In just over a week I’ll be landing in Las Vegas for my third WPPI adventure.  I’m there for eight crazy days and am excited to meet new people, see old friends, learn a little, teach a little and hopefully make it home without picking up the flulike plague I caught on the flight home last year.

Many of the people I plan to see this trip are going for the first time and have asked how to plan, what to expect, and how to make the most out of it when it seems like an endless sea of possibilities.

Here is my take on WPPI and what I’d recommend to anyone going the first time.

Start by thinking about why you want to attend and what you’d like to get out of the experience.

In addition to the plethora of classes you’ll find a huge tradeshow, a variety of industry events, parties, shootouts, and other social gatherings.

Maybe you want to soak up every last bit of wisdom by attending as many classes as you can.  Maybe you’d rather soak up the last drops of liquor before heading back to your room at 4 am and only hit the trade show and afternoon classes.  Maybe you’re somewhere in between.  Any option is fine but knowing what’s important will help you sift through your scheduling options.

The Classes

When it comes to picking classes think about your strengths and weaknesses as a photographer and business person. What do you struggle with? What things challenge you in your business?  This could be something business related like marketing or it could be something more creative or technical like lighting or posing.  Maybe you just need some inspiration.

Look through the list of class descriptions and note which sound like they’d help you conquer your challenges as well as those which might not but still sound interesting.  If you are not familiar with the speaker take a little time to look them up and don’t worry that they might not be a big photography household name.  I’ve learned some great things from people I had not previously heard of and been a little underwhelmed by the so called “rock stars.”

Preboard for your top 5 to guarantee you’ll get in. From what I’ve read too many full classes and long lines to get in the year before led to the introduction of preboarding last year.  It seems to have helped as I didn’t have problems getting into a single class last year – preboarded or not.  Still it’s not a bad idea to show up early and have a list of possible backup classes if your first choice is full.

Dress comfortably. We’ll all look like Zombies by Wednesday anyway.

Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. You may not know a single soul at WPPI but odds are pretty good that you’ve got at least one common interest with nearly everyone there.    It’s a great way to meet new people and pass the time waiting in line or for a class to begin.

A lot of instructors collect business cards and draw randomly to pick recipients for their sponsor donated prizes so it’s good to have plenty on hand if you like winning.

Take notes but don’t be afraid to put the pen down and listen sometimes, too.  I recommend a 6×9 spiral notebook or something similar that’s big enough to be comfortable but small enough to slip in your purse or bag.

Ideas are contagious and in most classes I find my head starts spinning with thoughts of my own and so I start a short to do list of actions I want to take after WPPI next to the notes I’m taking for the class itself.

Review notes during the down time between classes or at the end of the day. Often that little to do list with next steps grows once I’ve had some time for it to process.

Put time on your calendar to reread your notes after you get back.  Stick to it.  All the inspiration in the world won’t matter if you do not take action when you get home.

The Tradeshow

It’s probably the most overwhelming part of the entire week and yet the one thing I can’t imagine missing – especially if you’re in the market for new products to offer your clients or services to make your life and business run more smoothly. So much of our world is online and yet there’s something to be said about being able to see and touch product samples and get a feel for their quality in a way you simply can’t through a website.

Make a list of any vendors or specific products you’d like to see in person.  Include notes or questions you might have for them. This isn’t meant to be a list of every booth you’ll visit but more of a must see checklist to refer to before you’re done for the week.

Plan to visit the tradeshow at least twice because there really is an incredible amount to see and absorb. Don’t feel compelled to take a brochure from everyone that offers unless you want to carry 25lbs of marketing materials home with you.  It adds up fast.

Your smartphone and Evernote can save a lot of trees. 🙂

There are always a lot of great deals to be had at the show itself but be careful about buying on impulse and “savings” alone.  If it’s something you don’t need and won’t use the best deal in the world is still a bad purchase. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jump on something right then and there (because some do have specials that change each day) but know yourself and your spending habits and consider leaving the credit card in your hotel room the first time you go if you think you might be too tempted.  In most cases you’ll be able to come back later in the day or week and get those things if you still want them.

The Events

There’s a main event most nights that’s usually big, catered, and sponsored by a major camera company.  These are full of people and there are never enough tables so it’s a great excuse to start up a conversation with a stranger and chat over a light dinner.  There are also a lot of non WPPI events/shootouts/parties in Vegas that week so look around at options and decide which feel like a god fit for you.

Things to bring:

Notebook and Pens

Business cards

Comfortable shoes and layered clothing

Clothes that are fun/dressy for the evening adventures

Camera gear if you’re shooting.  Personally I’d leave it in the room most of the time.  Actually this will be my first year bringing anything bigger than a point and shoot.

Smartphone for tweeting/texting/notetaking/etc.

Other Random Thoughts

Make a short trek to the Walgreens around the corner where you can stock up on snacks and beverages.  If you think water is $$$ at the airport wait until you see the price at the hotel. 🙂 Besides a little fresh air and exercise are good for you.

