Generator Ep. 006 – WPPI 2023 Recap

In this video, I'm sharing my experience attending the WPPI 2023 Conference and Trade Show, the premier event for wedding and portrait photographers. From the keynote speeches to the vendor booths, I'll take you through everything I saw, heard, and learned during my time at the conference.

WPPI 2023 in Las Vegas - A Recap

Hi there, welcome to this special edition of Generator. And this week there’s no guest, it’s just me, and I’ll be talking about my experience out at WPPI 2023. It was held in Las Vegas last week, now times kind of a blur after a trip like this. And finally had some time to write down some thoughts, and I wanted to go through my experience of why I went out there, what some of the goals were, the pros, the cons, and just some general thoughts on the week. So if you are interested in attending WPPI in the future, stay tuned, I think this is going to be a great episode for you.

So WPPI is the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International Conference. It is basically a week-long trade show conference that has educational seminars, it’s got photo walks, it’s got the trade show with all the vendors, it’s got networking, it’s got parties, it’s a big event in the portrait and wedding world. So, tell them Las Vegas, last year when I attended for the first time, there was somewhere around two or 2,000, 2,500 attendees. This year it was almost triple, it was somewhere in that six to seven thousand person range. So, a lot of folks in one area you can imagine all the connections that you can make and all the information that can be shared. So, really, really good time. I enjoyed it last year and this year was no different. Last year while I went to figure out what it was that WPPI could offer me, this year I went into it with some slightly different goals, some from the tactile to the more esoteric.

So, first and foremost, right before I went out, I built this, it’s a small cinema, portable cinema rig built around a Fuji H2S. External monitor, you know, grips, v-mount batteries so that it doesn’t run out of juice anytime soon. So, pretty cool rig but I had never really tested it prior to WPPI. So, I wanted to bring that out and do a little bit of running guns cinematography. Now, I’ve used rigs like this in the past, I’ve used cinema cameras and I was trying to emulate that feeling and a small form factor that I could take apart quickly and use as just a stills camera if I have the desire to do so. I’ll get into all the details about what the rig is, all my thoughts on performance but this whole thing was put together so that I could test it and figure out what items needed to be tweaked before I ever do a job with it. And I think that’s only the right thing to do. WPPI would be the perfect testing ground. Okay, so that was goal number one, test out this video rig. goal number two was to see friends and just deepen those relationships. It’s not often that being as remote as I am, I get to be in the same place as a lot of my friends.

So, this was a good opportunity for me to just see them and talk face to face. Part of that being, I love staying present with people. And one thing I observed all week, we’re people grabbing their phone and being in conversations, talking to people and just looking at their phone, not passing contact information, but trying to post to social or being concerned about pleasing the audience that’s on the other end of this rather than being present with the person or the group of people that they were with. And I observed it quite a lot. I think maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting older and I really treasure the relationships that I have now and I’d like to continue to strengthen those watching a bunch of folks sitting at dinner from across the room and seeing everybody at that table, not interacting, but just on their phone getting caught up, checking Instagram, posting things, rather than interacting with the people across the table. It takes away from the experience for me. 

So I made sure that no matter where I was, whether it was at a bar or restaurant, I tried, and I’m guilty of checking my phone every now and again, but I tried really hard to stay present. I think you just have a completely different experience when you’re able to share moments with people rather than say, hey, did you see what So-and-So did over there? Make your own memories, make your own moments right here. So a little bit of a nitpick, but this is me, you know, yelling get off my lawn. I had this routine every morning, regardless of how late I was out the night before and there were a couple of really late nights. I made sure that I was getting up around 5.30, getting down to the main coffee shop that everybody goes to, and basically grabbing a coffee and staking a claim on a little bit of real estate in the corner so that as people started to filter down in the morning, that have a place to sit, we could have some good conversation, and it was just a way for me to connect with people rather than running around the show and texting each other and trying to meet up. It was just a nice calm way to start the day. I love doing that and a bunch of friends were able to stop by even just to say hello and I treasure those types of moments. Everybody’s got a busy agenda. Everybody’s off to do something. So even being able to steal a couple of minutes with a person that I haven’t seen or have only known from online was really magical for me. I really enjoyed that.

