WPPI 2016: An Imaging Show on the Rise

Wedding & Portrait Photographers International Hosts Another Strong Show

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The Wedding & Portrait Photography Conference + Expo is one of the most important professional photography shows in the country. Hosted by the Wedding & Portrait Photographers International (WPPI), it has become a must-see show for creative professional photographers who market their services to consumers, and for manufacturers.

Preliminary numbers estimate that close to 13,000 people attended this year’s show at the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas. Nevada. The list of vendors displaying their products and services ranged all the way from smaller domestic firms to major international manufacturers.

As Olympus tech rep Ray Aceveda put it, “This is really the show to be at.”

The trade show tends to get the most coverage, but the educational programs are what draw many of the attendees. The classes and seminars ran for eight days, from March 3 through March 10, while the expo itself ran for three, March 7–9.

What makes the show so important for photographers is the amount of information that can be gleaned from so many different sources. For example, one popular program loaded with information was “WPPI, the University.” Aimed specifically at professional school and sports photographers, the one-day workshop was presented by half a dozen top shooters in the industry, including Jeff Gump and Linda Russell. Like many of the classes and programs at the show, what made this session so popular was that it provided a strong blend of business insight and creative input. It covered such topics as business tips for photographing sports leagues and the laws involved in school photography. And it also provided information on team and individual setups, posing and lighting.

In addition there were shorter classes and smaller discussion groups. There were even walking tours led by leading photographers like Sandy Puc, for shooters who wanted to get out and take location pictures. And dozens and dozens of presentations were given by leading professional photographers on the numerous stages that the manufacturing companies had set up on the show floor.

The Pros Take the Stage

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Denis Reggie, giving his “Quiet Wedding Witness” session on the Canon Main Stage

Canon hosted two educational sessions during the days the expo was held. One was featured on the Canon Main Stage and the other in the Live Learning Studio. Sue Bryce was one of the presenters on the Canon stage. Bryce, a professional photographer for 26 years, has been presenting Canon educational lectures for five. Topics this year included “Specialty Lenses for Portraits” and “Posing 2,3,4.” She spoke to standing-room-only crowds, and it was obvious spectators were enjoying the presentations. As Bryce noted, “People really have a great time. Some come back year after year.”

That is in fact the case. One of the factors that brings photographers back to the show again and again is getting to listen to detailed advice from their favorite photographers. They really like the idea of personally getting answers and insights from successful working professionals.

Nikon had more than 20 different presentations on its stage. Joe McNally, for instance, demonstrated how to get high-quality studio results with small flash units. Shooting head shots of a Las Vegas showgirl, he got the audience involved in doing the setups, and the crowd loved it.

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Joe McNally working with small, handheld flash units on the Nikon stage

Neil van Niekerk was another presenter on the show floor. He has been giving master classes for six years, but this was the first year that he presented on Profoto’s stage. He was impressed with the turnout and the level of involvement of the people watching his presentations. “As you can see,” van Niekerk said as he was standing with a number of people after one of his presentations, “people have lots of questions. There’s a particularly strong interest in the business and marketing side.”

Online Photo Services Draw Attention

Online photo services also drew a lot of interest. Companies like ShootProof, 17hats and SmugMug demonstrated how they could organize a professional photography business and make it more profitable. Zenfolio service reps scheduled appointments to walk their customers through their service’s complex selection of features and capabilities.

One Day Labs provided collaborative web design services for those photographers who prefer to have their own custom-built website rather than going with an online service. While that approach can be considerably more expensive, having a custom-built site can set a professional photographer apart from the competition.

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Photo presentation products were big at the show.

One of the trends that continued at this year’s show was the increase in the attendance of women professional photographers, especially wedding photographers. As one sales manager for a company that markets to wedding photographers (who preferred not to be identified for obvious reasons) said, “Women photographers bring a certain sensibility and sensitivity to weddings that men just can’t match.” He added that working with them is also easier. “They tend to be very curious. They ask a lot of questions, and more importantly, they take advice much more readily.”

This was the second year attending WPPI for ShootProof client Stacey Houston, a pro photographer from the Midwest specializing in weddings and newborns. “I love the show,” she said, “I’m here, learning all the time.”

Houston compared WPPI to Imaging USA, the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) photo show. “There are more opportunities to learn and to interact with the professional photographers who are giving the presentations.” And Houston’s been able to turn those learning opportunities into profits. “Coming to WPPI changed my business. It’s had an impact on how I market it and the selection of products that I offer.”

An International Show

Part of the WPPI name is the term “International,” and it is an international show. There were companies from various parts of the world. Simone Nittel, U.S. sales manager for WhiteWall, a large German commercial lab, said they made WPPI part of their plan to aggressively market in America. “It’s well worth the expense. We’re breaking into the U.S. market. We’ve gotten a lot of interest from showgoers.”

Dan Lazarus, sales manager for flash maker Nissin, concurred. “Response has been really good. This is our seventh year, and every show we get more people interested in our products.”

Giveaways also brought attendees into the booths. The printer company DNP had daily prize drawings, including printers. While the booth was totally packed for drawings, there was also a continuous stream of people coming through the booth. “Our traffic is amazing,” said Suzanne Seagle, director of Marketing for DNP Imagingcomm America. “It was well worth the investment.”

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DNP’s Suzanne Seagle picks out the names of the daily prizewinners.

Companies on the peripherals of professional photography also exhibited. One such company was Musicbed, which licenses music for presentations like wedding videos. According to licensing account executive Michael Glenn, audio licensing to photographers is a huge market. And the WPPI show is an ideal venue to make contact with the type of photographers the company seeks.

WPPI is also a good show for retailers. B&H Photo – Video, for example, had a large contingent of sales personnel helping customers with online ordering. In addition, this was the first year that Brooklyn-based Focus Camera had a booth at the expo. “We’ve gotten a really good reception here,”  said sales manager Ralph Setton. There’s been a lot of foot traffic.”  And the Focus Camera booth was tucked way back in the corner of the main hall.

WPPI on the Move

This year, exhibitors at the show were grouped into two large conference halls. Major manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus and Panasonic were in the main hall. Some of the vendors in the smaller hall didn’t like the idea of being isolated from the big players. So that is changing.

This was the last year that WPPI will be held at the MGM Convention Center. The WPPI show is moving to the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) in 2017.

In some respects, having the show at the MGM made it easy for companies and showgoers. In a city like Las Vegas, where distances between parking structures and convention centers in hotel complexes are sometimes measured in blocks rather than yards, parking at the MGM is right across the street from the convention center entrance. It couldn’t be much more convenient.

The slated move came up as an issue a number of times during discussions with vendors. Most vendors liked the idea. At the LVCC, all exhibitors will be in one hall, and people tended to like that approach. Still, not all were quite sure how they felt about the move. Mark Lane, president and CEO of American Color Imaging, summed it up. “We’re cautiously optimistic. There are issues that might come up; for example, parking is going to be tougher and then there’s transportation. People are going to be taking a lot more $20 taxi rides. But I think everything will work itself out.”

The next WPPI Expo is scheduled for February 7–9, 2017, with the conference dates to be announced. wppionline.com

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