Ooh Las Vegas

This is the story of a girl who never traveled–anywhere  and had never been on a plane – or close to one.   Then, when she was 26 she got on a plane for the first time and three years later has been on t least 26 different airplanes and has been all over the world.  This is also the story of a girl who when growing up with meager beginnings, wanted to be a marine biologist/photographer — but mostly a photographer.  And now she runs her own studio — and she’s pretty good at it too.  Why am I telling you this? It’s not to brag, but to tell you that no matter what your situation is and no matter what you want out of life — you can do it! Welcome the support from the people that will give it to you and don’t worry about the rest of them. Just go for it!

Now this is what this post is really about:  Me vs Las Vegas (alone!) and the convention of all conventions WPPI – which was once just a pipe dream.

Like every good trip, there’s always lots of anticipation and a little uncertainty.  This one began for me with some trashy magazines – I love this kind of stuff for on the plane because it takes no intellectual investment on my part and I find it ridiculously entertaining! lol

Anticipation: I’ve been in the industry over 10 years now, not just as a lead photographer, but in the scene, so I’ve always heard rumblings of WPPI and how cool it was.  It wasn’t until I invested myself into the photographer’s community that I realized not only how cool it really was, but what I was missing by not being there.  So, last year after hearing how awesome of a time everyone had and how inspired they were I decided THAT. WAS. IT. — I was going the next year – NO. MATTER. WHAT.

Uncertainty:  I was going to sin city — alone.  I’ve traveled alone before, but I’m directionally challenged and often distracted by shiny things so I  wasn’t sure I’d even make it to my hotel!

I did make it to my hotel though.  I could see the city from where we landed and thought — holy crap!! — I knew this place was big — but not this big!! It seems unreal, but I honestly think that I had more culture shock landing in Vegas than I did landing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Below is a map of the MGM Grand where I was staying.  That was just my wing (and the conference center). The lobby could fit Midtown Plaza inside of it (almost, anyway) .  WPPI/Vegas tip #1: wear comfortable shoes — at all times!

My first couple of days were in Roberto Valenzuela‘s PLUS Class.  These two days were invaluable, and if I hadn’t made it out to anything else, the trip would have been worthwhile.  Which brings me to my WPPI tip #2: Plan ahead. Figure out what it is that you want to take away from your experience.  If it’s to party and/or network, well you’ll need to know where the ‘happen-en’ places to be are.  If it’s to learn, grow and educate yourself then decide what you want to learn.  Don’t attend classes just because it’s an uber-popular photog.  Look at all the descriptions of the classes and pick based on what the instructor is going to teach.  I think this is why I feel like I’ve come away with so much!

Execute with Confidence  – Day One:  We covered so much including: taking absolute crap for locations and making them work for you and training your eye to find the good that anyone else would pass by.   Proof of that – while there were numerous other classes going on with dozens upon dozens of other photographers shooting their models,  there was no one else where we were.  Roberto did this to us on purpose, he took us to the worst possible locations and then taught us how to harness it and make it work.

Roberto gave me a new perspective when it comes to locations.  Something like this one below would normally be passed by because of the bright sun and ‘harsh’ shadows, now I see endless possibilities!

Execute with Confidence –  Day Two:  Posing.  By the time we got around to working with our models (again, in not-so-lovely surroundings) we had so much drilled in to our brains that I think my ears were smoking.  Roberto not only breaks down every kind of pose and makes it look natural and relaxed, but he is an amazing teacher as well.  I can’t believe how much of the information we learned is still crammed in my brain and I use it on every. single. shoot.  

I highly recommend picking up Roberto’s book that was just recently published. It doesn’t tell you what to do and when like most books, but it teaches you how to teach yourself . Which I think is important because after all we really are never done learning! Honestly, if there’s any book you should buy this one should be at the top of your list, Roberto doesn’t hold anything back!

After a long day of class, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?? Jump in a taxi ASAP and get as much shopping done before the stores close … or before your legs give out.

WPPI tip # 3 – Taxi’s are expensive. I know that’s more of a statement than a tip, but make sure you budget for it or share a cab whenever you can.  It cost me around $20-$25.00 each way to the outlet mall, which I made up for with my haul of amazingly priced shoes, but I still thought it was a little steep.

