In March, I’ll be attending WPPI in Las Vegas for my 8th year in a row. While there are a lot of conferences for photographers and videographers to choose from these days, WPPI is one that I won’t miss. This week, I had a few friends ask me about WPPI and mentioned they were a little confused by the website; not sure when to go, what to do, and how to plan it all. So here are nine tips on how to get the most out of your WPPI adventure and explanations to help make sense of the enormous, can’t-miss, industry event.
1. According to the WPPI website, the conference+expo will take place from March 3-10th. While it would be nice to attend the entire time, I just don’t have that much time to take out of my schedule and leave my family. If you are like me, here’s what I feel are the most important dates to be there:
Plan on arriving Sunday, March 6th and leaving Thursday, March 10th. WPPI is essentially divided into two sections; The first few days, 3rd-5th, are smaller add-on classes (think specialized mini-workshop). This type of class has an additional cost on top of normal registration. They call these ‘Master’ or ‘Plus’ classes and are taught by some great teachers. While I am sure the classes are fantastic, I think you would be doing yourself an injustice if you went to WPPI and didn’t stick around from the 6th-10th as that is when most people will be there, and most of the action takes place.
2. I mentioned to arrive on Sunday the 6th and stick around until the 10th, here’s why: Platform Classes. Included with your conference pass is admission to all the platform classes at no extra charge. These classes typically take place in a room set to hold between 100-1200 people, and each class is about 90 minutes long and is full of great information. WPPI takes great care in making sure the speakers are taking advantage of their time on stage to deliver awesome content to those in the audience. They even have an app where you can rate the speakers. So if someone does an excellent job be sure to give them a good rating, so they get invited back again the following year to teach.
The classes typically start around 8:30 am. After the first class, they open the Expo floor doors, I’ll talk more about this in a minute. Then two more platform classes happen in the evening from 4:00-5:30 pm and 6:30-8:00 pm. I would strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of these platform classes. Look on the website and read about the speakers and content ahead of time and plan out your schedule. Grab an early dinner or bring some snacks with you so you can hit both evening classes. The hour-long break between them is not enough time to get food and get back unless you hustle.
3. Do you see a platform class that you want to make sure and get a good seat at? Then I encourage you to use one of your five pre-board passes that come with your conference registration. Pre-boarding means you get to be in a line that is allowed into the room first before everyone else; this guarantees you a seat of your choice. Some rooms will get entirely full, and while it doesn’t happen all the time, occasionally they have to stop any more people from going into the room just for safety purposes. Here’s my selfish plug. I’ll be teaching a platform class on Monday (March 7th) at 6:30 pm titled, Off-Camera Lighting Recipes for Wedding Photographers. If you want to give the pre-board a test and that class sounds like it would be interesting, after registering for your conference pass go in and select it as one of your pre-board choices. Hope to see you there!
4. Between attending platform classes be sure to hit up the Expo floor. Here you’ll find two gigantic conference floors full of the best businesses in the industry. There is so much to see, touch, hear and learn. About 50% of the booths often feature speakers that give out some great content. Some of the larger booths even have stages, fantastic AV and invite some of the best educators in our industry to present to the audience for an hour or so teaching camera techniques, editing, lighting and more. The Expo is not only a great place to see and try some new products for your business, but it’s also a wonderful place to pick up golden nuggets of information you can immediately apply to your business. In the past, I’ve spoken at booths and often I will take one of my favorite presentations and just pull out some of the best info to present. I know many speakers do the same. So take advantage of the Expo floor and get your learn on.
5. Plan to stay at the MGM Grand Resort or the MGM Signature Towers – don’t stay off the property. Every year I will have a few friends that want to save a couple dollars and pick a hotel “that is really super close.” The problem is nothing is close in Vegas. If you are not staying at the MGM, then plan on walking a lot to get to and from your room. It’s not a fun walk. If you have some stuff you picked up at the Expo or in one of the classes you are now carrying these items with you all day. You can’t just run up to your room to drop it all off. If you want to save money on a room, talk to friends about sharing a room instead. Get four people in one room and now you are only paying 25% of the cost. It’s the way to go.
