February 22, 2012

Observations From WPPI

It’s WPPI week here in Vegas. Since I live here now, it’s no big deal for me to head over to the show. My pal Skip Cohen and I taught alongside Michele Celentano at the GoingPro bootcamp on Saturday at the same time WPPI was running their bootcamp. On Sunday, Matthew Jordan Smith and I taught a two hour class for SmugMug at the Vegas SMUG and on Monday I devoted myself to looking at the trade show and meeting with vendors, clients, sponsors and friends who in town for the event.

Here are a few observations.

The show is a bit smaller this year compared with last year but there seems to be no lack of enthusiasm. The trade show floor features all the same stuff it does every year, just a few new flavors. There were one or two items I saw that really did impress me and I’ll do some reviews on those items in another post.

As usual, there were quite a few photographers in line to look at and play with all the new recently-announced cameras. Nikon was actually showing some of their video-related stuff which is unusual because they have always been pretty subtle on that front compared with Canon.

Many of the photographers who spoke at the conference also spoke at the trade show floor. If you wanted to be cheap, you could get a ton of free education on the show floor with one of the free trade show passes offered by most of the vendors.

The remarkable things – good and bad that I saw were:

1. It’s still about the networking. In my opinion the ONLY reason to go to these big shows is to see and be seen by the movers and shakers in the industry. I was struck by how many new, and very young faces I saw. There are a TON of new people jumping into this industry and by chatting with them I learned a great deal about their needs. Back to that in a minute. The old friends I saw at the show made the trip really worthwhile. Those of us who have been at this a while now have all the gray hair we need, but we have the special memories to go with that gray hair. That part was really fun.

2. It’s also about the networking at the parties. WPPI has become a party show. There are “off the hook” parties every night. My pal Kevin Kubota throws a party every year at Roys. It’s always the most sought-out invitation in town and always a great time. Animoto rented an $8k a night SkyLoft at the MGM and had a small, relatively quiet affair where most of the industry thought leaders were involved. It was my favorite. The youngsters had parties at the various clubs and I’m sure they had a good time too.

3. The print competition – while less relevant than it used to be is still a good place to see what the current trends and standards are in the industry. I saw some amazing stuff from the usual suspects like Jerry Ghionis. The man could make a picture of cow poo into a work of art. He’s probably the most artistic wedding/portrait photographer working in the business right now.

4. The overall attitude of the crowd was upbeat and positive, but the younger photographers have a great deal of false bravado and I worry for the future if this doesn’t change course. I overheard too many conversations that went something like: “Well I saw that new XXX camera in the XXX booth and all I need is that and the marketing course from XXX and I’ll be ready to start booking $10,000 weddings next week.” Umm, might want to rethink that one.

5. The truly great photographers, photographs, teachers and speakers along with the truly great vendors at the show all had one thing in common. Passion. And I mean oodles of it. You could easily sort the wannabes from the folks who are winning simply by judging their passion. I continue to know and grow more and more on this subject of passion in photography and I am starting to think it means more to the industry than ever. The most important weapon any photographer has is his/her heart. If you can’t shoot from the heart your images won’t matter.

My conclusion is that these giant trade shows are a little less relevant than they used to be because of online and social media. But the shows still matter when it comes to seeing who’s passionate and who’s not and who’s a true craftsman or woman and who’s not. These shows still matter from a networking perspective and there’s no reason NOT to go if you’re serious about making a living as a photographer.

Overall, I am upbeat about the future of the professional side of the photography world, but I hope younger photographers don’t loose site of the fact that to really be a success in this business you need to have love and passion for the work and the clients. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.

Thanks to everyone who was so nice to me at WPPI. I had the pleasure of meeting many of the folks wbo regularly listen to the podcast or read this site and I really appreciated it.

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