what happened with Lisa. Right after the group image above was taken, I was standing nearer to her when she turned away from the window, toward me, just a bit, and then… wow! There was only a moment to get just one frame. This was it.

Going All-In


This is a long-ish post; if you just came to see the the photo of the beautiful blonde, scroll down. It’s ok, I’ll wait here.

But if you want to know how my life was changed, at a wedding photography convention, in of all places, Las Vegas, I’d like to share that story with you.

I’d also like to hear what you have to say about this. Maybe your experience was different. Maybe you’re not a photographer, or didn’t go to WPPI, and wonder why all this matters, or how this might affect your choice of wedding photographer.

So I’m going to make you a deal – the same deal that someone made with me a week ago. I’m going to go All-In for you; this was a hard post to write, but this only works if you go All-In too – and read the whole thing. It won’t take that long, and you just might have an experience like mine. I hope you do. ]

It’ll be a week tomorrow morning since WPPI wrapped up, and I’ve been letting a few ideas roll around in my head since I got back from Vegas. Is just ‘Vegas’ ok with you? ‘Las Vegas’ seems so formal, and formal… Vegas is not.


I like to let several ideas percolate at the same time, see what sticks and what doesn’t, see what makes sense, and what combines into new ideas. I don’t know if you do that – I don’t know if anyone else does that; but it works for me.

I think my subconscious is probably smarter than I am, so I give it a little more elbow room; some time, some quiet (or music; right now I’m listening to Digitally Imported ‘Classic Trance’… yeah it’s dated, but I dig the flow…), and generally I try to not interfere with my grey matter doing it’s job.

But I also have to put a time limit on it, or I’d be just another auto-pilot slacker, and that’s how I feel looking back at so much of my life. First I was a ‘computer guy’, then I was a ‘server guy’, and then a ‘firewall guy’, and even a ‘network guy’. If it beeps or blinks I can probably build it, configure it, and fix it. But I did all that on auto-pilot. I bought a car, a house, and essentially, I bought a life.

Sort of.

It’s not a real life that I bought. It’s one of those auto-pilot lives, where you just get swept up in the 9-to-5-and-beer-on-Thursdays. It’s a life you can buy at big-box stores and the mega-mall, and it was shiny and new and exciting. It’s hard to examine your life when you are on auto-pilot, asleep.

Then I woke up.

It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t go off the deep end and turn my life upside-down. I finally got off my butt and started hiking and snowshoeing in the mountains here. I decided that digital photography had come of age, in both quality and cost, and I started photographing my hikes.  I rediscovered what it felt like to be creative, to use an SLR again, to not be on auto-pilot, and to start seeing the world around me.

Fast forward to WPPI 2010, and I knew I couldn’t miss a couple of speakers; Jasmine Star; her success story, like her advice, is pretty awesome, yet down to earth, and Dane Sanders, because I knew that he knew ‘something’, and I had to know what the ‘something’ was.

The first concept that stuck in my head was from J*, I had a light bulb moment when she simplified the solution to a really common problem creative types often face: “How do you differentiate yourself in a market like photography?”. The temptation is to be ‘creative’ with packages or pricing – but that misses the essential differentiator – the photographer! You are different, so by just being yourself you will be different. Don’t be anyone but the best you you can be. Really simple, but I’ve never seen it put so front-and-center before; usually the best we get is “Be Different!”. This answers the natural follow-on “How to be different?”

I knew that I’d fully absorbed this idea, and extended it’s meaning, when I was reviewing images I took during WPPI while chatting with a guy on the same flight home about photography:

“Y’know, there were five other photographers there, but I got this shot.”

So not only am I different, but my images are different if only because I’m unique.



The second set of ideas that have been rattling around my head were inspired by Dane Sanders, in his ‘Anatomy of a Creative’. He opened with a couple of notions that I was already receptive to – getting out of auto-pilot for the session, and getting engaged with the discussion.

