Another year has come and gone at WPPI in Las Vegas, and the lessons learned were just as important as those in years past. A countless amount of walking was done, a lot of hydrating took place, and numerous friends were reunited or met for the first time. Here are the top six things I learned this year through four days of meeting, greeting, walking, talking, and shooting.
Lesson 1 – Carve out time to attend every year
This may seem obvious, but it’s the most important lesson of all – always invest the time to attend WPPI each year. Whether you’re there to learn, attend parties, or network, there’s something at WPPI for every wedding photographer at every level. I go for a little of everything, but I always get way more out of it than I originally plan. Because of the number of attendees and the fact that you’re always running into random people at every turn, WPPI has an organic quality that is hard to match compared to other conventions. This was the show’s last year at MGM, and I’m hoping the move to the Las Vegas Convention Center doesn’t diminish the random encounters you have when wandering around.
On top of that, new faces are always attending every year, and the person who couldn’t make it last year might be there this year. So do yourself a favor and try to make it every year.
Lesson 2 – Attend the 16×20 print competition
This was my first year that I was in Las Vegas early enough to sit in on the 16×20 print competition, and it was easily the most valuable education I received in terms of becoming a better technical photographer. The judging goes for two days and is broken into a few different categories, so you can hop into different panels to get some insight into things like Wedding Couple Together – Wedding Day, Newborns, Landscapes, etc. Whatever panel you end up sitting in on, spend at least an hour there because as they go through the various prints, you learn from the good and the bad.
No stone is left unturned as everything is nitpicked, from the handling of tones to the expression on a couple’s face to the matting choice of the physical print itself. In an industry that sometimes focuses too much on the digital result of a shoot, this is one place where the physical print is held sacred.
Lesson 3 – Take a class for business knowledge
The best class I attended that will help me grow my business over the next year was Kenny Kim’s “Unconventional Yet Effective Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers”. In this two hour class, Kenny covered so much information that my head exploded. While solid, technical photography is a foundation of any successful wedding photography business, other things become way more important for your business to truly achieve sustainable success.
Kenny did a great job of reminding us to focus on the customer service side of the business, and to also know how a client thinks and views your product. Top tip from the class? If you want to shoot more destination weddings, stop thinking about your local market as local, because a destination wedding is considered any wedding in which the couple traveled more than two hours to get there.
Lesson 4 – Take a class for human knowledge
There are a number of classes every year that talk about the things that tug at your heartstrings. While I’m not usually a crier, if you start talking about the right subject I will find myself feeling like the Hoover Dam holding back Lake Mead. That’s exactly what Mike Allebach and Jaleel King’s class “How to Build a Storytelling Marketing Strategy” did; and I wasn’t the only one effected, because a lot of people had to excuse themselves to shed a tear outside the classroom.
Both Mike and Jaleel talked about very personal experiences that, however difficult at the time, helped make them better photographers and storytellers. The ability to be more human and connect more with your clients led Jaleel on an unimaginable journey to Australia, and led Mike to building his brand as the Tatooed Bride Photographer. Biggest lesson learned? Pay attention to your individual client’s story and use it to guide your photography.
Lesson 5 – Network effectively
Networking with other photographers at WPPI is one of the easiest and most rewarding parts of attending, but the trick is to do it effectively because you can quickly become overwhelmed with everything going on. You will constantly be running into people you already know and you can easily end up not meeting anyone you set out to meet. I suggest making a top ten list of new people you want to meet and have a game plan in place before arriving in Las Vegas. If they’re a speaker, take their class and thank them afterwards for what you learned; if they’re someone you’ve been stalking on Instagram, set up a time to grab a coffee. Remember to be respectful of everyone’s time and to keep it short and sweet — I think it’s better to have a fifteen minute meeting and follow up by email than to exhaust someone on-site. Also, remember to keep your networking organic. Say hi to the person next to you on that photo walk you’re taking!
You should also know the hot spot for grabbing a drink, as this is the best opportunity to organically meet new people. This year it was Lobby Bar in MGM (we all shed a tear for losing Rouge), because you could easily spot people walking by and grab them for a quick drink. Just make sure to know when to say good night and to still get enough sleep (at least one of the nights)!
Lesson 6 – Walk the whole expo floor
With over 200 exhibitors at the expo, walking the entire floor is always a lot of time on the clock, but is worth it to really see what’s new and interesting as far as gear, software, and products are concerned. Be sure to visit the booths of all of the vendors you currently use and introduce yourself to their team. Actually spend a few minutes to give them some honest feedback. Leaving a review online is one thing, but hearing directly from a customer on how a product is being used (or can be improved) is invaluable feedback for them. Maybe you just want to give them a high five! That’s cool too.
Also spend time checking out vendors you’ve never heard of, what they’re offering, and speak with them about how you might use it to better your business. Sometimes you hear about things online and it’s hard to get a sense of how it will fit into your workflow, so talking with reps and getting a walkthrough can sometimes take something from a “meh” to an “a-ha!”. And be sure to wear appropriate shoes; all that walking on thinly carpeted concrete can take a toll on your body after a day or two.
Go. Walk. Talk. Learn. And see you there next year!