This year was my 3rd year attending WPPI, but I don't technically count my first year when I was terribly overwhelmed, anti-social and hid in my hotel room. Sooooo...my 2nd year at WPPI was a great one! For those of you that aren't photogs or have never been to this amazing conference, WPPI stands for Wedding and Portrait Photographers International. It takes places in Las Vegas (OH YEA) every year, and is way too much fun to fit into 5 days, but somehow they manage to do it! You should totally go!
Now for a quick breakdown of how the conference works! There is a conference and expo. The conference is where the speakers and educators give motivational talks or teach valuable skills that you can implement into your own business. There are different types of classes: the Platform Class, Master Class, Plus Class and Photo Walk. Platform Classes are large scale, first come, first serve and cover broader topics. Master Classes are 2 hours in length, with a more specific topic and must be reserved in advance as there are limited spots available. Plus Classes are 6 hours with an even smaller class size (around 12), which offers more "hands on" and "one on one" learning opportunities from top professionals. Photo Walks are exactly what they sound like...you go on a walk to take photos with models, basically little mini shoots to teach a specific skill set, like posing, lighting, etc.
The expo is 3 days of booths run by top exhibitors in the photography industry like Cannon, Nikon and FujiFilm showcasing their services and products to make our lives as photographers better and more efficient. From professional photo labs, to lenses, to editing services, lighting equipment and beyond, there is always something I find I MUST have right meow!!
Surviving and thriving
Before signing up for any classes or planning anything for WPPI, take some to reflect about what you can improve in your business, skill sets, products, client experience, etc. There is SO much to learn and do and see that it can be incredibly overwhelming (as I found out my first year) if you don't have a plan of attack.
Last year, I focused on improving my off camera flash lighting techniques and brand creation. This year I focused on marketing and networking.
2. Research and Plan
Once the class list is revealed, go through it to see which classes catch your eye and fit what you are trying to improve and compile a list. Is it a class teaching a topic that you want to focus on this year? Is it something new you want to learn? What day are the classes on? Do any of them conflict with each other? Plan out which "must do" classes you want and plan your days accordingly to make those top priority.
Once you have compiled your preliminary class list, then it's time to internet stalk the educator teaching the class. Chances are you've probably heard of them already, but if you haven't, you want to know what their style of photography is, their message, who they are and what they are about. I find it's a pretty good indicator of how much you will take away from what they have to teach.
3. Be Realistic
You can't do it all. You just can't. If you're anything like me (ie: old) and scheduled an 8 am photowalk, then be prepared to go to bed early the night before. It's Vegas and you are going to be tempted to stay out late, but remember why you are there! Yes, you are there to have fun, but also to learn. If you know that you want to party every night, then plan your schedule accordingly with later class times. A lot of the classes have limited space, and if you signed up and no show, then you wasted a slot that someone else could have benefitted from as well as your own money.
4. Say yes
Be open to new experiences and people! Say "yes" more than "no" and you will be surprised where it takes you and who you end up meeting. I have made lifelong friends by doing something as simple as saying "yes" to In N Out burger at 1 am, or "yes" to beers after a master class. I have gone to WPPI alone every year because I know that I will meet new amazing people just like me who LOVE photography!
5. Dress Appropriately
Your outfit choices can make or break you at WPPI. Comfy shoes are a MUST. Vegas is huge. There is a lot of walking to get to classes, speakers and the expo alone is a massive undertaking. WPPI is also during winter time, so it gets pretty chilly. Luckily, I'm a Fall/Winter person and love my layers upon layers of sweaters, scarves, coats and boots.
Keep in mind this is also an opportunity to network. You are meeting new people everyday and a first impression goes a looooong way. You don't have to dress for an interview everyday, but be presentable. You are your brand, and you never know who you might meet.
6. Be Prepared
You will be attending classes to learn, so bring what you need to succeed. Most educators will provide their slides or presentation digitally after the conference is over, but bringing a notebook and pen is an easy way to jot down important ideas during class. I find that writing things down keeps me awake if I had a late night prior, haha!
Bring your phone and any portable charging packs. You don't want to be lost without your phone in the labyrinth of expo booths, and you don't want to be stuck to a wall because your phone needs to charge.
Bring your camera gear, but pack light! Only bring the essentials, or it can be a lot to schlep around a big conference. Even if you aren't signed up for a photowalk or class that has a shooting portion, there are TONS of shootouts going on outside of the conference itself. Sign up for a styled shoot out, or plan an impromptu shoot with your new photog friends that you've made. This is an excellent opportunity to refresh your creative spirit, build your portfolio, or update your headshots.
Bring something to do. You will have down time. I typically bring my laptop so I can edit or work if I'm waiting between classes.
7. Business Cards
Bring them!! If you don't have them, get them ASAP!! This gets it's own section because it's so important. It's an easy way to get your info out into the cosmos. Exhibitor booths will have prize drawings, speakers will raffle off neat prizes or incentives, and all it takes to enter is your business card! You will get asked, so bring them and give them out like candy!
Now you know the insider secrets to surviving (and hopefully thriving) your first trip to one of the biggest photography conferences around! It can be overwhelming, but with these tips you can tame your nerves and tackle the chaos in stride.
Was this year your first or tenth time at WPPI? Tell me what worked for you!