Probably not bad to grab a purse sized bottle of hand sanitizer if you want to be proactive and try to avoid “the crud.”

Catching a cab from the airport to the strip is easy and doesn’t cost much.  Here in Kirkland I’m usually a shuttle person but The Strip is really close to the airport.   If you’re travelling with a friend this is even better since shuttles are per person.

If you fly late in the day most hotels will let you store your bags for a few hours after checkout.

If you’ve been to WPPI before what advice would you give to newcomers?  If you’re going for the first time what are you most looking forward to?  What lingering questions do you have?

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  • Jennifer Goodlet - I am so jealous! Going next year no matter what!February 8, 2012 – 1:34 am

  • Brenna - Wow, this is great information! You covered pretty much everything!February 8, 2012 – 8:24 am

  • Natalie Jones - I SO wish that I was going to WPPI, what an amazing learning experience!February 8, 2012 – 11:44 am

  • Tara Colburn - Wish I was going! Great tips though!February 8, 2012 – 4:53 pm

A lot of my underwater portrait work involves my subjects laying horizontally in the water.  I do this for a few reasons.     First consider that one of the biggest challenges of underwater portraiture is the fact that you need to shoot just about everything with a wide angle lens.  If you’re not a photographer you may not know that wide angles tend to distort reality a bit and when it comes to people this is not always flattering.   In a horizontal image this squishes things and in a vertical image this stretches them out.  Since very few people want to be shorter and wider I opt to have a lot of people lay flat in the water which essentially puts the vertical stretching effect on them in what is technically a horizontal composition.  I still try to stay as far back as I can to minimze distortion or place it in areas of the frame likely to be cropped out in post.   Also the lighting is better at the surface and it’s easier for most to float there than it is to pose vertically just under the water.  And then there is the artistic element of increased reflections.   I’ll do another post about getting the best reflections but for now know that the horizontal placement helps add more colorful reflections to your underwater portraits.

This image is one of my very favorite members of the Class of 2012 and part of last year’s Blue Crew.  Dorothy was such a delight to work with and one of those rare people who can jump in pool and look animated and expressive and stunning in just about every shot.  (There are always a few funny outtakes. 😀 ) I was actually a bit surprised to see how well the color gold worked underwater and loved the texture of the fabric.


senior portrait underwater


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When I merged the blog and website into one blogsite in 2010 I thought it would result in galleries and site content that were updated a lot more frequently.  I’d be there blogging anyway, right?  I seem to have missed the mark with that prediction.

This year I’m taking a different approach which starts with the introduction of a new weekly themed blog post series I’m calling Wet Wednesday.

Each week I plan to feature a favorite underwater portrait (or series of underwater portraits) and explain how they came to be and why I include them on my list of favorites.  Most will be portraits of people underwater but a few surface shots and creatures of the sea will undoubtedly make an appearance or two in this new series – including here in the very first Wet Wednesday post.

 The first week or so of our vacation had been a bit wet and windy and we didn’t spend much time at the beach.  As the new year started the winds finally died down and the vog started to hover.  Little did I know the fishing season had also just started and between that and the break in the extended absence of sun we arrived to find a flood of extra people at the beach we usually go to for it’s quiet and less touristy feel. 

As I swam and photographed fish on the reef I found there to be a little more spearfishing than I was comfortable being in the midst of.  I started moving to another area which required swimming through what must have been a swim team practice.  As I waited for “traffic” to clear I was simply awestruck at the view in front of me.  Swimmers, snorkelers, paddle boarders, and fisherman all enjoying the same space.   The diversity on the water was beautiful all by itself but the sun had finally dropped below the clouds and through the vog took on a dramatic blood orange hue that was nothing short of ethereal.

I knew the shapes of the people would make incredible silhouettes if I could find a way to see them clearly and still focus.  From the surface your view is obscured by water at different amounts as the waves move.   It looked like this:


 To get the picture I wanted I had to be high enough out of the water to get the full shape of these subjects but also low enough to also have the sense of moving water in my frame.    To further complicate things it was deep enough that standing was not an option and I’d be treading my way through all of this.  If you think shooting through an underwater camera housing is hard try adjusting settings, composing, and focusing on a moving set of unaware subjects while you tread water vigorously enough to keep your shoulders out of the water.  Still loads more fun than anything at the gym.

There was enough distance between me and these subjects that f5 was  probably plenty to give me a generous depth of field and keep them all in focus but I was working way too hard to take any chances and shot most at f9 just to be safe.  With all that movement I opted for 1/1000th of a second as my razor sharp image producing shutter speed.  This meant using ISO 1000 which is no cause for concern and virtually noise free with my beloved D700.  The D700 and my Tokina 12-24 were once again housed in the travel friendly ewa marine bxp100.  

Enough with the technical geekery…I know you just want to see the image, right?


Same picture, different crop for use as my Facebook timeline cover photo:

I’m torn and still trying to decide which version to print and hang in our entry way.

Last but not least another extreme panoramic photograph where the paddle boarders are sitting for sunset, the swimmer is a little more obvious, and the sailboat finally sails into my frame:


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