This is the first time that I’ll be going to the WPPI Conference (Wedding & Portrait Professionals International)—the largest conference for wedding photographers—that it won’t be at the MGM Hotel & Casino. Rumor has it that our photography organization outgrew the conference center at the MGM so we had to find a new, bigger home. This year, 13,000 photographers and myself will be attending WPPI presentations and the expo in the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Over the years, I’ve developed some strategies to make the most of my time at the photography conference, remain comfortable and save a few extra dollars.
I’d like to share them with you.
Making the Most of WPPI 2017
Plan your WPPI meals!
- Walgreens/CVS®. The very first thing I do after checking into my room is take a trip to the nearest Walgreens or CVS. I try to buy things I can eat for breakfast and lunch. This will save me money and time trying to get to each presentation throughout the day. Plus, if the weather is nice, I can go outside and find a nice grassy spot (maybe even a fellow photographer) and have a picnic. If I choose things that need refrigeration, I can either request one for my room (usually an additional $20/day) or purchase a styrofoam ice chest to store these foods. I do the latter. Surprisingly, the pharmacies on the strip have a nice grocery variety—even fresh fruit.
- Grab and go breakfast. I usually grab some yogurt, string cheese, or an oatmeal bar that I’ve purchased from Walgreens for my breakfast. I choose something simple that I can eat while walking on the way to class.
- Pack a small coffee maker. Two years ago, I bought a single serve coffee maker from Walgreens on the Las Vegas strip small enough to pack home and inexpensive enough to justify buying it. It even came with a travel mug. This way, I save money by not buying coffee each morning and I save time by skipping the huge Starbucks® line. I can mosey right on to my class and get a good seat. I also pack this coffee maker any time I book a hotel room that doesn’t include one—which isn’t often, but usually always in Vegas. Be sure to see if your room has a coffee maker (and refrigerator) listed on the amenities.
- Sandwiches are king. For lunch, sandwiches are the best. Walgreens can hook me up with bread, mustard, mayonnaise, lunch meat, cheese and chips. They also have peanut butter and jelly if I decide to go that route. I can even purchase beef jerky, bean dip, and something to satisfy my sweet tooth. I don’t have to wait in any line at any restaurant or food kiosk and can be in line for my next presentation without ever leaving the convention area. This means less money spent, less walking, happier feet and more time to relax, or visit the expo.
- Dinner! I always treat myself to a nice, sit-down, hot dinner. I usually try to arrange dinner with someone I’ve met during one of the presentations so we can network and continue talking shop.
Plan your WPPI appearance!
- Check the weather ahead of time and pack appropriate clothing. I always take one or two opposite outfits just in case Mr. Weatherman was having a bad forecast day.
- Dress for comfort! You are going to be walking miles, carrying your personal belongings (plus anything you bought at the expo) and you are going to be sitting in extremely uncomfortable chairs that are locked very closely to the chair next to it for long periods of time without ANY elbow room. You hardly have room to cross your legs. Dress for this scenario.
- Maintain a professional appearance. It’s almost an oxymoron, but while fulfilling the needs of the above bullet point, also try to maintain a professional appearance. You never know who you are going to meet and what opportunities that meeting may bring to surface.
- Keep those feet happy. I usually average 8-10 miles per day while I’m at this convention. Choose the most professional-looking shoes you can walk 8-10 miles per day in.
Plan your WPPI days!!
- Download the app! Trying to make decisions about what classes to attend on the fly is nearly impossible—at least for me. I like to weigh all my options well ahead of time and at least narrow down time slots to no more than two choices. The app is a great tool to keep you on schedule and get to you where to need to be. It includes the presenters’ bios, class schedule, expo vendors and the expo floor plan. There are features to create your schedule, contact the vendors, request meetings and make notes. You can also leave feedback and rate the presentations for WPPI.
- Attend the print competition if you really want to capitalize on your learning experience. This is billed as the most competitive image competition in the world. Each and every print is critiqued out loud by one (or more) of the judges. This gives you unprecedented access into the WPPI masters’ creative/technical heads. I especially enjoy when a print’s score is rebutted and the judges argue to increase the score. The entire panel advocates why the score should go up or remain at the original score. The print competition has always been the most educational part of the conference for me. I never miss it. I have three prints in the senior division myself and am hoping for a merit. (Check out some past winners here.)
- Attend the expo, but beware if you have a compulsive buying disorder! It’s a great opportunity to see new technology and products and get your hands on something you’ve been thinking about buying. Virtually every single vendor in the industry will be at this expo. You can look at cameras, lenses, lighting systems, software and apps, backdrops, albums, entire products lines from each and every lab across the nation… some from overseas, bags, props, outsourcing opportunities, and the list goes on.
