Oh the stories from our very first trip to WPPI… No, Jeff and I didn’t get crazy, stay up all night, and party until the wee hours of the morning doing Saki bombs and shouting “this is sooooooo staying in Vegas! Woo hoo!” Nope. We pretty much woke up, wandered the trade show floor by our two little selves, sipped some coffee, and tried to make eye contact with anybody that would talk to us. Awesome.

I can say with confidence that eventually it got a lot better than that.

Even though we felt completely overwhelmed at our first WPPI, this conference has proven to be a dynamic and integral experience for our business. Even though we felt totally isolated going into it that first time, we made quite a few friends that first year that made the entire trip more than worth it. And I say that with fervor because those friendships are ones we still cherish.

Studio 54 Party at WPPI

So if it’s your first time to WPPI, here’s what Jeff and I learned over our years of wandering the trade show floor.

1. Go Buddy Style: I won’t sugar coat it for you folks – going to WPPI by yourself can be super tough/not fun/totally anxiety-ridden. Unless you’re one of those extroverts that can actually walk up to perfect strangers and talk to them (I get shivers just writing that), then connect with a friend beforehand, find a roommate, attend mixers, and simply try not to go it alone if it’s your first time to WPPI. You’ll be glad you didn’t.

To help you out, Jeff and I will be hosting our annual San Diego mixer on one of the first nights of WPPI, and anybody who wants to make some new friends in a chill setting is welcome to attend. You can live anywhere in the US to attend – we don’t mind – but you will most likely meet a lot of San Diegans, so be ok with that.  We’re totally chill, dude. (Follow us on Twitter to find out the details of our mixer a day or two before WPPI.)

Otherwise, there are plenty of other opportunities to make some new friends at the beginning of the conference, so check your conference schedule, stay tuned to Twitter, and take advantage of those opportunities.

2. Avoid the lines: I’m just gonna come out and say it – the platform talks weren’t exactly ideal last year. Not the actual speakers – they were absolutely terrific and inspiring. But attendees had to wait in long lines outside of the conference rooms for two or three hours in order to get into a platform talk, which isn’t normal. And then a lot of people didn’t actually make it into the talks because the rooms filled up quickly and the lines were extremely long.

WPPI is working to remedy the situation by offering PreBoard, a system to reserve a spot in your favorite talks, so definitely take advantage of that. But be prepared in case the lines get out of control again. Pick one or two talks for which you’d like to PreBoard or wait in line (then get to know your fellow neighbors in line – you never know who you’ll meet), and then check to see if any other speakers you’d like to hear are doing shorter presentations at vendor booths on the trade show floor (Canon, Pictage, Adobe, Sony, etc). This may help to maximize your conference education time.

3. Rule the Trade Show Madness: The Trade Show can be totally overwhelming, so only dare to go inside with a plan. Pick one or two products or services (i.e. albums, camera bags, post processing, backdrops, etc.) that you’d like to see in person and visit those booths first. Do your research online beforehand so you can be prepared to ask the vendors tough questions in person.

4. Write Your Elevator Pitch: You’ll be meeting a lot of people very quickly. Be prepared. Write a 30 second introduction of yourself that succinctly explains who you are, where you’re from, and what you do. Make sure it’s interesting, authentic, and relevant.

5. Be Comfy. Be Weightless: Carry as little as possible with you. Leave the laptop and camera gear in the hotel room (except for a specific shooting purpose), and take notes on your iPhone, iPad, or small notebook. In fact, I don’t even carry a purse with me most of the time, because the less stuff I have to schlep around, the less exhausted I get, and the more fun I ultimately have. And the more fun Jeff has too…

Sidenote: Comfy shoes, afternoon naps, and Burt’s Bees chapstick? Priceless.

6. 3G Won’t Work. Period: Turn your iPhone to the Edge network and then leave it at that. Don’t plan on blogging, emailing, Tweeting, Facebooking, texting, phoning, or using your well-paid data network for anything during WPPI – it will drive you entirely insane. If you must use it, then designate a few specific hours to seek out Internet and then forget about it for the rest of your time. Otherwise, you’ll just get so frustrated that for three days your Facebook status will read “AT&T and The WORLD are against everything good and moral. This. Stinks. Meatballs.” It took me three years to finally realize this.

7. Go Green: Don’t take the thousands of brochures that vendors tend to hand out on the trade show floor. If the company doesn’t have that exact same information on the Internet somewhere, then slap a Go Green sticker on their foreheads and move on.

