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WPPI 2009

WPPI 2009

February 12-19, 2009

The economy might be in turmoil, but that didn’t stop a record number of photographers from descending on Las Vegas for the annual Wedding and Portrait Photographer International Convention and Tradeshow. A whopping 12,000 people attended the 2009 edition.

This was my fourth year attending WPPI and my third year attending as a speaker. I had a really hectic schedule this year, perhaps too hectic, as it left very little time for socializing, partying or gambling.

I left Washington on Wednesday February 11 to teach a two-day workshop known as a “Plus Class” on the Thursday and Friday leading up to the show. On Saturday and Sunday (2/14-15) I participated as a judge in the 16×20 print competition and on the Tuesday I delivered a two-hour platform presentation to about 500 attendees.


Lorenz Crespo plays "Crazy Elvis" in our shooting exercise.

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The WPPI Plus class was a great experience for me. This was the first time I had taught a multi-day workshop by myself, so I was a little nervous about it. I am forever indebted to my good friends Brooks and Leighanne Whittington for coming out early and helping me with the class. Brooks’ insight was invaluable and it’s always great to have someone to brainstorm ideas with.

The class I taught was called “The Art of Visual Storytelling” and the goal was to help participants become better documentary photographers. I had 18 great students from as far away as Hong Kong and Russia. We spent the first day talking a good bit about photojournalism and decisive moments. I don’t feel that I can teach students about documentary photography without helping them understand what photojournalism is truly about. There are a lot of myths in the wedding industry about what photojournalism is and isn’t and I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.

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In the afternoon I shared a good bit of my own personal approach to a story (or a wedding). I discussed many of the mental thought processes I go through while shooting and working a scene. The next day we reviewed the images from Justine and Gary’s wedding, talked about how some of the principle’s we discussed the day before were applied, and did a demonstration on reception lighting techniques.


More from Crazy Elvis!

Friday afternoon we did a fun little shooting exercise where each student comes blindly into a room one at a time and encounters 3 very different events happening simultaneously. The student has two minutes to work the room, find the moments, and create a variety of storytelling images from each situation. It was a bit intense, but a lot of fun, as the photographers had to quickly assess the craziness going on around them and be in the right position with the right lens to capture images. Brooks and Leighanne gave each of the students a quick critique of their images after they finished the exercise and were waiting for the other students to finish.

I owe a big thanks to Lorenz Crespo, Ray Anthony, Mandy Karangelen and several others for taking the time to come to the class to be the subjects in the shooting exercise. You guys were great and made the whole process fun and exciting.

After the shooting exercise we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the hotel and teaching the students how to make the most of less than ideal lighting conditions.

lorenz-21The class ended on a high note when my friend Matt Mendelsohn stopped by hoping to test his Masterclass presentation on my projector. The class got to see some outstanding work he has produced from a personal project on a beautiful young woman who last year lost all of her limbs to a terrible disease. It was a very moving body of work and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.

The print competition at WPPI is always interesting. It’s a real honor to be asked the judge some of the most amazing wedding photography from around the world. Each year the competition gets more and more creative. This year especially, the boundaries of what constitutes of an actual photograph were pushed hard by a number of entries that were beautiful and full of impact, but combined many non-photographic elements. I was glad to see my good friend Cliff Mautner win the Grand Award in Wedding Photojournalism with a true moment that intimately conveyed a very emotional scene. His image sent a strong message as to what real wedding photojournalism should be. I didn’t enter the competition this year but I definitely plan to in 2010.

The platform presentation on Tuesday night was also a lot of fun. One of the unexpected pleasures of doing a platform at a show like WPPI is running across old friends that I haven’t seen in ages. Several of my old acquaintances from journalism stopped by for the presentation and stuck around to say hello afterward. My platform was titled “Capturing Moments that Matter” and like my Plus class, the goal is to help wedding photographers become better documentary photographers. I talked about many of the same points I went over in the Plus class, but in a more condensed form. I also talked about the importance of personal projects in a photographers life and showed some of my Cowboys & Crocodiles work.

I didn’t have a lot of free time but I was also able to catch some great presentations by outstanding photographers like Marcus Bell, Parker Pfister, Cliff and Matt.

It was truly a great experience tosee everyone and catch up. I sincerely hope those who attended my classes were all able to take home at least one little nugget of information that makes a difference in your work and your business. If nothing else I hope you left simply inspired to be better. See you all again next year.

These pictures were made during a lighting demonstration at my Plus class. I was trying to show the students how you can make nice images in less than ideal lighting conditions. The illumination on both faces was created using a small wall sconce in a dark hallway. The image on the right was created using the same wall sconce as the one on the left, but a little video light was added to the back to create some glamour lighting on the hair. These are two students from my class, Luke Snyder, left and Stephanie Hogue Davis.

This is another picture from the Plus Class lighting demonstration. I was showing the students how you can combine a little video light with the existing ambient light to create interesting images. Pictured is Rachel Garrison.

This was the view from my hotel room as I was prepping for my Platform on Tuesday. The light was going crazy over the mountains. It was hard to concentrate on work. I kept wanting to look out the window.

  • March 11, 2009 - 6:02 am

    Christophe Flers - Hello,
    I’m a french wedding photographer and it was a pleasure to me to see jour platform presentation.
    You give a lot on this platform, and I find a new master !!!

    Thank you very much for this !!

  • March 11, 2009 - 9:24 am

    greg - Thanks Christophe – glad you were able to make it and that it was beneficial for you. Thanks so much for the note!

  • March 11, 2009 - 7:26 pm

    Louis - I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about you from David Williams. I will make sure I don’t miss you next year. Cheers!

  • March 11, 2009 - 9:54 pm - Nice post Greg. I skipped WPPI this year but plan to go back next time.

  • March 12, 2009 - 10:31 pm

    Nicole - What more can I say to you! You rock and I had fun hanging out and drinking girly drinks;) Big hug coming your way, lunch next week??

  • March 13, 2009 - 4:19 pm

    Stephen Schumacher - Hi Greg,

    I went to your platform class and I have to say it was awesome. I really liked the “washington insider” view of photjournalism and how it applied to your photography. Being originally from the DC area (now living in Colorado) it brought back a lot of memories from the “Clinton Years”. I was really beat from running around the show and it was so cool to just sit down and enjoy your presentation. It was both entertaining and I picked up some really valuable perspectives that I will apply to my shooting.


  • March 17, 2009 - 8:04 pm

    Ray - Would love a copy of Lorenz and me in the background when you get a chance 🙂

  • March 17, 2009 - 8:11 pm

    ruby rideout - greg, your image of the strip in breathtaking!

  • March 18, 2009 - 2:46 pm

    Heather Z - It was great running into you –literally– in Vegas 🙂 Wish it could have been a longer visit! Would love to gtg sometime this year on the home turf!

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