And then the last goal that I had was just staying open for any opportunity that came my way. So essentially saying yes to anyone that’s like, hey, do you want to go to dinner? Do you want to go grab a drink? Do you want to come on this podcast? Do you want to do this that or the other? I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t declining opportunities because I don’t know where they might lead. And I really wanted to show up and share whatever I had with anybody that asked. So I found myself getting into a lot of conversations with folks that I don’t see a lot. We’re talking about video. We’re talking about business. We’re just talking about fears and dreams and self-value and having the opportunity to seize opportunities like that was really fortunate rather than being driven by an agenda that I have to be in this talk at this time. Then it felt really good to just be able to go from place to place and not have the agenda not feel that pressure. It made the show a lot more enjoyable for me. Now that being said, there were a lot of educators and talks that I went to. I did not sign up for any of the paid photo walks, the two or three hour blocks that you got to spend with an educator and a small group going off and doing some hands-on learning. I like to use the downtime there to cruise around the trade show, find some other folks to talk to. I can practice on my own. And so if I can get some education from the seminars, I can then go apply it. If I get stuck, I know the educator to whom I can go and get that knowledge.

 

So that’s the way that I went about it. Some of the some of the talks that I saw Matthew Jordan SmithAshleigh Taylor Henning talking about Boudoir. I saw John Gress talking about lighting, Nikki Closser, Cat Ford Coates, Saray Taylor-Roman, all talking about business and inspiration and ways to shoot and ways to stay involved and present and connected to your business in a way that grows what you’re trying to do rather than staying stuck. So a lot of a lot of eye-opening content there. I felt personally attacked when they were like you need to be more consistent. But you know, that’s my thing because I absolutely do need to be more consistent. So I was able to see some of those talks throughout the week. It was really nice to see some of my friends up on stage. Couldn’t have been more proud to watch their growth over the years and see them presenting to full rooms. It’s just a really cool thing. If you have the chance to support your friends like this go and do it. There’s no better feeling in the world. After the talks, I had a chance to kind of think about what I saw. 

Now it’s impossible to see every educator in every track talking about every topic. It’s just you got to pick and choose, you got to make your sacrifices. But in talking to people that had been to a lot of the other talks, one thing that I noticed wasn’t being addressed very often was the topic of mental health. And I’m not saying that every every single presentation needs to have some aspect of mental health. But through the off the record conversations I was having with people, it seemed to be that especially with how hard the past few years have been that there’s this undercurrent of lower self value that there’s this feeling of a looming recession and that things are going to get much harder than they have been even in the past year. So there was this undercurrent, this feeling like there needs to be some deeper conversations that happen. And I just didn’t see that enough in some of the presentations granted. A lighting presentation, you’re not going to fill up with 45 minutes on mental health. I get it. 

But in some of the business presentations, it was nice to see cat Ford coats, Nikki Closser, Saray talking about the mental health aspects and how to be aware of burnout and really noticing the symptoms of when you need to rest, when you need to lean into your work and understanding how to balance life and work so that it becomes the business of your dreams. That was nice to see. I’d like to see more of it. I’d like to see some targeted talks next year on self value, perhaps self value for men. Perhaps just self value in general, talking about different aspects of the business that drive us to feel things more negatively than positively. And I’d like to see more people bring that to the forefront. We kind of talk about it here and there, but not enough in my opinion. So perhaps that’s something that can be a its own track on the WPPI agenda next year. That said, I did get a chance to talk on a couple of podcasts.

Nikki Closser had her portrait system podcast going one of the days she was up on stage and bringing up all sorts of guests. And I was very lucky to have been asked to join her up there. So for three or four minutes, we got the chance to chat. I always love it because Nikki’s such an amazing podcast. So she makes everybody feel super down to earth really, really fast. And getting up there and talking, you don’t realize that you’re talking not only to the crowd in front of you, but a live audience that’s watching the stream. But Nikki has a way to make you feel very, very comfortable. And so all the nerves are gone like that. It was really nice to be on that podcast. 

