My deluge of emails did not stop while I was away in Las Vegas the past week! I guess that’s what happens when you launch a contest from the middle of the desert. So, in sum, I spent Friday – Wednesday at the world’s largest gathering of wedding and portrait photographers – WPPI 2011. It was my very first WPPI experience and overall I loved it! I came away with a lot of ideas for my business. I know a lot of my photographer friends in Boston have thought about going next year. For most of you non-photographers, this post is pretty useless so feel free to skip.
Those of you who might say this is one of my least positive posts, let me be honest with you – when it comes to running a business, I’m not easily impressed, it takes a very rare personality to make me think, “oh dang ohmahgodyouaresoamazing”. I’m not impressed with myself (definitely not), and I don’t easily get impressed with others. I’ve consulted for and researched some of the top corporations in the nation, I’ve seen what makes even the mighty fall. Therefore, I hold everyone up to very high standards whether they deserve it or not. I spent a lot of money to get to WPPI (not as much as a workshop, but still, a lot). That’s why I think it’s important to always push for a better experience and try to plan it so that it comes out most positively possible.
First things first, I met up with my great friend and former second shooter Emily and did an anniversary shoot for her. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. She then introduced me to the best ramen in town
(the majority of the photos taken in this blog were from my HTC Incredible Droid phone as I didn’t have the energy to carry everything around)
Here are my tips and tricks
- Plan early: Book your tickets to Vegas either way in advance or at the last minute. Flying from Boston – Las Vegas can be pricey
- Room together and stay at the Signature MGM! My friends and I tried to save money by going to 2 other hotels (and also, to build up said friend’s Starwood points). And though I am forever grateful at the amazing experience that is the Cosmopolitan, I personally did not like the 30-minute walk to the conference center at MGM. Signature MGM sits right on top of the conference center and has kitchenettes. What looks like a half-mile walk on the Strip turns out to be longer because you have to deal with tourists and slow moving people. And everything happens at MGM – or nearly everything – and it just wasn’t convenient for me. I wanted to change clothes, drop off my bags, drop off stuff I gathered… I am not going to let costs stop me next year, I’m paying the convenience premium and staying at MGM Signature
- I followed a lot of the WPPI tips and tricks on the Photo Lovecat blog – such as wearing comfortable shoes (yay Chucks!), leaving my big camera at the hotel, etc. I won’t repeat a lot of that here, but read. every. blog. post. they. have. about. WPPI – you won’t regret it
- You’re going to text a lot. Decrease the amounts of times your phone has to sync to 3G because it WILL drain the battery. Verizon (woot) got the best reception at the conference. You will run out of texts
- Food at Vegas is $$$$ EXPENSIVE! I ate at McDonalds three times, Starbucks once, and In-N-Out once. This burger plate at Wolfgang Puck cost around $22 (with tax and tip)
- Do what you can to get out and network and talk to people. I was shy and overwhelmed by the presence of so many amazing photographers. And of course, my (business school) classes decide to dump a couple of big projects on me. Thanks to coordination between my teammates and I we got everything done, but I really wish I just didn’t do homework the first couple nights and just went to hang out more
- I have to give major major props to Wayne of Wayne Yuan Photography for introducing me to super-cool people in Chicago such as Albert of Secondprint Productions, Oliver of Chris and Oliver (awesome videography!), Jimmy Tan, and Mike Fan. Jimmy and Mike are a riot… at one point I had to pause and ask how old they were (turns out Jimmy and I are the same age) because I swear they could pass for Albert’s kids
The trade show is going to make you buy things. Like any shopping spree, stick to your shopping list and do your research (I had my smartphone loaded with price searches before I bought anything). There are incredible once-a-year deals at WPPI that will make your trip worth it, and then there aren’t. For example, I shoot exclusively using SanDisk CF cards but these expensive cards rarely go on sale and there were no deals to be found on the trade show floor.
And as Photo Lovecat mentioned – don’t check out EVERYTHING – there are hundreds of companies peddling their ware and you don’t need everything – after all, your main product remains photography, you’re not in the contest to show up another photographer with more gear. I only targeted a couple of the booths this year, and didn’t look at booths that didn’t make sense to where my business was at right now
I do what I can to rep the companies I love – like KISS wedding albums! Haha okay this was part of a contest to get more KISS credits… I didn’t win, but it was fun!