8. Don’t Have TOO Much Fun (IF you know what I mean…): There is no shortage of parties during WPPI, but no matter how crazy the parties get, remember that you are still surrounded by your industry peers. WPPI is not the time to get crazy and wasted in Vegas – your girlfriend’s bachelorette party is. Grab some drinks, have a great time, but keep it under control.

9. Stay Healthy: It’s almost a guarantee – you will get sick after WPPI. The dry, thick Vegas air combined with long days and very little sleep usually add up to some sort of respiratory trouble by the time it’s all over. When you arrive, stock up on fruit and healthy snacks at the grocery store, then drink TONS of water during the day and try to eat healthy. It’s easier said than done, but I’ve been down for the count with blocked sinuses and a cough that sounds like dynamite is trying to blow up my lungs for the past three years, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s. Not. Fun.

And I can’t say it enough: comfy shoes, naptime, and chapstick are worth their weight in gold.

10. Be Authentic: Above anything else, remember this – there are no rock star photographers, just small business owners navigating the industry just like everybody else. Be real about who you are and where you’re coming from, and you’ll be repaid ten fold by deep, intimate, and honest relationships.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE SURVIVED WPPI BEFORE- WHAT ARE YOUR MOST CREATIVE TIPS AND TRICKS? Comment below with your answers. Lucky winners will win WPPI Tradeshow passes.

Written by Erin Youngren

photographer erin youngren

Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.


  • Great tips, Erin.

    Drink. lots. of. coffee!!
    Limit your expectations.
    Have fun!!

  • Thanks for this. I’m making the trip solo from NH. Looking forward to it! I’m a big Burts Bees fan though so I think I’m set! LOL. I’m more concerned about my anti-Vegas (fleece) wardrobe than anything else……;)

  • Lisa Ronco says:

    Thanks Jeff & Erin for putting this together! It will be my first WPPI and I’m so excited and overwhelmed at the same time. I’m already PreBoarded and will be preparing for the trade show 🙂

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ShootQ, Jeff Youngren, Diana Rush, Pictage and others. Pictage said: SURVIVE WPPI with these tips by @erinyoungren. Comment with your WPPI survival tips & you might win. http://bit.ly/hzpdGN […]

  • Diana Rush says:

    I wish I had read this last year!

    But my tips are plan out your entire trip, from which vendors to visit on the trade show floor, picking your platform speakers, what parties/mixers you will or will not attend, where you will have dinner… and most importantly when you will have some down time to process everything!

    I’m dragging my husband along too, because he’ll make sure I’m properly hydrated & fed!

  • Louise says:

    Thank you for these tips! I’m a total WPPI newbie coming from Australia and I was crapping myself at trying to work it all out! I’ve pre-boarded, got the flat shoes, the chap sticks and way ahead of you on the naps! @lovelightsoul

  • Truer statements have never been made “comfy shoes – chapstick and a lack of purse/bag/camera”
    Have fun!! Would go this year, but they don’t let super pregnant ladies fly on airplanes….*sigh*

  • Thank you for the insightful information. I may not be making it to this years WPPI, but I will definitely be making the next one and I usually don’t forget good information. 😀

  • Great post, Erin! Last year my husband and I traveled to WPPI for the first time. We loved it, but your tips are right on the money!

    My rookie tips:
    Totally agree about eating good food! Don’t be lured in by some of the sub-par, more accessible (and expensive!) restaurants. You’ll regret it!

    If you have to have Starbucks, either find one that’s not in the food court or get in line early. That line gets looong! (Okay, it’s starting to sound like all I do is eat in Vegas…)

    Meeting lots of people is great, and I really liked really getting to know fewer people – go to dinner, attend a few of the same sessions, etc. Those are the ones I kept in touch with post-WPPI, not the ones who shook my hand and forked over a business card. Which reminds me, bring plenty of those – you’ll need them!

    Dress comfortably, but nicely. Most everyone else will, so you’ll feel like a slacker if you don’t.

  • HMMM…. so Krystal and I have been in business for 10 years and were dying to go to Wppi or what I call ppi, man that w just uses up way to many syllables;) I want to stay positive and be kind but I don’t know how to say it other than PPI was a TOTAL let down. Thousands of dollars and not all that much you cant get from smaller conferences. Trade shows…one a year they never change! Discounts are good but thats all. Classes….I went to ONE that was worth it and I was ok with it being the one that made ppi worth the money. I found myself walking out of classes of people that I respect and look up to because of utter disappointment:( I don’t want to come across as one of THOSE people but PPI is NOT for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I had FUN, went to alot of parties met a FEW AWESOME people and finally caught a glimpse of some of the drama in our industry, ugh! People get over your selves please;)

    So a word to the wise. Bring a lot of money, a Verizon phone, comfy shoes, and for your own good HYDRATE:) and STARBUCKS!!!!!

