So the smoke has cleared, I’ve (kind of) caught up on my sleep and I’ve returned to “reality” since getting back from the WPPI 2016 Convention in Las Vegas. As I’m sorting out my thoughts from the past week, I’m having trouble finding the perfect phrase to describe my feelings after being immersed in such a creative, supportive and “safe” environment. I suppose blissful exhaustion will do for now but that doesn’t quite describe it. WPPI has a very special meaning to me and I’ve tried for a couple of years to put my experience into words and never been able to do it until now.

I’ve been going to conventions, both large and small, in some shape or form for 8 years now. That’s more than some photographers, less than others, but something really stands out to me – this year more than all others. Every convention I’ve been to (whether its 100 people or 10,000) offers far more than what can be quantified on the speaking schedule. It’s something that is absolutely different for every photographer yet it seems to fulfill each person’s unique needs. For me, it’s the ability to meet new friends, talk with existing ones and, more important than anything, be inspired by EVERYONE! From the trade show vendors offering new products that allow us to become more creative, viewing the amazing work at the print competition, speakers teaching different ways to do things, the after-class chats with friends, the social events or seeing longtime (or new) friends reach new levels of success. You can’t really put this type of experience on a spec sheet.

As I’m speaking from personal experience, I wanted to share some of my highlights this year. I implore you – if you attended, or are wanting to attend – to come up with a similar list for yourself. WPPI offers so much that you simply cannot do it all, so knowing what you want and what you need is very important for your continued growth as a photographer.

The Community

WPPI is a HUGE melting pot of photographers from across the globe. We all come for different reasons and, hopefully, we all leave having filled the gap we as creative people seem to have as most of us work solo. The feeling of family, belonging and knowing every year we get to immerse ourselves again makes this time of year so vitally important to me. Seeing the sheer amount of diversity and creativity emanating from our industry is truly humbling and makes me not only proud to be a photographer, but makes me want to push my boundaries further than ever before. I think this is at the core of every convention. It’s such an amazing experience if you let yourself take it all in. My own personal needs have changed since my first convention. I went to every educational component I could, went to bed early, and studiously took notes. As my business and I found our place in my local market, the educational need neatly balanced itself with the need for inspiration and community. That’s what’s truly amazing about most conferences and specifically WPPI – the diversity and planning that allows us all to make our own way and fulfill our own needs.

The Print Competition

The past two years I have learned more about photography from sitting in on the print judging than any class (not that the classes are bad, they just focus on one thing where the print judging covers all aspects). It makes me realize that I should constantly be striving for perfection and to never make an “excuse” for why I didn’t tweak this, or move that, in any photograph I take. There were literally hundreds of photos that made my jaw drop and one that, quite honestly, gave me pause enough to hang up my camera thinking I could never be that good. Funny thing is though, I realized that I would never be able to make that specific photo as good as the original creator, nor should I try. I should do my own photo in my own style and push for perfection in THAT photo, not try to mimic someone else’s. I think that message is the most powerful one from this year. To push my own boundaries and try to create something never seen by anyone else.

The Social Aspect

WPPI 2016 Opening Night PartyThis was the first year I attended “alone” and it was absolutely the best year I’ve ever had at WPPI. It forced me to put myself out there, shake hands first with someone I never met and get out of my comfort zone of hanging out with the same group of friends every day. I genuinely met some truly amazing people and am so humbled to have spent time with them. Whether it was at a WPPI social event (like the opening night party or awards show), simply by walking around the hotel, grabbing food or stopping by and saying hi to an acquaintance, this experience led to so many other wonderful moments that it’s absolutely worth mentioning.

The Trade Show

Fundy SoftwareFor the uninitiated, the trade show is an overwhelming experience which can quickly lead to sensory overload and confusion on what you should be doing in your business. It’s important to keep an open mind and instead of “looking” for a specific solution to a problem in your business, look around at the possibilities. The larger companies will often have world class speakers at their booth giving lectures or demonstrations and these should not be missed. Even though it’s a “sales” floor, I’ve never witnessed any vendor demonstrate anything but a genuine desire to help you and your business either solve a problem or grow. It’s a very powerful aspect of the entire experience and an absolute must to dedicate a few hours to see what’s new on the market or how you can change your own work to grow personally and professionally.

The classes

WPPI Classes

The scheduled classes are an obvious reason many people go to WPPI. Education is vital – especially with so many amazing photographers pushing the boundaries each year. You can only take so many classes (as so many happen at the same time) but both the platform and master classes feature truly gifted and giving photographers sharing practical experience and knowledge. The WPPI speakers are some of the most passionate ones in the industry and they openly share their knowledge with everyone who attends their classes. Outside of having a mentor early in my career, hearing these talks and understanding there’s more than one way to run a business is absolutely key to your continued success. Besides taking classes you “want” to learn, I implore you to take something outside of your comfort zone. You’d be surprised what you can learn when you get your “brain” out of the way and just open yourself up to a new concept.

The “unscheduled” classes

IMG_0311I thought about listing this under “classes” or “social” but it doesn’t fit neatly under either. Being able to sit down at lunch, or over a drink, with 4, 5 or more photographers and talk about your experiences, challenges or funny stories is simply one of those aspects that can’t be missed. This year I had a chance meeting with a very well known photographer and sat down to lunch with him and his marketing person. Then we were joined by other vendors and before you know it, pictures of him with politicians came out and we were having discussions about photographing presidents, lighting up arenas and taking landscape photos. I cannot stress how important this aspect is to me personally and how that has helped me grow as a photographer and person. Trading these tips, stories and knowledge is almost better than a focused class because we all assimilate information into our own business in such way that it changes how we view our work.

Now that I’ve got my thoughts down on the page, I want to change the phrase in which I described the feelings I have two days after returning. Blissful exhaustion simply isn’t accurate. Prodigiously inspired is a far better phrase. I am so absolutely excited for the year to come and cannot wait for 2016. Thanks WPPI – can’t wait until next year!