WPPI – What I Learned in One Day

I just realized I’m in chillin’ at my friends’ house in Vegas with no drink in my hand. What was I thinking? Wine me!

This is Abby, Kellie and Casey's dog. She likes me. You can tell because she's smiling.
This is Abby, Kellie and Casey’s dog. She likes me. You can tell because she’s smiling.

Anyway, I had a great first day at WPPI. This is my first time at WPPI, but not my first conference at MGM (I went to the Arbonne conference a few years ago), so I knew my way around the facility, thank GOD. The place is huge. Today I registered, went the wrong way, learned the right, found my first class (more of a seminar really), made friends with a very sweet girl in line, and got to see Catherine Hall speak. It was awesome! Powerful!

Her class was called “Making it in This Oversaturated Market: The Art of the Opportunist.” She was incredibly encouraging and motivating, however, my favorite thing about her is her humility. I’ve met some VERY successful photographers who think they’re all that and a bag of chips, and you-should-bow-in-my-presence-thank-you-very-much. I don’t care for that. It’s an instant turn-off for me. So of course, I fell in love with Catherine. She is honest, funny, and not afraid to laugh at herself. And her work is AAAAAH-MAY-ZING!

I’ll give you the Readers Digest version of what she covered.

1. Create your own opportunities. Sometimes, you just have to make it happen. You may have to style your own shoot and just make something incredible and creative on your dime. (If you read my blog, you already know how much I love to do this, so this was a big deal to me when she said it.) Or you may want to travel to interesting places and photograph interesting people to capture interesting images that will catch the public’s eye. Do what needs to be done. Opportunity will not knock.

2. There is only ONE of you. No one else can do what you do exactly how YOU do it, so don’t be intimidated by all the new photographers entering the field in the digital age.

3. Do not be limited by your resources. You’re not always going to be given the perfect location or models or clients. If you’re doing editorial work, after that eleven-hour day, maybe you didn’t get the shots. You may have to scout new locations and find new models and start over. (Catherine had a hum-dinger of a story about such an instance.) Be ready to put in the work if you want to stand out.

4. Listen to your intuition. Sometimes you may have to let go and admit that what you’re doing isn’t working and move on – move the couple to a more interesting spot, or change the lighting and angles.

5. Don’t be afraid to admit you made a mistake. Catherine talked about shooting a wedding for a high-profile NYC professional (groom), and realizing in the middle of the bride and groom photos that what she was doing wasn’t working. She was scared to say anything because she felt she had wasted ten minutes of their time already and thought he would be upset. But she had to make the situation work, so she said, hey guys, this isn’t working. We need to move on. He told her that he gained a lot of respect for her in that moment because she admitted she had made a mistake and she wanted to get it right for them. I loved that story.

6. Listen to your intuitions and don’t let plans for possible future opportunities block the ones in front of you. She told a story of traveling in a foreign country (don’t recall where), and she had plans to go to a particular village. Along the way, she saw a beautiful young girl, but at the fork in the road, the girl went the other way. Listening to her instinct, Catherine followed her, met the girl’s family (who spoke no English) and captured some amazing, award-winning photos in the process. The next day she went to her original destination – the village – and discovered it was a tourist trap. If she hadn’t listened to her instincts and let herself change her plans, she would’ve come up with bubkis.

7. Don’t let fear of what others think of you stop you from being who you are. This is a powerful statement for me, because I grew up very worried about what others thought of me. Truthfully, up until I was thirty years old I was very worried about what others thought of me. But now, I’ll glue feathers on a model in a wedding gown and put her inside a giant bird’s nest we built. When we were doing that shoot, I had anxiety welling up inside me, and a little voice saying, “Oh my gawd, what are you doing? People are going to HATE this…” But I kept on shooting, in harsh, direct afternoon light for effect. Guess what? People loved it.

8. To truly grow, you have to step outside your comfort zone. (See all notes above.) I wholeheartedly agree. Do something scary, even if you think you will fail. Any time you hear that voice saying, “What are you DOING? This is ridiculous!” it means you’re doing something RIGHT.

9. Don’t make excuses because you’re afraid to succeed. Catherine had several great examples of contests she entered and scholarships she applied for that she never thought she would get, but did. The first time she was invited to speak at WPPI she almost declined because she was afraid she wasn’t ready, but her sister talked her into doing it. Go for it! Face the fear! You’re an artist – fear is part of your life!

So, needless to say, I had a great first day at WPPI. Stay tuned tomorrow for my WPPI survival tips! Good night everyone!

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