    Krystal and I will probably NEVER go Back.
    PS i am a AT&T iPhone owner and its a bit embarrassing in LV :p

  • Anna Vickroy says:

    1. Don’t bring your camera unless you plan to use it in a workshop or something. Keep your load light.
    2. Strategize in advance which of the Platform speakers you MUST see and get a preboard ticket NOW! 3. Spend at least 30 minutes at the end of each day summarizing/reviewing what you learned and write down a couple of tasks to implement when you get back. Do this now rather than wait until you get home because reviewing it all later can be overwhelming because you can’t do it all at one time.
    4. ABOVE ALL – BE OPEN-MINDED…to learning new things, to doing things a different way, to seeing things in a different way, to allow yourself to be inspired.

  • Holli True says:

    Great post!! Very helpful for me, as this will be my first WPPI experience and I couldn’t be more thrilled! 🙂 I really hope to meet you two- you are both so amazing! 🙂 Maybe I will catch you at your mixer!!

  • @Paul @Heather HOW COULD I FORGET STARBUCKS. The lines at the Starbucks at MGM are horrendous, so go across to New York New York – there’s one right inside the bridge entrance with no lines in the morning. Great call guys!

  • Tip #1 – Cliff bars are YOUR friend, carry allot of them. I’m from the South, Vegas does not do Southern food.

    Tip #2 – Call Shawn Reeder and take his Pre-WPPI exercise Red Rocks survival course. After 6 hours of climbing and very many near death falls, you will have no problem tackling those long scary MGM Grand miles corridors that contain absolutely no culture to them whatsoever. Unless you like malls, then you’ll be just fine.

    Tip #3 – Carry a frisbee at all times. Conversations with photographers at 3am are so much more interesting when frisbees are introduced into the mix.

    Tip #4 – Don’t listen to people who says it never rains in the desert. It rained both days I was there last year.

    Tip #5 – Listen to the Youngrens, they know what they are talking about.

  • Maria healey says:

    These are great tips that anyone should stick to when visiting Vegas, in general! This will be my first time attending the WPPI event since I just opened my studio this past year andim trying to soak up all the new information I can about the business side of photography. I was just in Vegas over NYE and it was COLD! I’m hoping it’s warmer next month, as I did go home incredibly sick too! I just hope I remember to stick to all of this advice!

  • Lain Eubank says:

    Print out a schedule of the platform talks BEFORE you leave home and decide which ones you are going to attend. Trust me, if you don’t decide before hand, you will be standing in the middle of the concourse trying to figure out what talk you are going to go to while getting run over by thousands of photographers….all before you’ve had your morning coffee!

    Like Erin said, hit up a grocery store for a case of water bottles and some healthy food. If you can at least plan on eating breakfast in your room every morning you will save a ton of money and you will get to sleep a bit later.

    Pick the parties you are going to go to and space them out. I know I know…its Vegas and all your friends are there for Pete’s sake! Its easy to stay up super late every night because the hotels and casinos are so lite up all the time. Plan a crash time and stick to it. You will be thanking yourself later when you are awake and not fighting off getting sick because you actually got sleep.

    Be sure to take business cards. And ask for business cards from everyone you meet. If you have to, print up a simple business card with you contact info and FB address so your new friends can find you after wppi.

    Be prepared to make friends! If you’re a bit shy, try a little harder to go out of your way to talk to someone. At least you already have something in common to talk about as an ice breaker!

    Don’t randomly swipe the plastic on the trade show floor….Come March your credit card bill will stab you in the back! Before you leave home, assess what you NEED. Create a (cash, if possible) BUDGET. And STICK TO IT! Coming home from a fun trip to a huge pile of bills fro a trip you have already taken is no fun.

    And last but MOST IMPORTANT, dress in layers!! No matter what season, the MGM is always freezing cold on the conference side of the hotel.

    And remember, what you do at WPPI does not stay at WPPI…Really! You are at a convention with 15000 other photographers. It all ends up on Facebook. So don’t do anything you wouldn’t want you spouse or mother to see!

