WPPI 2014: A Photographer’s Experiences

Why I’d go back to the annual Wedding and Portrait Photographers International conference

WPPI Opening Night Party

Hundreds showed up for the opening night party at WPPI 2014 in the Hakkasan Club, MGM Grand, Las Vegas March 2.

First of all, what is WPPI?  The annual Wedding and Portrait Photographers International conference, hosted in Las Vegas, is the biggest of its kind with more than 15,000 wedding and portrait photographers flying in from around the world to attend.  WPPI is a jam-packed week of forums, master classes, an expo, a print competition and of course, parties!  This summit of photography is a great opportunity to learn from the world’s top wedding photographers and to network with up and coming professionals as well.

Learning From the Experts

WPPI is unique because it attracts a large number of the industry’s most talented photographers, including Yervant, Jerry Ghionis, Reberto Valenzuela, Denis Reggie, Ken Sklute, Susan Stripling, Lindsey Adler, Peter Hurley and the list goes on…  Areas of expertise range from fine art to photojournalism, from fashion to motion pictures.

Within the various genres it was stimulating to hear each photographer’s way of employing technique and style.  For example, Lindsey Adler had great suggestions for adjusting lighting and posing in order to bring attention away from less flattering features -like elevating lights to hide a double chin- while using subtle direction so her subject is less aware she is attempting to hide that double chin.  While on the other hand, Peter Hurley shoots every head shot straight on with lights at eye level and allows his zany personality to take over directing his subject –even going so far as to call out that undesirable double chin on his subject.

Adler’s and Hurley’s high level of success while utilizing completely different shooting styles is a guiding light for any photographer lacking confidence in his or her style.  What Adler and Hurley show is that style doesn’t matter as much as skill and personality.  Every presenter I saw at WPPI was successful because they spend countless hours practicing and perfecting their craft, regardless of style.

Another presenter, Susan Stripling, one of my favorite wedding photographers –who has a unique eye for capturing the moment and is talented with a macro lens for shooting details –gave a two-part class entitled The Art of the Story.  Though I have to admit that her presentation could have been a bit more macroscopic and less detailed (I skipped out on the second part to check out Damon Tucci’s class on lighting).

Unique Tips for Sales and Marketing

It was fun to see the acclaimed Yervant who has done so well with his business that he’s just referred to by his first name.  Another interesting element to Yervant that I learned is he doesn’t meet with the couple before booking them.  In fact, he showed an entire video about what couples should expect –from the time of booking all the way through receiving prints— and he didn’t appear in it once!  (His assistant handles all the client interactions.)  A brilliant (though logistically nightmarish) technique Yervant employs for pre-sales is to deliver a large print at the reception.  He markets this as a gift from the couple to the parents and then, upon delivery has it paraded through the reception.  Of course this draws a great deal of attention to his studio and brand (huge respect to anyone who’s able to successfully pull this off).

Speaking of selling prints, portrait photographer Sam Sciarrino had a clever take on composition with a notion of increasing sales.  Sciarrino only shoots horizontals.  His thought is that an album spread can fit fewer horizontal images than verticals and thus requires more spreads and a higher price tag.  In addition, when photographing family portraits, Sciarrino always poses each child individually.  This way, he explains, parents are inclined to purchase a print for each child instead of all their children in a group shot.

Greater Presence of Video

Classes on cinematography and audio also had a growing presence at this year’s WPPI.  Sarah Pendergraft gave a solid presentation about audio for wedding films entitled More than Moving Pictures.  If you’re ever capturing audio (say for example you want to incorporate sound bites of the speeches in a slideshow) be sure to plug your recording device directly into the speakers and not the DJ’s output. The reason being, oftentimes the DJ will have microphones on standby, which will create feedback if you’re plugged into the DJ’s soundboard (Pendergraft once recorded a speech and when she went to edit it all she could hear was the DJ clearing his through and his shirt rustling).  You could ask the DJ to turn off any standby mics but if possible, go directly to the source, the speaker.

Ken Sklute gave a presentation, entitled The Sensuality of Movement that addressed the benefits of timelapse videos.  Timelapse will make any video or slideshow more dynamic and doesn’t require capturing audio.  During the setup of the reception, Sklute positions a camera on a tripod with an intervalometer to capture one aspect of wedding preparations while he goes off to photograph the bride getting ready.

Print Competition

Whether you submit prints or not, the print competition is a valuable element to your WPPI experience. The print competition serves as both a venue to view remarkable pictures and observe live judging!  This is great.  Anyone can sit in and watch the critique of every image.  The whole process takes two days and dozens of judges.  Watching live judging is a rewarding experience for any photographer since it allows you to compare a multitude of photos and hear as experts point out all of the minute (and major) details that make a picture great or just mediocre.  The judging alone can make WPPI worthwhile since the information you come away with can certainly help improve your photography.

The Expo


Two acrobatic artists put on a show for the crowd at the WPPI Expo. A vendor hire the pair to draw attention to the announcement of their giveaway.

Even though, for me the expo was low on the priority list, it certainly provides a great opportunity to try out all of the latest (and most expensive) camera equipment and gear.  Every major camera manufacturer, print lab and lighting equipment company has a booth at WPPI.

A worthwhile feature of the expo is that the big-name vendors (like B&H and Nikon) sponsor their own top photographers to present at their kiosks.  At the Canon booth I was able to listen to Joe Buissink speak passionately about why he shoots photography and why he operates his camera on ‘auto’.

Being someone who shoots video in addition to stills, I would have loved to see more vendors who specialize in audio equipment.  There weren’t any this year but maybe next year they’ll invite Tascam or Rode.

The Nightlife

One of WPPI’s best benefits is the occasion to network with other photographers.  Hosted in Las Vegas, it’s also a chance to unwind.  Most evenings, WPPI throws a party or some sort of social event.  Though your brain may feel exhausted at the end of a day, breathing a second wind to take advantage of the evening events is worth it.

The WPPI parties are always fun and since the nightlife is sponsored by the biggest companies in the industry, the festivities are often over the top with food, drinks and entertainment.  Be sure to check them out (and compared with the average price of a Vegas dinner, you’ll want to take advantage of a free meal when you can).

Biggest improvement

Perhaps the biggest improvement in WPPI this year was what they removed from the event. There was a lot less selling from the presenters. In years past, nearly every class you stepped into came with an expectation that you wanted to buy that presenter’s latest gadget or software to improve your photography.  I’m a firm believer that knowledge and practice are the keys to becoming a better photographer and relieved that they toned down the sales pitches in the platform classes this year.

Tips for planning your trip for next year

If you’re thinking about going to WPPI in 2015, here are a few thoughts to get the most out of your trip. Consider arriving Friday night so you can observe the print judging on Saturday.  As I mentioned, watching the critiques is valuable for any photographer so plan on spending a good portion of your Sunday in the judging rooms as well.  If arriving one day early is hard on your budget, shave a day off the end of your trip by departing Wednesday night.  You’ll miss the final class Thursday morning but this is only one session and by that point the party is largely over anyway.

Buy one conference pass and split the cost with another photographer you work with.  WPPI has a great feature of providing a guest pass for each attendee.  The guest pass allows access to all the main features of the conference.  Though if you don’t have someone to go with, don’t be afraid to go alone –you’ll be more likely to meet more people who share your interests.  Either way, the most important thing is to have fun.



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