The only way I would stay off property is if you have a car. Which case you can park in the MGM parking garage and walk across the street (don’t walk the long way through the hotel) to the Expo floor and Platform classes. You don’t need a car though in Vegas. The airport is super close to the MGM ($20 taxi ride), so it’s not worth paying to rent a car while you are attending the conference as it will remain parked most of the time.
6. Go with friends but be sure to get outside your comfort zone. WPPI is better when you have friends with you. However, don’t stick together the whole time. Split up and go to different classes, each takes notes and then shares them with each other. Introduce yourself to other photographers you are sitting near and get to know them. Don’t just pull out a business card and hand it to them. I get a lot of business cards that I do nothing with. Instead, get to know the person. As Dale Carnegie says, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
7. Plan a photo shoot, or two, or three, or four. While I would never suggest you walk around to each class with your camera gear, I do recommend you bring it with you on your trip. Take advantage of the time you’ll be there with other creatives. Plan a couple shoots, headshot session or time to even just sit down and talk business with other like-minded folks. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of planning the shoots yourself, WPPI also offers Photo Walks. There is an additional cost to participate but it’s only around $50. Photo Walks are about 90 minutes long and are led by excellent photographers. It’s a great chance to see how many of them work with subjects, set up lights, compose their shots, or see what they see.
8. Bring comfy shoes, layered clothing, and cold medicine. You will be walking a lot. Keep your feet happy. Also, some rooms are a bit cold so have something you can throw on to cover yourself up, but easy enough to take off when you warm up. Layers are the best way to go. Vegas is a busy place, lots of people touching the same bars, buttons, and slots. If you don’t get a cold while you are there, I bet one of your friends will. Plan for it, take extra vitamins each day and wash your hands frequently. I’ve never missed a day of the conference because of a cold but sometimes it can be a bit of a bugger, so I’d try to prevent it if you can.
9. Schedule some time on Saturday, March 5th or Sunday, March 6th to sit in on the Album and Print Judging (8am-6pm). It is some of the best learning I have ever experienced. You get a chance to see judges describe what they like and dislike about an image. Very eye-opening and it has always helped me think better about my own images as I create them.
Lastly, I thought I would share what my personal class schedule will look like when I am there. This might change a bit, but here is what I have in mind right now. There are so many great classes to choose from. For those that have never been before you can see how busy your day becomes. After picking out the classes, I then see where I can squeeze in eating, shooting, visiting the expo booths and spending time with friends.
(Arrive in Vegas in the morning)
12:00pm-1:30pm – The WOW Possibilities of Flash by Michael Greenberg.
2:00pm-6:00pm – Sit in on Album/Print Judging
8:00pm – Opening Night Party at Hakkasan
8:30am-10:00am – Professional vs. Profound – Jerry Ghionis
10:00am-4:00pm – Lunch and Expo
4:00pm-5:30pm – Wedding Essentials – Pose like a Pro – Bambi Cantrell
6:30pm-8:00pm – Off-Camera Lighting Recipes for Wedding Photographers – Trevor Dayley
8:30am-10:00am – Let the Light Do the Talking – Roberto Valenzuela
10:00am-4:00pm – Lunch and Expo
4:00pm-5:30pm – Creative Posing for Engagement & Wedding Photography – Zabrina Deng
6:30pm-8:00pm – Down and Dirty Guide to 20-Hour Work Week – Jeff and Julia Woods
8:00pm – Keynote Presentation by Sue Bryce
8:30am-10:00am – Simple Creative Studio Lighting Techniques – Lindsay Adler
10:00am-3:00pm – Lunch and Expo
3:00pm-4:30pm – Building a Successful Associate Photographer Program – Melissa Jill
6:00pm – WPPI Honors of Excellence Award Ceremony
10:30am-12:00pm – Photographers Ignite
(Take off for home)
Keep in mind that there is a lot more to WPPI then what I’ve mentioned here. I just wanted to share my personal plan so that it hopefully helps others put their own together. Be sure to check out the Master, Plus, and University, and Photo Walk add-ons to see if any would be a good fit for you. Also this year they changed pricing so that if you become a Photo+ member of WPPI you get a free full conference pass with your registration. That means you will have access to all the platform classes, opening night party, keynotes, and expo. Helluva a deal! See you at WPPI.