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WPPI Las Vegas 2015: Impressions of a first timer

DestinationAshlee Hamon

If you follow me on Instagram then you are well aware of the time I recently spent in Sin City. (@_@) You guys, I hugged my IDOLS! But before we get into my long time heroes and the news ones I'm currently stalking let me tell you how this trip began.

Waaaaay back in July of 2014 my fellow photog friends Sophan, Regina, and I decided we were going to go to this thing called WPPI in the spring, no matter what. We looked over the dates and decided it would be best to arrive the day before and leave in the late afternoon of the very last day, so we didn't miss anything. We were so over zealous and committed that we booked our plane tickets that very day and researched just when we would be able to book our room with the special WPPI rate at the MGM Grand. Fast forward to two weeks ago and we all ended up on separate flights out because the route we booked 8 months prior had changed. Whoops! Luckily we were able to move things around (we love you SOUTHWEST!) We got all settled in and we were ready to figure this convention out. 

I guess we should have been suspicious when some of our other friends in the industry were still contemplating whether or not they would stop through when we had already arrived......we felt like such newbies! So to spare you the same learning curve he's what we experienced:

1) We purchased Platform Passes that would get us into classes and the expo. The convention dates were listed as Feb 26th - March 4th. We were totally lost on the web site as to what the actual schedule was and how we were supposed to participate in things, hence we were there WAY early. But now we know. The conference actually started on Sunday the 1st. Thursday and Friday were for PLUS classes, that were $200-$400 extra each on top of the platform pass to the main conference. And they were sold out by the time we got there anyway. Whoops. So we enjoyed 2 days of general galavanting as Vegas tourists. 

2) The convention "started" Saturday with the first day of the Print Competition judging. You are allowed to sit in on live judging of submitted prints. There are multiple rooms for all kinds of categories and the judges are all of the guru's that are teaching classes. It's your first close proximity experience, you are right there as Susan Stripling walks in! :) I know, I 'm a fan girl. The best part though is how insanely educational it is. You listen to these master critique incredible work and you are blown away by their comments. "If the groom just had a better expression it would be a 90 for me, but it's just missing." "If they would have cropped out that tree it would score better, it's an unnecessary item. What is the tree adding? Nothing, so get rid of it." Wow. What a difference details make. The prints we were seeing had already made it through multiple rounds of online judging before they even made it to the final cut. All of the Silver and Gold winners were to displayed around the expo rooms on the last 2 days of the whole shebang, wow, so much talent in one place.

3) GO TO THE DESERT! After we sat in for a while on the print competition we decided it was time to get out into the desert and shoot! We rented a car and drove 20 minutes north west to Red Rocks Canyon. We had each other for models, and by this time the gorgeous Cat had joined our threesome. We were all giddy about the change in scenery and the LIGHT! Omg the light! So clean and yet mystical. We welcomed a beautiful albeit freeeeezing sunset in the canyon. The colors were breathtaking The rocks and soil were so red and all of the vegetation was green and BLUE! I want to go back and shoot foreverrrrrrrrrrr.

4) Ok the convention starts!!! We figure out that our passes get us into any of the PC classes, or Platform classes. We had already signed up for our 5 favs, they call it pre-boarding. It just means that we are guaranteed a seat, but they are open to anyone with a platform pass. We quickly realized even the most popular of speakers still had room for stragglers, Jose Villa being the only exception (although one lucky guy did manage to get in after 8:30). There are classes at 8:30 , 3 and 4:30 for all 3 days of the main conference and there are multiple classes happening during each time slot so you really have to pick and  choose who you see. There are also classes that you can pay extra for. There are PW or Photo Walks that are about 1.5 hours long. You're with a group of other attendees and your leader takes you around MGM with a model and you go for it! I did one with my fav Joe McNally!!! And of course instead of someone dressed up as abrade he had a gorgeous showgirl for us! And in true McNally fashion he showed us how to make beautiful images in full sun, at noon, in the desert, at the hotel pool. BOOM! It was totally weird trying to shoot alongside so many others so I enjoyed roaming the perimeter and being on the opposite side of everyone else. Last, there are MC classes that are also extra. They are usually in the after noon (PW are in the AM) and are longer, about 2.5 hours. You are in a smaller room with a smaller group and you have a more intensive mini seminar with the speaker I learned so much from the super cool Jessica Lark

5) STAY AT THE SIGNATURE TOWERS! We had booked our room so long ago that we can't even remember why we didn't get a room in there, besides it being a little more expensive. The signature towers are right next to all o f the convention stuff at the MGM. The main casino and rooms (where we were) are about 2 miles away from the convention rooms. Yep, I tracked it. We walked about 10 miles a day! So yep you guessed it, wear only comfy shoes. Also stay over there because they have kitchenettes! Our room had no fridge or coffee maker! Say goodbye to your left overs, up your food budget, and get up an extra hour to get in line for coffee. I had even brought some Buddy Brew with me! I was going to make pour overs and bring it with me....fail. I did however have luck with making my own cold brew in a water bottle! So listen to me, get a room at the signature, and then on the first day go to the Whole Foods up the street and stock u p on WATER and snacks (water is $5-$8 at the hotel). You're welcome. 

