WPPI 2017 and My First Encounter with The Desert

Having spent my entire life living on the East Coast (North Carolina, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts then back to New Hampshire), I’m very accustomed to the landscapes out here (mountains, countryside, oceans, beaches, busy cities…). While I have traveled out of the country plenty, including a semester in Rome, I had never really traveled further west than Kentucky (which isn’t all that far west, let’s be real) outside of a quick jaunt to Point Loma Nazarene University for Executive Student Government Training in college for a few days. So, when I made the decision to travel to Las Vegas for the Wedding & Portrait Photographers International Expo (WPPI) for the first time, I knew I would be seeing all types of things I had never seen or experienced before on top of learning so so much from the best in the business. I’ve got soooooo much I could share about my trip and you can bet there will be multiple blog posts to come about WPPI (including more on the Desert Styled Wedding Shoot I was a part of at Seven Magic Mountains), but let me just tell you how it all went first. I’ll share some iPhone snaps throughout and at the end will share some images from my professional cameras.

The journey to Las Vegas was actually a pretty hectic one for me. On Saturday, I had a beautiful winter wedding I was photographing at Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle, NH. Amidst dealing with some of the coldest temperatures we’ve had all winter, my second shooter and I wrapped the day around 11:30pm – and I still had a 2hr drive home. Once arriving home, I had 2 hours to shower, import photos from the wedding, wrap up some things at home and finish packing before my husband drove me the hour and a half to the Boston airport to board my 6am flight. I think I may have gotten 3 hours of sleep on my journey west as the first flight to Salt Lake City included the sweetest little girl who couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 saying “Whoa, daddy, no way! Clouds don’t look like that in real life! They are so much fluffier!” After flight two and a shuttle ride to the hotel, I got all checked in and went straight to the killer hotel room that I got to share with Elvis, Ali, Marilyn and later, my WPPI roommate (who is epic and awesome). Along the exhausting journey to Las Vegas, I managed to get kicked in the face with a head cold, so I spent the first half of the Super Bowl in my hotel room before getting myself together and riding the monorail one stop down to join some new friends at an outdoor bar for the remainder of what will easily be the best Super Bowl performance in history (I’m a huge Patriots fan. Completely unashamed.)

WPPI Day One – Medications, Competitions & Podcasts

Day two in Vegas was Monday, Day One of WPPI and was incredibly eventful and at times overwhelming in the absolute best of ways. My roommate, Caroline, and I enjoyed breakfast together while I medicated away with some cold meds and then we headed over to watch some of the judging in the Print Competition. I’ll admit that at first I thought this would be extremely dull and nowhere near as entertaining or informative as the classes taking place. Boy, was I wrong. We sat in on a couple different rooms and categories of judging, and hearing how the judges scored the prints, why, how they would improve them and even the simple importance of paper style, color and quality for an image’s success were incredibly educational. I left the judging rooms certain that, though it may be scary to put my images out there like that, I’m determined to enter at least one of my images for competition next year.

In the evening, I met up with Jeff & Erin Youngren – two of the most genuine, caring, goal-oriented and amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and learning from. After chatting around the meetup they organized for photographers who were a part of their Facebook group, I was able to be the smallest part of their newest venture – podcasts for and about and inspiring other creatives and photographers.  Some of the wonderful folks I had met while standing with them at the meetup were a part of the initial Q&A before they went on to conduct a more detailed interview with Heather. So fun!

WPPI Day Two – Back Spasms, Boneyards & Buying All The Things

On Tuesday as I was getting ready, my back freaked out an I hit the floor, unable to move without pain. I had never experienced anything like this before, so trying to figure out what to do was a bit crazy. I managed to get myself up and moving to get Advil eventually and then made a B-line to the Expo where, amidst the hundreds of vendors of all things in the industry, I knew there were some massage therapists to help me out. I also did a first pass through the expo – which took several hours, seeing all that was there and realizing that while I thought I would never want to buy anything, all of the sudden I was having to figure out wants vs. needs, what I could do to make all the things I needed to happen as well as a couple of the things I wanted.

In addition to some of the classes I attended, I went on a Photo Walk with Katrin Eismann and Sony to the Neon Boneyard – where Vegas signs go to rest in peace and where some are restored. This was one of the neatest, most unusual and beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Seeing all these signs which once had such vastly different purposes juxtaposed against the sandy ground was so captivating. I was definitely taking tourist selfies (as showcased below) while also snapping away with my cameras (see those photos at the end of this post).

WPPI Day Three Part One – The Expo to End All Expos

This was my “expo day” – a day that only really had two other things I had to do besides walk the expo over and over to narrow down all the things I was going to buy. I visited my friends at the Massage Therapy booth again before diving in, but then I was good to go. Seriously, when you go to this expo, you really do need to be prepared because you WILL want to buy things. I never want to buy at events like this, but the deals were so great and being able to test and use the products while also seeing them in action by the best in the business was incredible. I won’t lie, before the end of the day, I had purchased a new lens, new memory cards, a new tripod, a new flash modifier and made plans for a couple other purchases upon arriving home.