I also got to have the opportunity to be on the Pro EDU podcast with Gary Winchester. And I had met up with him and David Parrish who had never met in person. We’d known each other online, but I never met them in person. So met them on the floor. We got to talking and they said, hey, do you want to be on the podcast for upstairs recording? So I went by the next day and had a really fun chat with Gary about my business and just stuff in general. I really like the way that they are running their podcast short form, funny, right? Very casual. I dig it. So I can’t wait to hear that when that comes out because God knows what I said. Half the interview, I just don’t even remember. You just kind of blank out and talk. So that should be interesting when that comes out. A couple of the things about what was great and what wasn’t great.

Clearly what’s great about WPPI or any conference for that matter is being able to see people see people in 3D your friends get close, give them a hug. The energy that was there this year as opposed to last year last year was a little bit tentative. This year clearly with triple the attendees, there was a lot more energy involved. There was also a little bit of heartbreak that there wasn’t a print competition there, but I know that there are things in the work with Sarah Edmund specifically about where the print competition is going in the future. So be on the lookout for that. I really enjoyed the quality of a lot of the talks that I saw. It’s clear that there are some educators that are better than others that have presented more than others. 

But what I did notice was that every educator reached a certain level of quality or they wouldn’t be there clearly. I really enjoy the talks that brought a little bit more of the soft skills, the behind the scenes aspects, right? Not only the techniques, but hey, here’s what you’re going to encounter as well. I really like that side of people’s talks. Like I said, not even a few minutes ago, I’d like to see more of that. But the quality of everything that I saw was excellent. There was no one that was a terrible speaker. There were some that were more nervous than others, but that’s to be expected. I think that was fine. I can’t say that I’d be in any different shoes if I was up on stage.

Couple of products that I was really, really stoked about. Because I shoot Fuji, I spent a lot of time in their booth. One thing that I was excited to see was live demos of their camera-to-cloud workflow that they have. They partnered with FrameIO, which is an online platform that is cloud-based and is used for imagery and video to do wide-scale collaboration in near real time. For example, if you produce a video and you want to get some revision comments from your client, load it up to FrameIO. They can do frame-specific commenting. You make the changes, upload another version. It’s a really cool system to work with clients or a large-scale team that’s spread out geographically. 

The cool thing that Fuji has done is they said, all right, well, we’ve got a battery grip that does wireless transmission. We’re going to partner with FrameIO. As you take images, things are getting automatically uploaded to FrameIO. There’s also integrations with other third-party software like Imagine AI. Here’s a basic workflow. Take a picture. It uploads to FrameIO. It’s not only sending the raw, but the JPEG. It’s also sending the XMP data because Imagine then takes that photo and does a base color correction exposure edit. Now you’ve got a damn near-fully edited JPEG, at least, that’s ready to go right out of the camera. If you have art directors, if you have a team, or if you’re doing a live reveal, something to that effect, this could be a game-changer. 

I’m really excited about the possibilities. It’s also great to be able to instantly back up whatever it is that you’re shooting. Not only do you have local copies, but this is also being sent to the cloud. Downside is you have to buy this Fuji battery grip to have this functionality. The battery grip is about a thousand bucks. It’s pricey for a battery grip, but think about what you’re getting with it. Wireless tethering, all of these additional software options. It’s really meant to ease the workflow for any photographer or videographer. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and watch as this product grows. My guess is the other major manufacturers, the cannons, the Nikon’s, the Sony’s. They’re all going to have something like this down the line, but I’m really digging the fact that Fuji is leading the way on this. I switched to Fuji a couple of years ago. I love the way that they’re innovating and thinking outside of the norm of what’s going on in the industry. Big kudos to Fuji for that.

I’m always looking for photo books or albums or folio boxes from a lot of the different vendors. I almost use Graphi Studio as my only lab for just about everything. Wall art, folio boxes, prints. They have a great product and it’s beautiful, beautiful stuff. I built my studio on it. A couple of products that I saw this year, I really interested me was from another European based company called nPhoto. nPhoto has this grand gallery book. It’s a 28 inch by 20 inch massive folio book that you can use to showcase your art for the studio. It is an absolutely jawed dropping eye catching insert adjective here book for displaying your studio work. It would also be amazing for a client as kind of that top tier black label product. Instead of having one small album, imagine this massive 28 inch album. It’s really amazing on a table to flip through it and see these huge art paper images flipping by. It’s absolutely going to be something I keep in my studio because it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece of artwork really and it’s a great way to display some of the work for your clients.