It was Dane that made the “Going All-In” promise a week ago, which for everyone made it more interactive, and not just a presentation. But he was also asking us to invest a little bit of trust in his message; even if only for two hours. Dane led the discussion, asking questions of the audience,  and really got us to think, instead of just sitting and absorbing content.

As part of the ‘Anatomy of a Creative’ we talked a bit about what it meant to be who we are, and I realized I had a disconnect between myself, my wife, my clients, and all my various photographic styles. In his terms, I wasn’t operating at the intersection of who I am, and what I do, so I’ve been in this weird zone of tension for years.

Why? Partially because I don’t do photography full-time yet; so I live in two very different work worlds, but that’s just a minor disconnect, and one that a lot of photographers face.

I’ve also been keeping my wedding photography mostly separate from my glamour and beauty photography, when I should be embracing the two as one style. After all, what bride wouldn’t want a photographer that knows a thing or two about making women look their best?

But here is the big cause of the tension:

The crappy part about waking up from auto-pilot is when you realize that you haven’t been All-In, and can’t be All-In, for the ones closest to you when you aren’t fully engaged in your own life, when you aren’t even All-In for you.

And that’s what happened about half-way through Dane’s session; I realized what the effect of being on auto-pilot all those years was. I was asking so much of those around me to reach my goals, but I wasn’t returning the gift, nor was I even giving that gift to myself.

Wow. Heavy.

I pulled out my iPhone and text’d my wife: “Miss you”. I almost had to leave the auditorium it hit me so hard.

The effect of this on the client-photographer relationship is profound. Just showing up on time, having fun with the clients, and getting some cool images isn’t enough for wedding photography. You need to be All-In, and by that I mean you need to actually give a rip.

And then you are going to take entirely different images than you might have taken before, because you just don’t want to connect with your clients – you need that connection with your clients, to share that feeling, and communicate that gift as their images.

What does that feel like? A little like the last five minutes of the movie ‘Scrooged’, when Bill Murray, as Scrooge, realizes he’s been on the wrong path and talks about the feeling of giving, and getting hungry for it. Getting greedy for that feeling of giving, not just at Christmas, but every day and all the time.

Near the end of Dane’s session was a very short movie – it’s only about 45 seconds long – and if this doesn’t snap you out of auto-pilot, maybe nothing will.

(Apologies to Dane, I’m going to repost some of the clips, and interpret them as I experienced them)

Last Day Dream [HD] from Chris Milk on Vimeo.

Ask yourself: “If this were me, have I been paying enough attention to remember much more?”.

I think this next clip really brings home what it takes to go All-In; you have to answer a lot of questions about who to trust, what your fears are, and what you have to leave behind to get where you’re going.


This ran again at the end of the session as still images combined with open-ended questions like “What if you only had five years to live?”.  By this time the discussion was over, and the audience was really soaking in the message.

I left out the Mad Men clip, if you want to see it, hit up YouTube. All of the sudden the value of photography to capture memories becomes pretty clear, doesn’t it?

For you Fast Trackers out there, there was also a pretty cool clip on leadership, in the form of ‘Lone Dancing Guy’.

For everyone else, this will take the edge off this post:

If you’ve read this far, you went All-In, so thank you, I hope I delivered. Please leave a comment or send me an email.

At the very least I hope you saw a little sliver of the material and discussion that goes on within the industry… doesn’t seem very industrial, does it?

If you’re a photographer and this reached you, and you want to know more, check out Dane Sanders and Fast Track Photographer.


p.s. Dane – you asked us to go All-In;  I think I did – and then some. The trip was worth it, thank you.


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!

WPPI – the best laid plans…

… well, you know the rest. I’ve been planning my butt off. What to attend. What gear to bring. Which Hawaiian shirt to pack…. This will be my first WPPI, and hopefully not my last, so I want to do it right. I started with a million little things, and tried to string them all together:

a bowl of beads, like going to WPPI, is like a million little things...