5) Lastly, socialize! Bring plenty of business cards and if you are with a group make sure  you divide and conquer often. You can always compare notes. Its so hard to see everything you want to. between classes we went down to the expo to play with albums and gear plus learn about new software and watch some of the Nikon reps shoot live! Stay on top of your social media and find out where the parties are! We went to a PIxieset (my gallery host) and a Shutterfest (another convention actually) party in the amazing loft suites! We even witnessed/participated in a group shoot and edit off! It was really cool. There are also a huge welcome kick off party thrown by WPPI. We didn't know until we got there but there was a ton of free food and it was OPEN BAR for the whole 3 hours!! Win!

All in all it was an overwhelmingly awesome experience! If I attend next year I am going to be much less ambitious and focus more on making connections and shooting out in that amazing desert. I'm excited to implement as much as I can from what I learned. I cannot thank the talented and generous Jen Rozenbaum and Vanessa Joy alike for sharing their inspiration and workflow, I feel like I might be able to hold on to my sanity this year! And I can't thank Regina enough for introducing me to the work of Sam Hurd and Jeff Newsom. I am smitten with their imaginations. I've already been practicing presuming, I'm taking apart an old lens to free lens with, and Regina and I are going in on a projector together! 

My biggest A HA from the entire trip was seeing Sam & Jeff's work and realizing THAT was what I was missing. That was what I wanted to bring to my portraits but couldn't put my finger on it. All at once my BFA thesis project came rushing to my mind. This is the photography I've been most compelled by all along! I want to bring light and color to my portraits in a painterly way. I want to make everything look more amazing than it actually is. I want to play and I want to explore. Have a look at my work from 2007/2008 here. I'm so thrilled with where I am in my career. I feel that I am on the brink of major breakthroughs. I feel confident in my technical skills and I'm ready to get to the next level.....ahhhhh!!!  Keep your eyes peeled for some creative work! I cannot wait to make personal projects a priority this year and to bring my renewed inspiration to every wedding and session! It's ART that I want to make for you!

XOXOXO And now for some pretty pictures....

My vintage dice, playing my favorite game 3's. Had to start gambling early!

My vintage dice, playing my favorite game 3's. Had to start gambling early!

I only broke out my pro camera when we were at the desert and for the photo walk. If you want to see more behind the scenes phone photos follow me on InstaGram at @ashlee_hamon_photography 

I only broke out my pro camera when we were at the desert and for the photo walk. If you want to see more behind the scenes phone photos follow me on InstaGram at @ashlee_hamon_photography 

Did I mention it was freeeeeing? It actually slurried on us at one point!

Did I mention it was freeeeeing? It actually slurried on us at one point!

#littledesertcreasture

#littledesertcreasture

We finally got a memento of the sun piercing through the clouds over the ridge....magical!

We finally got a memento of the sun piercing through the clouds over the ridge....magical!

Doesn't it look like an acme cartoon backdrop!?

Doesn't it look like an acme cartoon backdrop!?

My photo sticked panoramic, 12 individual images made this :)

My photo sticked panoramic, 12 individual images made this :)

LOVE off camera lighting! Thank you Joe McNally and Strobist. 

LOVE off camera lighting! Thank you Joe McNally and Strobist. 

These colors we real and they were breathtaking!!  And now for something completely different,

These colors we real and they were breathtaking!! 

And now for something completely different,

YES! She was so fantastic! Thank you Charlotte! 

YES! She was so fantastic! Thank you Charlotte

A little though the trees action.

A little though the trees action.

Yikes right? 

Yikes right? 

Oh yeah, I had only brought my 50mm with me...these were all shot with JOE's 70-200!! He let me borrow it....swoon. 

Oh yeah, I had only brought my 50mm with me...these were all shot with JOE's 70-200!! He let me borrow it....swoon. 

And these!! Finally figured out high speed synch! Lit with flash wide open in mid day sun! 

And these!! Finally figured out high speed synch! Lit with flash wide open in mid day sun!