Some of the things that I think could be a little bit better for WPPI next year. Now this is just my opinion. It’s not really rooted in anything other than the stuff that I observed and hey, I got my opinion right, whether you agree with it or not is up to you. Think the communication on the WPPI to the attendees from their communication team could be a little bit better. Now granted it’s a large conference, a ton of moving pieces. There’s a lot of information to get out. I’m not talking about specific emails or social media. What I’m talking about is the app that they use to organize everything. It’s clunky at best. It’s hard to really organize. It’s not intuitive. I really didn’t enjoy it. I found the classes that I liked, but the integration with the app with your iPhone and your calendar, it’s just clunky and it was very difficult to see what talk was being given by what speaker. You could look at the name or maybe you could find the speaker, but it’s just somewhat poorly designed app. 

Again, it’s not a huge game changer if you had an amazing app because you’re doing all this stuff anyway. You’re walking around and you’re seeing things and you just kind of build your week as you go. But understanding how much people are on their phones, having that be a better, more interactive experience could add a great element to the trade show itself. Alerts. Maybe there were some of these things. Maybe I didn’t take advantage of them. I could be completely speaking out of turn, but other apps for other trade shows that I’ve attended have had a few more features. That’s just one thing. Communication, it’s hard to find where you need to go or where a room might be or who’s speaking at what time or if there’s been a change in the schedule, whatever it is. I just think that could be looked at slightly through a different lens. Instead of just giving it to software developers, really looking at it from a UX UI standpoint and making the experience for attendees a little bit better.

One of the other things that I noticed this year that was a great addition but also had some problems. There were shooting bays with models all along the back of the auditorium. Now, there’s always availability to shoot models in some of the vendor booths. That’s a big draw for people. If you go to the pro photo booth or Canon or whatnot, they’re going to have all their gear set up and as demonstrations are going on, you might be able to get some pictures of some models. 

But one of the things that I saw at The Portrait Masters that they do really well is they have the shooting bays with a model and the lighting all set up and the settings ready to go in a mentor at the bay to help you in case you’re a new shooter or a haven’t shot with constant lights or have never posed a model or whatever the case is. The mentors are there to help. It looks like they drew that from portrait masters and implemented it at WPPI. Awesome. Great opportunity for people to build a portfolio, see different lighting setups, work with models, great experience for people. I think the communication around them was a little bit poor. So people were walking up really not knowing what they were. I think there could be a little bit more advanced exposure of what the model bays are and how to approach them. 

Maybe some rules setting ahead of time as part of the overall communication that goes out to the attendees. Because what happens is in that confined space, it was basically at the end of a hallway is you’ve got one person shooting and these are like six by 10 bays and you’ve got one person shooting the model, the mentor. And then there’s inevitably a crowd of people behind that person also shooting over their shoulder, distracting the model, talking to each other. It becomes very distracting to be in that situation, especially if you’re the person shooting the model, trying to direct and get the type of expression that you want. I think there could be some better rule setting around how to approach the booths. The people that were managing them, the mentors did the best they could. I saw some people that were really kind of laying down the law about who could shoot and when and keeping things very organized. Other bays were a little bit more casual and loose, which also worked just fine. I think it really came down to understanding the model that was in the booth, the intention of the set, how open it was or how tight an area it was or how congested. So looking at it differently, I think the shooting bays are great addition to any conference. But I think there should be a little bit more communication about what it entails to be shooting, what the expectations are when you do go up to one of the booths. That way it doesn’t feel so chaotic, especially as you’re walking by. I already mentioned in the the talks, the lack of focus on mental health.