- One MAJOR topic I want to talk about is how you have to take things at WPPI – the panelists there are not being paid to speak, not really. They have companies that sponsor their panels. While there are going to be some panelists that will recommend stuff they use because they really like them, half of the platforms will be a sales pitch – be it for products that the panelists use or their sponsors. For example, one particular slideshow company sponsored maybe all of the panelists I saw – but just because they all promote it, doesn’t mean it’s the only option. In fact, I don’t even like the slideshows that come out of that software at all, so don’t be fooled into thinking that what is good for them is also good for you. Discern, take what you can learn, but also remember that you are your unique company and you have to stick to what works for you
- For example, Nigel Barker, you’re talented and good looking and stuff, but he took 2 hours of my time selling Sony cameras in the guise of a “fashion show”. I’m sorry, if there’s anything I’ve learned in business school, it’s that direct sales remind one of car salesman, whereas a real good salesman doesn’t make you feel like you’re being sold to
- I attended one other night workshop that was supposed to teach us about video lighting. First off, they kept the concept completely secret… and it turned out to be a concept I did NOT want to photograph. It wasn’t me. And the photographer was actually on assignment and doing more shooting than teaching, and hustling their photography workshop. Again, I understand that I shouldn’t expect much when it’s free, but really? I’m sorry, I’m not going to blog about this workshop
- Great photographers aren’t necessarily great educators. Look, yes, I’m spoiled that I have attended some of the top educational institutions in the country (thank you Mom and Dad for all your generosity and about a quarter million of you hard-earned salaries), but seriously, this is WPPI, if you’re speaking in front of hundreds, nay, thousands of photogs… if you’re going to make your money off of workshops, learn how to be a better educator. I’ll be brash and suggest that photogs who want to become educators – learn how to make better powerpoints and how to speak in public because your customer is no longer a bride, your customer is someone like me. I was disappointed at one panel I went to because this was a super-well-known photographer whose work gets published all the time. It ended up us sitting through slideshow after slideshow of their work.This is why I loved the Jerry Ghionis panel so much (I missed out on Jesh de Rox and Louis Pang which I heard were both excellent as well) – he didn’t have to sell, or if he was selling, he sure was good at being genuine about it.
- My favorite panelists included:
- Jason Aten – I heard Jason speak on the Friday Las Vegas PUG and he gave some great tips on marketing and outsourcing as one plans to grow beyond 5 years. Gave me lots to think about
- Julianne Kost who showed us more tricks in Lightroom – she is hilarious and turned what could have been one boring panel into one where I took copious notes
- The Becker – though his presentation was pretty elementary and more fit for photogs in years 1 and 2, it’s a good reminder that delivering consistency and customer service is important
- JVS Pictures and Kevin Jairaj who gave a great encore presentation on off-camera lighting
- Jared Platt – I won a one-on-one session with Jared as part of the ThirstRelief/ShootQ auction. He helped me work a bit on my workflow and exporting questions. For anyone who wants to keep their post-processing in-house (I do not plan on outsourcing my editing anytime soon), talk to him!
- Kenny Kim – Kenny (yay Chicago) is a super down to earth guy who talked about his first couple of years in the business. He has a different start than most people and he is incredibly humble. He truly understand what it means to network and network well
- Slight off-topic and not a WPPI panel, but every year I want to plug James Federico of The Feds – this guy taught me everything I knew about wedding lighting to start me off. I never got around to blogging about my workshop with him but I hope this does him some justice!
- Jules and Joy Bianchi – These two ladies are incredible at marketing, especially for a portrait studio. However, their techniques can be applied to wedding and many other categories. And they’re super energetic! I also won something too yay! For those of you who are a fan of the dog Boo on Facebook, they took the professional photos of him here. I have SO many ideas from them
- You will walk away from WPPI with a LOT of ideas. The worst thing you can do is try to do them all – you will go broke. The next worst thing you can do is do nothing – nothing changes. Focus on what is important to you, what makes sense, and implement that
- Parties! Okay, so most of the parties this year fell kind of flat on their face, and I missed out on apparently the best ones because I was already flying back to Chicago (err, rather, stuck at Las Vegas airport), so if anything, come to the later, not earlier days of WPPI! I did get to do one thing which to this point I’m not sure if I like or regret it (because I missed the Louis Pang panel) – a sunrise concert put on by Stillmotion. Look, it’s a logistical feat, I applaud, and I got to see Jesh de Rox perform
Shang’s travel schedule!
Mar 19 – 27 – Boston – available for shoots and consults
Apr 29 – May 1 – Boston – fully booked
May 13 – 15 – Ann Arbor
May 20 – 22 – Boston – fully booked
Jun 11 – The long-awaited return to Boston for the summer!