The Essential WPPI 2011 Plan

How to get the most out of the big show next week in Las Vegas

They come in droves. It reminds me of something from The Animal Planet. It’s a mass migration of camera toters, industry bloggers, wide-eyed creatives, and vendors pouring into Las Vegas February 17-24 for the industry’s hottest convention and trade show, the Wedding & Portrait Photography International (WPPI).  A mecca for energy, education, networking, trends, amazing products, visual splendor, WPPI teems with excitement.

But without a plan, the MGM Grand, with over 325 vendors, over 700 booths, over 40 sponsors and a record breaking 16,000 attendees expected could prove cumbersome. Like Alice in Photography Wonderland, I experienced WPPI for the first time last year while falling head-over-heels for this global event, but wishing I had planned ahead.

Let’s get a birds-eye view of what’s in store this year, talk about the big take-away, and get you packed properly.

The Essential Event Overview


George Varanakis (above), VP and WPPI Event Director, is a networking tour de force with his hands full over the next couple weeks as he heads up his team in preparation for this amazing event.  We we’re lucky to share what’s new and hot this year straight from the man at the WPPI helm. The Q & A with @wppigeorge:

Q: Navigating your way around the show can be a little like crossing the Congo. What do you suggest to attendees to make the journey a super smooth one?

George: Great question. First, check out the schedule of speakers and make sure to: 1) Pre-Board at so you're guaranteed a seat. 2) Make sure you plan on spending as much time in the trade show as possible. There all kinds of new products to check out, and plenty of great deals to be had as well.

Q: Once again you have a dynamite lineup for Plus, Masters, and Platform classes, many of which are sold out. Tell us how the benefit to Pre-Board Platform classes and how it originated?

George: I would love to take credit for the Pre-Board system because it's a genius idea, but it wasn't mine. Last summer, I had dinner with David Drum from H&H Color Lab and he pitched me on the idea of Pre-board that he developed with Roy Ashen from Triple Scoop Music. The last two years we had such a demand to see some of our speakers that the lines would get out of control and people were waiting for hours to see the speaker they wanted. This system was designed so that people are guaranteed a seat and they won't have to wait hours in line again.

Q: What’s hot and trending at this year's show?

George: You definitely want to check out Launch Pad on Sunday 2/20 in Studio A&B to see all the new products that are being launched at WPPI. It starts at 2 pm and goes until 5 pm. And we'll be serving food as well. We'll also be having a "Tweet Up" at the event as well.

Q: Tell us about your role during the show, and what you are most excited about in 2011.

George: I'm the VP and Show Director for WPPI, which basically means that I put on a suit everyday and make sure all the trains are on the right track and coming in at the right time.  I oversee the show, from speakers to sponsors to exhibitors to events. We have the best staff in the industry and they really make me look good.

I really love my job, especially coming up with new ideas to make our show better. My mind races 24/7 about how we can make WPPI even better than the year before. This year we came up with WPPI U, Launch Pad, and the Sony Fashion Show as new additions. There's no other convention and trade show like WPPI, and we take pride in making it unique every year.

At the end of the day, I just want people to leave WPPI with a feeling of inspiration, knowledge and a lot of new friends. If that happens, we have done our job. I can't wait until the show starts. And then I can't wait until it ends so I can start brainstorming about new ideas for the new year....and driving our staff crazy on how we execute it.

Q: Outside of the walls of the trade show what sites, activities, and events should newcomers take advantage of while in Vegas? Things you absolutely should not miss:

•    WPPI U on 2/18-2/20 (sponsored by Kodak, Nikon, Adorama, Photo Biz, Sigma, H&H, Adobe, Graphistudio and Doug Gordon Workshops), which is a 3 Day workshop for emerging photographers.
•    Launch Pad on Sunday (2/20) from 2 pm - 5 pm. You will be able to get a sneak peek at all the new products being launched at WPPI before the trade show event starts.
•    Plus, we're doing a Tweet Up at the event where you can win all kinds of prizes. After Launch Pad, head over to the MGM Arena for the WPPI/Sony Welcome Party and Fashion Show. Nigel Barker from America's Next Top Model will be shooting the event. Plus, food is served with a cash bar. It's going to be a great event. Times are 7-10.
•    Monday be sure not to miss the Canon Mardi Gras Party in the MGM Arena from 8-10. Beads, masks, food and a DJ will definitely make it a night to remember.
•    Tuesday Night we have the Women In Contemporary Photography from 7 -9 in the MGM Arena. All of the featured photographers on the panel are passionate about photography and really inspirational. There's a lot to learn from them.
•    Wednesday night we have the WPPI Awards Night Sponsored by Nikon. It's the Oscars for professional photographers and one of the best events we do every year.