So what does the image have to do with WPPI? Not much, but without a lead image these blog posts look goofy on the main page. But maybe it does have something to do with WPPI. Maybe going with a common thread would be a good idea. Or not. Maybe diving into the ‘bowl’ and sampling a little of everything is the better way to do your first WPPI.

Personally I have only one main goal; Go for the experience. Next year I might be more focused; but this year I just want to go make some friends, see some folks from past events, and generally hang out. And attend as many platform classes as possible. And do as many workshop shoots as possible. And ferret out as many good parties as I can. Hmmm…. I need a calendar….

Sunday, March 7

Fly. All damn day. I went with Expedia, which was a big mistake. So I get to visit Seattle on my way to Vegas, and the total trip time is 12 hours. Although the price they quote is the price you pay (unlike Air Canada or Westjet respective Vacations packages), they have HUGE change fees.  After I realized my booking error (Sunday, instead of Saturday) I found out that it would cost more to change one flight than my whole airfare+hotel cost originally. Yikes! So I get to miss some events. Ah well.

Monday, January 8

8:00 – 10:00 Jerry Ghionis or Jesh de Rox? Why do such big decisions have to happen so early in the a.m.? If you have an opinion, let me know!!!

10:30 – 11:30 Model Shoot

2:00 – 4:00 Knuth Workshop

3:00 : Hit up the [b]’s headshot shoot, if I can tear myself away from the platform classes.

3:30 – 5:30 Judy Herman? Maybe. But…

4:00 – 5:30 FastTrack Shootout. I AM SO GOING! I got my confirmation last week. Jazzed.

6:30 – 8:30 Jasmine Star. And why not? I found her story pretty inspirational since she is so new to the industry (like moi).

8:30 + WPPI Pool Party. A chance to mingle and get an end-of-day beer. Oh wait… end of day… I don’t think so…!

10:00 Joe Photo Night Shoot. This was announced thru the [b]school, and again I’m about the trillionth person on the ‘me too’ list, so I’m probably not actually going to get to go. [edit: but I did make the wait list!] Why am I bringing my camera gear again?

Tuesday, March 9

7:30 – Breakfast with the Calgary Gang!

8:00 – 10:00 John Michael Cooper <- can someone take notes?

10:00 – 3:30 I HAVE NO IDEA. Maybe some platform talks. Maybe the tradeshow.

3:30 – 5:30 Dane Sanders – should be pretty cool; I like Dane’s approach and he comes across well in his videos and chats.

6:00 – 7:30 FastTrack Afterparty – I know absolutely ZERO people, so I hope to meet a few there.

8:00 – 10:00 Kodak Party – Meh. Don’t know much about this, so probably I’ll check out the first few minutes.

9:00 – 11:00 Mike Colon – again, a person who comes across as genuine, helpful and real.

10:00 (or right after Mike….) The [b] Party! Whoo hoo!

Wednesday, March 10

8:00 – 10:00 – SLEEPING IN! Then getting a really restorative breakfast of eggs, bacon, and coffee…

11:00 – 1:30pm – Emma Jane Shoot

2:30 – 4:30 Finding the ‘filmisnotdead’ preso because a) I actually DO shoot film. and b) they are giving away cool T-shirts! :)

5:00 – 6:00 Friday Photo School – I have NO idea what this is about. Must know!

7:00 – 10:00 Award Reception and Ceremony. If I can find Brandy, I’ll cheer her on!

Thursday, March 11

9:00 – 11:00 Photographers Ignite Presentations. I hear [b]ecker is doing ‘How to pick up bridesmaids’…. LOL.

1:00 – 4:00 Possible workshop shoot time

6:00 – 10:00 Possible workshop shoot time

Friday, March 12

9:00 – Eat, Pack, Check out, and fly home. Via Los Angeles. And Seattle. I think I take off at noon, and finally land at midnight. Yikes!!!

Saturday, March 13

Edit, edit, edit…. and then edit some more….

Well, that’s it. We’ll see how well the plan stands up to Vegas, WPPI, and what looks like not having time to eat for a week.