- Purchase an additional Plus Class, Master Class or PhotoWalk especially if you’re a WPPI member and your conference pass was free. The extra purchase helps to support the organization. You also are able to take advantage of a smaller, tailored class size and ask questions in more of a classroom-like setting.
- Pre-boarding is no longer an option, so arrive to your most desired classes early. All of the classes have limited seating though this varies by speaker. WPPI recommends arriving 15 minutes ahead of class time to make sure you get in.
- Attend the keynote! The main keynote is usually late in the evening, mid-way through the week, but it is so worth listening to. Last year, Sue Bryce literally gave everyone a solid kick in the ass with her speech. The year before that, Joe McNally took us on a photographic journey with him thousands of feet above New York City on a shoot. The keynote is usually a wake-yourself-up, motivational, get-out-and-get-the-job-done kind of speech. If you want to leave Vegas with your motivation and imagination revving in high gear, don’t miss the keynote.
Stay connected at WPPI!!
- Take notes… whether with pen and paper or your iPad/laptop, your brain will be overloaded with so much information you will never remember it all. Be prepared to record what you learn. Evernote® and Notability® are my favorite note-taking apps.
- Give a shout out to whatever class you attend! Use Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Periscope, etc. to let all the other people at WPPI, the presenter, and your important clients at home know that you’re enjoying yourself and expanding your photography knowledge at this incredible conference.
- Use social suave to connect by using the hashtags #wppi2017 #wppionline #rfwppi. This connects you with other photographers at the convention and increases awareness for other photographers.
- Take business cards. Hand a business card to every single person that you meet and make a connection with. When you get home, add them to your address book, send a follow up email and then connect with them on your favorite social media platforms. I’ve made some great friends in the industry this way.
- If you see Jason Group, or any of the presenters, give them a high-five! This is a huge endeavor to take on and an awesome one at that! I am thankful for the opportunity to be able to attend a photography conference of this caliber. Why else would I keep going back?
What to be cautioned about:
- Stay in groups… especially females and especially outside the conference and hotel areas. Exercise your best common sense for personal safety. If you’re carrying camera equipment around, remove your badge when you leave the conference area. You don’t want to tip anyone off that you may have expensive camera gear in your bag.
- Outside styled shoots? Personally, I’ve never found the value in paying an extra $500 (more in some cases) to go shoot at The Neon Graveyard or the Red Rock Canyon with a large group of other photographers EVEN though there are paid models and paid MUAH artists. I’m sure the images are beautiful. Rather, I find value (and experience) in sitting through the presentations, mostly by WPPI masters, and taking all the new techniques and skills I’ll learn and putting together my own styled shoot when I get home. That way, I don’t have to share the portfolio images with 25-50 other photographers unless I want to invite them. In addition, I’ve read more than one bad review about these paid styled shoots. Participants complain about the organization as a whole and fairness of the time they get to shoot with the models. I’ve read in these complaints that it usually ends up being an elbow fest just to get one or two usable portfolio images. So, buyer beware. These shoots are usually not organized or endorsed by the WPPI or any WPPI master photographer.
- Aggressive vendors. This is usually not the case and certainly an exception, but one year, there was a very aggressive vendor selling cell phone accessories. They were offering things like battery backups, charge cords, vehicle hands-free kits, etc. They would not let you pass their booth without stopping you. And when they stopped you, they were very aggressive and would hardly take no for an answer. I did report this experience on my WPPI survey. Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen them at the expo since, but do exercise caution. In all my years attending WPPI, this was the only time I have had an unpleasant experience with a vendor at the expo. Each and every other interaction has been pleasant, engaging and informative and never have I felt pressured to purchase anything.
If you haven’t yet made plans, there is still time. You can register for WPPI 2017 here. Visit this site to find amazing travel deals for Las Vegas. WPPI is a MUST and worth every single penny if you are serious about your photography business.
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I am a professional wedding and senior photographer based in South Texas near San Antonio. I pride my business in offering a premier and personal service coupled with an unforgettable photography experience. I cater to clients who appreciate quality photography and help them to create family heirlooms that will last for generations. As a full-time professional photographer, my sole purpose is to provide amazing, memorable and full-service photography.
I started Ata-Girl Photography Co., LLC in 2010. I firmly believe that the unique set of circumstances I have faced in life has prepared me to take a personal and genuine interest in my photography clients. I enjoy documenting the important milestones and captivating moments in people’s lives. I love being a part of people’s journey and consider myself privileged to document their legacies.
When I’m not photographing a wedding, family or high school senior, I love to spend my spare time hiking, camping, cycling, reading, listening to Elvis and Prince. The most important things in life are for me to see my two daughters happy and to create a family history my grandparents would be proud of!
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