After two days of workshop I had one day ‘off’ to do whatever.  I ended up signing up for a desert shoot out a week or two before jumping on my plane but those are usually only a few hours.  So, I ended up killing some time at Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday party at the MGM. It was pretty crowded, there were a few celebs in attendance and we all got to sing Happy Birthday to the Champ.  I thought it was pretty awesome, but it does bring me to  WPPI tip #4 : Watch your stuff!! My point & shoot camera mysteriously ‘disappeared’ right from under me, never to be seen again.  So as a result, most of my tourist-y photos were taken with my iPhone.

Here’s a few pics of the Champ and the display that the MGM had done up in his honor:


And here’s a little video of everyone singing Happy Birthday:

WPPI tip #5:  Attend a shoot-out!  They’re a fun way to meet more photogs, learn a few new tricks and get some great shots for your portfolio. You can see mine from Gavin Wade’s shoot out here.  Before you check that out, here’s the group shot from our desert shoot out:

Photo courtesy of Gavin Wade Photography :)

WPPI tip #6 : Take time to see the sights! My one (and only) evening of checking out the strip I encountered two Micheal Jacksons, a storm trooper, four transformers, a wizard that could stand perfectly still, and a Vegas kitty – surprisingly – no Elvis.

Did I mention I like shiny things? I definitely enjoyed checking out the lights and the strip with my Nashville roomie.

Vegas wedding!

Obviously I had to hike at least as far as Caesar’s Palace -I just wish Bradley Cooper would have been there too.  And the Bellagio – it’s in basically every movie that’s filmed in the Vegas so I had to go there too.  I loved the fountain show!

What other place in the entire world could you visit the desert, New York, Paris, Egypt and Rome – all at the same time??  And then there’s the chip n’ dales. I didn’t go to a show, but I took photos of their bus. I mean – seriously – if they’re going to put all that hard work in to get into that kind of shape, the least we can do is appreciate it … right ladies??

Well, that’s my Vegas tour! Here’s a little video I took at the Bellagio – listen to see if you can tell how impressed I was …


More WPPI-ness :

Platform Classes – what it’s all about:  sharing this huge wealth of knowledge about our industry, supporting other photographers and helping each other learn,  grow and become better photographers and people.

It all got kicked off with Photographer’s Ignite, which to be honest, I wasn’t going to go to.  I was tired and my bed looked so cozy — but WPPI is not a place for sleeping – believe me.  I saw more than I few people crashing in between classes.  But I did go — and I’m so glad I did! Not only was it incredibly entertaining but I met some amazing people and even held on to a few little tips from some of the presentations.  Joe Photo – How to Crash & Burn your business – do everything yourself.  That one’s with me for life! Jerry Ghionis’s band rocked it out to top the night off and they were fricken good! If you want to see some of the video’s from Photographer’s ignite, check them out here. Which brings me to WPPI tip #7: Bring some dressy outfits. There are tons and tons of parties and chances are good you’ll go to at least one of them, you don’t want to show up in the jeans & t-shirt-purely-for-comfort-get-up that you spent the whole day in.

WPPI tip # 8: Shop for food as soon as you’ve checked in to your room. It’s a little like the Hunger Games, but without the killing.  The first thing you need to do is leave the MGM and find water. Buy lots of it.  Then find food, buy lots of it too.  Just up the strip a few blocks (10-15min walk) is a Walgreens, you will save tons of cash by picking up snacks and water there. The price for bottled water is nearly double at the hotel. Yikes!   Remember when you head over to the convention center to bring water and snacks with you. There aren’t any there to purchase and you have to walk alllllll the way back to the food court to eat and you don’t want to do that.  It’s so crowded during WPPI that you could spend an hour in the line up alone, not to mention the time it takes to get there and back.

WPPI tip #9: Pre-board for your classes and show up early! The line-up for J*‘s platform class started at the door, went all down the hall,  along the back wall and back out ALL the way down the hall and down the escalator, I’m sure.  Also, if your goal for WPPI is to soak up as much information as possible as mine was, then attend as many classes as you can fit in! You can only pre-board for five so make sure you pre-board for the ones you know you cannot miss and wait in line for the rest. Platform classes are free with a full registration so take advantage — and bring a note pad!  Chances are good you will take away at least one thing from each class that you can use in your own business somehow.