One of my favorite parts of the expo, however, was meeting the vendors I use in my business face to face and seeing some vendors whom I have already met in the past again. Meeting the extended team at The Knot (whom I have been featured with for nearly 8 years now), saying hey to the folks from 17 Hats who transformed my workflow system and giving a quick “hey” to the team at Two Bright Lights was wonderful. Extra awesome? Millers is the company I use for all my client albums and while I’ve always loved their customer service, they went above and beyond for me at WPPI. When I had an issue come up with an album, I was able to go right to their booth and work it out with someone there to get my client their updated album sooner. It was so nice to be able to problem solve on the spot, face-to-face. Loved it!

While I knew the expo would be large, I guess I didn’t even think about the idea that vendors would have their own little stages with speakers and sessions going on every day throughout the expo hours. I got to listen in on so many Q&As with some amazing artists as well as to pop in to learn some tips and tricks for improving images and interactions with clients. Seriously so cool.

WPPI Day Three Part Two – The Desert & The Rising Tide

Y’all, I could have jumped out of my skin with excitement in anticipation of the Desert Styled Shoot that I had signed on to be part of organized by Jessica Lynn Hatton Photography. I spent the morning with a little more time at the expo and getting my gear cleaned and inspected by Canon Professional Services (thanks, Rita!), and was then right off to the meetup point. The people I got to meet and get to know and laugh with were one of my favorite parts of this shoot – and that’s saying a lot since I was so dang excited about the desert itself. The shoot itself aside, I am so very grateful that I heard about this opportunity and signed up for it because of the people (shout out to you lovely Carolina girls, the most adorable Aussie I’ve ever met and the Rhode Island posing champ). The experience wouldn’t have been nearly as grand if it wasn’t for the people who were along for the ride and I loved it.

The desert really is beautiful. I’ll admit that it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, but in the absolute best of ways (and hey, when all you’ve seen of deserts is the ones on TV, of course you’re not going to know what to expect). The mountains in the background and the random cacti were so gorgeous and neat. My phone was dying, so I didn’t take a whole lot of photos there, so be sure to look at the bottom of the blog post for the images from my cameras. I’ll be posting more on the styled shoot and my images from the session as its own blog post (and no lie, I can’t wait for you to see it all).

In the evening, I went to one of the top floors in the hotel and down the longest hallway in existence to a suite that The Rising Tide had secured for an informal Fireside Chat. If you are unfamiliar with The Rising Tide Society, it’s an amazing organization founded on the idea of community over competition, bringing creatives together to help build each other up and share from our own experiences as we all grow and move toward success in our businesses. The founder, Natalie Franke Hayes, is one of the most patient, understanding, driven, compassionate and inspirational women I’ve ever crossed internet paths with, and it was so lovely to meet her in person, listen to her heart surrounded by so many people in that jam-packed suite that were all for #communityovercompetition, and to let her know that I refer to her as Nattie H. 🙂 Her heart-to-heart with us that night along with Andrew Barlow of Shoot & Share was exactly what I needed that night and I’m so glad I traveled down such a creepy long hallway to be part of it!

WPPI Day Four – Good Guides and Goodbyes

While I don’t have many photos from Thursday, it was definitely one packed day. I had signed up on-site for a Plus Class learning Off-Camera Flash from Mike Fulton – from 8am-2pm, I was soaking up every bit of knowledge this guy was dishing out and loved watching how simple he made it all to understand, even before we went outside to practice things in real life vs. on paper. I was told Mike was the best to learn from, and that is 100% true. When planning for WPPI, I didn’t think I would want to pay additional for any classes, but I’m so happy I did and know that in the future when I get back to WPPI, I’ll definitely be purchasing more classes outside of the included Platform Classes. After just this one class experience, I know it is so worth it.

I ended up spending about 6 or 7 hours in the Las Vegas Airport before my flight home actually took off that evening (I guess technically it was the next morning at that point). The Northeast had been going through some insane snow storms for the last few days, causing most flights that way to be cancelled. My flight was the first one to head towards Boston in 2 days, and the airport was full of folks trying to get on that one flight to get home. And boy, was it good to be home when I finally got home, snow and all!

Phew! I know that’s a lot to follow along with, so I’m glad you made it! It was definitely a whirlwind of a trip for me that I am so excited I was able to experience and learn from! Next time, though, I hope to be more at 100% healthwise so I can experience and do even more while there! Keep a look out for more upcoming posts from my time in Las Vegas and at WPPI, but for now, here are some of the images from my professional cameras from the trip (minus the Styled Shoot)!

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