The interview below is the product of Erin’s questions and Skip’s answers and advice. This is the first of a series between Skip’s blog and ours featuring Skip and Erin as they go through the WPPI process together.
Don’t forget to comment below with any questions or advice. Enjoy! We look forward to seeing you at WPPI.
Erin Saldana: What sort of atmosphere, characteristics (and really anything else) can I expect from an experience at WPPI this year?
Skip Cohen: Year after year WPPI is about energy and that’s probably what will hit you first. It sounds almost hokey, but it’s like the biggest family reunion you’ve ever been to…on steroids. Even last year, in one of the worst economies in history, people were simply pumped to be there. They were excited, optimistic and interested in learning. It’s a “work hard play hard” atmosphere as attendees try and attend every possible program, visit every exhibitor and then make time at the end of the day to catch up to old friends and new ones.
ES: How can I prepare for and make sure that I take advantage and make the most of everything WPPI has to offer?
SC: You need to think about where you need the most help and prioritize your trip. I actually had a photographer years ago complain because there were 60 different platform programs offered and he only made it to 50 of them. He wanted his money back! He was only supposed to hit 8-10 programs! The truth is, if you tried to make every program, your head would simply explode.
So, here’s the way to attack the WPPI challenge: First, list the areas you’re weakest in from an educational standpoint. Do you need more help in marketing than you do in photographic technique? Do you need help in lighting versus your presentation/album design etc. The list will go on and on.
Too often photographers hit a program because they love the speaker. While there’s nothing wrong with that, if you’re not learning anything new, then you’re not taking full advantage of what WPPI has to offer.
Second, look in your camera bag and your office – do you have all the gear you need? Are you happy with your albums, frames, your lab – figuring out what you need the most in this area will help you work the trade show. WPPI is the largest trade show in terms of the number of companies represented, in the US. And, my advice is to walk it aisle by aisle, keeping in mind those products/services you identified ahead of time as in-need-of.
Last but not least, and I wrote this last week – if there’s any big ticket item you’re thinking about buying, figure out what you can afford before leaving for WPPI. This includes leasing options and credit lines. This way when you’re shopping you know exactly the impact it has on your cash flow before you hit the show.
ES: Which of the speakers/classes/teachers would you recommend I put on my list of priorities to see and learn from?
SC: This is a tough question, because it relates to what your needs are – this year’s platform is broken out by tracks so it’s easy to identify who the key speakers are in each category. But there are two programs I’d definitely hit and it’s funny, both speakers are good friends of mine – Gregory Heisler on Sunday night before the welcome party and Scott Bourne on Tuesday night. I worked with Gregory Heisler for three weeks at Hallmark Institute last Spring and he’s amazing. He’s done 75 covers of Time Magazine alone and his ability as a teacher is remarkable. But don’t listen to his program as a photographer who hopes to get a cover shot some day – listen to his ideas on lighting and how he works with his clients so you can take back what you’ve learned and apply it to your current business model.
Scott Bourne has been called the King of Social Media – and just like having a great website, social media can help you the same way. Scott has almost 70,000 followers on Twitter and he’s an outstanding photographer as well. You’ll pick up a whole series of new ideas to give you the power to reach thousands of potential clients in a way that just a few years ago only a magazine had!
ES: What are the major differences/similarities between Platform Classes, Plus Classes, Master Classes, and Business Institute?
SC: Finally, an easy one to answer…LOL…Platform classes are free with your registration and are all held in ballrooms, seating any where from a few hundred to a few thousand people. Plus Classes are before WPPI and two days of total emersion photography. Twenty people with one instructor for two days. There is an additional cost, but it’s well worth it. Master Classes are $50 each and three for $100 and are 40-50 people for two hours with one instructor – they give you a more intimate experience and a chance to better fine-tune your skills. The Business Institute and All About Schools are two stand alone days before the convention even starts on Saturday and are just what their titles suggest. Business and Marketing programs are some times too difficult to appreciate when mixed in with the regular platform so five years ago the BI was started as a full day of nothing but business and marketing programs. All About Schools is similar in that it’s all about senior and underclass photography, giving photographers the opportunity to be more diverse in the way they attack their marketing opportunities.
ES: What other hands on workshops are being offered? (I noticed a lot of them were sold out, but maybe there are others that are available)
SC: It’s not “hands-on” per say, but check out Print Competition on Saturday and Sunday. It’s free with your registration and there are over 3000 prints this year being judged. Each print is judged by a panel of experts and you’ll learn an incredible amount by just sitting and listening to the comments of the judges, who are, for the most part, most of the this year’s instructors as well.
Also, check out the events on the floor of the show itself. Pictage for example, has an all-star cast speaking right in their booth. What’s fun about programs presented by the vendors is that they’re short snipets – you’ll pick up a new idea and also a chance to meet the speaker in a completely different kind of atmosphere.
Last but not least, while they’re not being conducted by WPPI, there are always a few groups doing night time shoots, etc. around Vegas – probably the best way to find out more of what’s going on is to just check on the DWF forum (www.digitalweddingforum.com) and also ask the question on WPPI’s fan page on Facebook.
ES: Is there any sort of plan of attack to make my way through the trade show? Pretty much just pick a starting point and wander aimlessly at my leisure? Or should I stop off at any particular booths first?
SC: Start in one corner and just work your way through the show. Personally, I always work a show myself trying to get as broad a picture I can of who’s there the first day and then more specific to what I need to do, people I want to see, etc. the second day. Remember at WPPI there are two ballrooms, each loaded with a variety of companies. See the full show on the first day and on the second day visit those companies who came up on top with the products or services you need the most from that list you hopefully made before you got there.
Also, remember that this is the largest number of different companies in photography and they cover virtually every aspect of the business. Don’t assume because it’s a little company in a small booth that they might not have a product that will be life changing for you! Try and visit as many companies as time will allow.
ES: Are there any special giveaways/contests to look forward to?
SC: Sorry, I’m not on top of this one at all – but every year in the past there have been all kinds of programs and contests independent of WPPI presented by the exhibitors themselves. You need to check out the show and all the vendors. But the grand daddy of awards shows is on Wednesday night and it’s an experience not to miss. I’ve never seen anything like it in our industry – sort of like the Oscars of print competition.
ES: For a first timer like me, is there anything else that you would like to share about WPPI?
SC: Don’t forget to network – WPPI is about friendships and communication just as much as it is a great convention. Talk to people around you when you’re waiting for a program to start. Try and have dinner with people you might not know. Talk to the icons you’ll see at the show as well as the vendors you like to work with. Also, take a few of your images in a small portfolio – just some 5x7s of your work will do fine – it’s nice when you’re talking to a vendor to be able to show them how you use their products or services.
Most important of all, don’t be intimidated by the energy or the number of people who seem to have a handle on things better than you do. The reality is that everyone is in the same boat and dealing with same challenges in the economy, technology etc. Just have a good time!
See what Pictage is up to at WPPI here.
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Erin J. Saldana is a wedding and portrait photographer about to embark on her first trip to WPPI (a convention and tradeshow catered for wedding and portrait photographers). In an attempt to prepare for her first WPPI experience Erin reached out to the Pictage forums with questions and seeking advice.
Skip Cohen, has been involved with WPPI for over twenty years. He may no longer be president of WPPI, since leaving to start his own company last Spring, but nothing changes the pride he has in talking about what he and his staff built over the past seven years. He recently shared some of his invaluable advice about WPPI in his blog post “13 Tips on Getting the Most out of a Convention”.