Speaking of Jasmine Star …  It was a privilege to hear her speak in person, she is a power house and a truly inspirational woman.


J* Live in the flesh .. I waited in line a while for this class and ended up in the 3rd row! Lucky me :)

From one of her presentation slides: “What is a brand?  A brand is a set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one service over the other” – Seth Godin – I couldn’t agree more.

I mentioned that with each class you’ll take away at least one or two things that you can apply to your photography or to your business in some respect. Here’s what I took away from some of my classes ..

Roberto Valenzuela – I took more away from this class than any of them, but I did get to spend two whole days with him.  What comes to mind first:  Fingers – they need to be relaxed – coach your client from the eyes to the finger tips to the toes.  Arms – watch those 90 degree angles at the elbow- it looks too stiff.  Always give your client something to do – “A task at hand keeps the attention away from the camera”.  One of the most valuable things I learned in his class was this: write it down. Go through each shoot (print out thumbnails) and circle the ‘mistakes’ in every shot. It will teach you to watch for it the next time and let you know where you need to improve. If you only ever look at your best images, you’ll never get better.

Kay Eskridge: ” Your client will invest in the product when they’re emotionally invested in the experience” – in other words (and this is really business 101) Give your clients the best possible experience you can. Provide them with exceptional customer service and make sure they know that they matter to you.

The Boudoir Divas! Obviously a lot of these pics were taken with the ole iPhone, seeing as my camera was MIA by this point.  These ladies rock boudoir and are amazing business people! They’ve been such a huge inspiration to me that I’m not sure my business would be anywhere near where it is today with out them, so it was so great to finally meet them!

A few tid-bits that I  took away from their class:  “A task expands to the amount of time allotted” – this simple statement has saved me hours and hours of procrastination since WPPI.  I give myself a shorter timeline and it gets done faster — go figure. “Work what your mama gave you”  – Be yourself and put yourself out there. Let yourself be vulnerable and let your client know who you are.  I’m a bit of a guarded person — so I’m working on this one!

Jerry Ghionis – the man can sing, and the ice light is really cool.  Ha ha .. that’s not all .. Jerry is so, SO talented and his goal was to inspire everyone in his class with light. Light is photography, so it makes sense, but Jerry seems to be able to harness it, bend it and make it succumb to his every will.  He made me want to run outside and play and he showed me that bright, harsh sunlight can work in your favour.

Jasmine Star: A brand is an experience.  Help others. Be yourself. Put a Bio on your website (I’m working on this one too!).  Don’t use Facebook as a ‘mega phone’ use it to connect with your audience and use it as a means for them to get to know you. -Just to name a few – I literally have like 10+ pages worth of notes!

Scott Robert Lim: We met in the food court over pizza & beer and then I went to this lecture and there he was on stage – I didn’t even put the two together until I was sitting there in his class.  Scott’s class was all about flash, there are a lot of ‘natural light photographers’ that are afraid of flash and the best thing you can do (especially if you’re in weddings) is become one with your flash and learn to shoot it in manual.  You may not always need it, but there will be a time when you do and that feeling of panic is never fun.  Straight from Scott’s presentation: Three reasons to use flash: 1. To create drama 2. To create images that video can’t easily produce (camera’s are getting better & better everyday to the point that you can virtually get a good image in the dark) 3.  To be a master of light.

Dawn Shields: Take one hour before each wedding to get your head in the game so-to speak, to let yourself be inspired.


The Trade Show

I mapped out ahead of time the ‘must visit booths’ , put on my running shoes and went for it! Just like I did for the outlet mall, actually. There’s virtually every type of vendor imaginable there and tens of thousands of square feet to cover!

I did end up picking up a few goodies and got to put a face to some of my favourite vendors like Forbeyon .. . This was SOOOOO exciting for me and I was so bummed when I realized there wasn’t anybody there that I knew to share it with.  This is the trade show booth to one of my favourite album companies and right there on their big ole display is one of MY weddings! I wanted to run around the whole trade show floor with a neon sign while shouting about it! I really should have had someone take my photo next to it, but I didn’t want to be a *that* person.  Ah well, I have this one:


So that’s a bit of my WPPI & Vegas experience! I would definitely recommend it to any photographer, whether you’re new to the industry or if you’ve been around the block a few times.


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