  • I went last year alone and boy oh boy was it hard – I’m quiet and shy so fitting in was not easy. I did manage to make a few new friends (and still talk to them on facebook:) but I wouldn’t recommend doing it solo. To save on $ I stayed at the tropicana (yuck!) but this year I’m going with friends and sharing a room at the MGM – lots and lots of walking if you don stay there. I think everyone covered the important stuff – food is expensive (even yucky food court food), lines are long, and the air is thick. I suggest getting away for a half of a day and do a shoot out if you can. There are a few I know of plannned and they are a great way to get fresh air, meet new peeps and do some photography. Have fun!! Oh and one more thing – I hated those platform class lines so I sighned up for master classes – no lines, smallesh group. Much better!

  • Mike Moore says:

    Hi Erin, Do you know the date of your San Diego meet up date yet? I will be there but only for the trade show (unfortunately). I hope I get a chance to meet you all there. Thanks for the tips…i’m going it alone this year…my first year. 🙂

  • Dominique Lucas says:

    So I have to disagree with Paul but maybe it’s where I’m at in my business and life…

    WPPI has been a wonderful experience for me. Not every class is going to be what you want it to be, or need, but don’t feel bad about getting up and walking out. This is YOUR time and money! Not every day is going to go as planned and not every moment is going to be fulfilling.

    But if you go with the right friends, take time for yourself and pace yourself, you can seriously change the way you do business. I came home refreshed and motivated to start another year.

    These are great tips.

    My biggest tip? Bring snacks and your own coffee. We always stay in the signature and avoid the starbucks lines by brewing ourselves coffee in the morning. Avoid food courts! And hats are a wonderful, wonderful thing when you’re staying with roomies

  • Mary says:

    I couldn’t attend in 2010 (as I was on maternity leave), but I’m coming this year for sure. A good photography friend gave me great tips: Stay at MGM, bring notepad and pencil, buy water food at grocery stores outside hotel zone, bring snacks, comfy shoes, tons of business cards and a good point and shoot. And have fun!

  • David Moore says:

    Thanks for these tips – they sound very useful. If you guys see a confused-looking Englishman wandering around, that’ll be me – my first WPPI and I’m really looking forward to it.

  • Kate Volpe says:

    These are great ideas! (I work for WPPI so I’ve seen a lot of these comments before.) There’s one more that I wanted to me mention: study a map of the MGM and plot out the classes are. If you’re going to a class in Studio A or B, it’s close to the food court. So you don’t want to walk all the way to the conference center, only to have to wall back!!

  • On a serious note:) Stay at the Signature suites with a few people, way less expensive and the Starbucks line is short! You can even get a kitchen. We rented ours from VRBO.com. Also if WPPI is offering the discount card to the MGM restaurants this year USE it, we saved a lot of money that way. We also hosted a hospitality suite and had a great Connecticut PUG party, because CT rolls deep!;) We invited some people and had a great little party. Like I said I had FUN, but it was expensive fun. Don’t be afraid to say hi to strangers, we made a great friend last year because i went up and said YO! I like your look:)

    have fun, make it count!

  • Courtney says:

    I totally agree with everything listed here! Last year was my first year at WPPI. I knew absolutely no one and felt so overwhelmed. Now after spending this last year forcing myself from my introversion, I’ve met a lot of photographers and am looking forward to having a blast this year!

  • Emily says:

    this is such great information! i’m so glad you posted it 🙂
    this will be my first time at WPPI, let alone vegas, so now i have an idea of what to be looking for!

  • Mikkel says:

    LOVED this post. The most valuable info I’ve read anywhere for a newbie going for the first time. THANK YOU!

  • Kelsey Crews says:

    Thanks for the tips…this will be my first year in attendance, so your help is much appreciated. I’m excited to see what WPPI has to offer. Have any suggestions as to the best parties? Hope to see you all there…can’t wait to make new photographer friends! 🙂

  • Tanya Adams says:

    Thanks for all the great information! I am a newbie to WPPI as well. I’m a little nervous about getting there and not knowing anyone, but am excited about all the awesome classes and events WPPI has to offer. Here is my email if anyone wants to meet up tanyajadamsphotography@gmail.com. Hope to meet lots of great photographers!

  • […] time.  But trust me it gets much easier.  If you are a first timer and haven’t checked out these great tips from the Youngrens yet then you should definitely do so now.  They’re really […]

  • […] time.  But trust me it gets much easier.  If you are a first timer and haven’t checked out these great tips from the Youngrens yet then you should definitely do so now.  They’re really […]

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