Again, I wasn’t in every talk, didn’t hear every speaker wasn’t in every conversation. But it seemed to be that the conversations that I was having, especially in relation to podcasts that I’ve done in the past that some folks have listened to, about mental health, that there is a real need for that at least by an expert or someone that talks about this stuff all the time. I think there really does need to be a frank and open conversation without it being focused on, you know, the all the negative sides. But just acknowledging the fact that this is a huge part of working by ourselves and struggling through tough economies, struggling through a period where people may not value what you do at the level at which you’d love them to value what you do. So the struggles that come along with running a business, balancing a life, balancing a family, all the things that there could be a little bit more focus on that.

Now the last thing that I saw that I didn’t enjoy at all was going into some of these talks and having the room-seeding Nazis floating around. Now these are folks that are hired that I’m sure have jobs to do in terms of, you know, capacity of a room for fire safety standards. And, you know, generally keeping the peace, they don’t want anybody to be distracted. The same time, they would not allow you to even stand up on the periphery of the room to stretch your legs or to maybe take a quick shot of the speaker. The second that you stood up and tried to stand by the end, someone would shoot across the room and be like, you have to sit down, you have to find a seat. And it creates more of a disruption not only for you, but also for the speaker. Rather than letting someone just be on the side of the room, the seating police would force you to sit down. And it just, it kind of detracted from the speakers themselves. I don’t think it’s necessary. I understand capacities on rooms, but everyone that I saw standing was being very courteous not to block the eyesight of anyone else, not to be in the way of cameras, right? We’re all professionals in this regard. So, it just, it detracted for me a little bit that I felt like I was in grade school. And we’re all adults. And I think that could be approached a little bit differently.

So, where do I go from here? I think I’ll definitely be going back next year. I would love to apply to speak. I think I saw some things that I thought I could do a better job. And instead of me just saying, I think I could do a better job. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and apply to speak next year. The topic is still yet to be determined, but I’m sure it’ll be something around video or self-value or even building a business in a tiny, tiny, tiny town. I think that would be great as well. 

We’ll check this recap next year and see if that all came true. The other thing that I got out of the conference this year was a renewed devotion to taking action immediately. A lot of times I get caught up in having a great idea and then overthinking it to the point of paralysis. I’m not alone in this. I’m sure there’s plenty of folks out there that do this. But one thing I noticed and I heard over and over and over was taking action immediately, not waiting, not overthinking. And because it just kept making me feel weird, I realize that it’s the one thing that I don’t do. And I’m cognizant. I’m aware of the fact that I don’t take action like I should. So being able to hear that message over and over and have it be reinforced by people that are extraordinarily successful, it was the big light bulb moment for me. Hey, idiot, might as well stay consistent. Take action. Do the things so that a year from now, you’re not looking back saying I should have done that. Because there are some things that I realized I was talking to people about at WPPI this year. And I was saying the same thing to them last year about getting it started. So it’s time to kind of get off the pot and actually take action on some of these bigger projects that I have. So I’m excited about that.

Overall, I thought it was a great conference. Vegas is expensive without a doubt. You know, you go out there and the ticket to the conference itself is relatively affordable. Staying at the Mirage is relatively affordable for the strip, but it’s everything else on top of that. It’s getting a sandwich and a drink at lunch and having that be $30. It’s almost laughable at the expense for sundries and for food and beverage out there, but you’re in Vegas. What are you going to do? I think the overall price for WPPI is set correctly. I think the value that you get is amazing. And it’s clear that the executive staff that is running the event is listening to the feedback of folks like you and I. They really are taking to heart some of the suggestions to make the conference better. And having had some of those conversations this week with some of the folks that are in management, it was clear that it wasn’t just lip service that they were actually listening and thinking, all right, how can we massage that into something that may be applicable for everybody? That’s a really good sign when people are taking it seriously, the feedback that they’re getting. 

So overall, I’ll be back next year. I hope to see you there next year. If you are there, please let me know. Like I said, I’m great when people schedule stuff with me, but if you try to catch me on the fly, good luck. I’m all over the place. It’s just how I operate. Yeah. So that’s the WPPI recap. So thanks for listening. This was just my opinion. I’m sure you may have had a different experience. But if you did, I’d love to hear about it in the comments or let me know if you loved or hated anything I said. I’d love to hear that from you as well. So until next time, thanks for listening and we’ll be back next week with another great guest.

 

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