The Essential Action

Network. Network. Network.

I love products, go-to gear and learning how to hop up my photography skills. For me though, the face-to-face time meeting new people and building friendships was WPPI’s greatest take away.  Networking is the pulse of the show. Make sure you join in the socializing.

•    Reach out to people. Contact friends in your social networks to let them know you are attending and would like to connect. Then make the time to grab coffee or meet up during the event. Grow the online connection into a face-to-face friendship.
•    Be friendly. Be yourself. Jump in the conversation with someone new. Share the great times meeting new people. Attend the WPPI after parties to really hop up your Vegas experience.
•    Plug in to social media. Optimize your Facebook and Twitter accounts by use of dashboards like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite on your phone, iPad or laptop. It is a great way to see the event unfold. Set up a hashtag search for #WPPI and #RFWPPI to see what’s hot and happening during the event. By using the #WPPI hashtag in your tweets you’ll be collected in the social media stream of this viral happening.
•    Follow along on Twitter (@RFWPPI) and Facebook (WPPI Online) for amazing giveaways and goodies from vendors. Keep active and you may walk away with some freebies even if you are not in Vegas attending the event.
•    Follow up. Don’t forget to touch base with the people you met at the show. Foster the relationships by sending an email, DM, FB message to let them know you appreciated the IRL connection.


Essential Packing List

Want to know what to pack? Here’s what many regulars suggest you bring along.
•    Your camera. I’ve read blogs that suggest you don’t bring your DSLR but personally going somewhere this epic without my camera like going without one of my feet. I do recommend you forgo a full bag full of lenses, flash and accessories. Take only a small lens—a 50mm 1.8, for example. Remember, a small point and shoot or your phone might be just what you need.
•    Business cards. 100’s of them. Exchange them with everyone. I loved looking through the stack of cards from the people I met last year. Your brain will be on overload by the time you leave Las Vegas and you may have trouble remembering your own name. Having those cards will be helpful.
•    Comfortable shoes. I know you want to kick it high style in your Jimmy Choo’s heels but I assure you that wearing those Chuck Taylors or flats will allow your feet to hold up until the after parties. Trust me on this one.
•    Water. This is Vegas, after all. You can expect the need to rehydrate and hotels charge outrageously for water. Pick some up in bulk and keep in your room if possible. While you’re at it pack Aspirin and Visine too.
•    Starbucks Via. Because the line at the Starbucks on the way in to the show was the length of the Great Wall of China, I suggest you either have coffee delivered by room service or bring some instant packets to get you supercharged prior to heading to the show.
•    Your phone. Functioning like a walkie-talkie/compass, it’s a critical tool for staying connected. Packed with iPhone users, WPPI gets horrible 3G connection around the MGM because of user congestion. Last year it helped to turn off the 3G on your iPhone menu and opt to utilize EDGE connection while at the show. 

No stranger to networking, Adorama’s Joel Meisels is grateful to be a part of this huge event for the first time with his amazing collection of customers. “We feel privileged to be a part and to help in our customer’s photography success any way possible.” Like many other new attendees, Joel is excited to be meeting many online friends for first time while in Vegas.

Be sure to stop by the Adorama booth #814 to say hello to the resident nice folks while checking out the amazing photography goods while you’re at the show. Don’t worry about having to tote your Adorama purchase around the show. They offer free shipping.

As a blog contributor to, I finally caught up with one of my heroes, kind-hearted Lindsay Teal.  Lindsay, founder of the Pay It Forward Resource Blog has attended for several years and describes the atmosphere of the show, “It’s very fast paced. It can be crowded as photographers group up in packs to go to WPPI. There wasn't a booth I didn't stop at that I didn't know somebody from networking and going to WPPI the previous years. It’s a mini reunion every year. Network, Network, Network.”

Here’s a glimpse into Vegas fun at WPPI 2010 3rd Annual Pay It Forward Photography Resource Party filmed by Andrew Hsu (@andrewmsv) of

Pay it Forward Party 2010 from andrew msv on Vimeo.

So, pack those bags, get some rest and start your journey to WPPI 2011. I can assure you, it will be impactful so get to know some new folks while you’re out there.  For more information check out Have fun!!!




Leigh Caraccioli is a hybrid social-write-tographer, a writer turned photographer with a penchant for social media. Her transparency, vulnerability, this-is-the-way-it-is-ness photographic style together with her raw sense of humor has exploded her social media following. Specializing in brand, portrait, and wedding photography across the country, Leigh owns fleur de leigh  photography and resides in Dayton, Ohio. She is also part of Seth Godin's  Domino Project Street Team  of social media evangelists reshaping traditional publishing. 




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