Last week, I attended the WPPI (Wedding & Portrait Photographers International) Convention in Las Vegas with about 10 members of the Photography Ministry at my church, the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. The conference is a combination of a huge expo and days of Platform Classes (included in the $400 fee) and Master Classes (extra $, a la carte) from February 16th to the 23rd, all held within the MGM Grand Hotel.

Once I arrived in Vegas, I took a photo from my seat on the plane. Since Vegas is in a valley, it’s really flat. But you know you’re there because you can see the pyramid-shaped Luxor hotel. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was staying in the hotel all the way to the left, the MGM Signature, which is attached by a series of indoor tunnels to the MGM Grand.

Vegas has lots of palm trees. None of them are native. Kinda like the people. It’s nice. It makes you forget that it’s 55 degrees outside.

This was the view from my room on the 18th floor of the MGM Signature.

Walking through the MGM is like walking through Disney World. There are a gazillion people who are all there to do different things like: see the Cirque du Soleil show, see David Copperfield, attend Mohammed Ali’s birthday party, eat at one of the celebrity chef’s restaurants, shop, or attend the WPPI conference with thousands of other people. Oh, and gamble. Because of this, you feel a little like you are in the midst of a constant stampede but nobody is going in the same direction. Like between classes in high school. Or New York City.

I stepped into a Showtime Photo Booth and got a digital image on the set of one of my favorite shows, Dexter.

People are also headed to the club, like Studio 54. By the way, there were a lot of hookers there. Since women regularly dress like hookers to go to the club, I couldn’t tell the difference because the regular chicks and hookers wore the same uniform.

In every hotel (presumably) in Las Vegas, there is no separation between the restaurants, some really upscale, and the casinos. There is even a casino in the mall. And the airport too. Check out this restaurant in proximity to the slots and playing tables.

Time for a WPPI Platform Class! This class was offered by Lindsay Adler, about Fashion and Wedding Photography. I love going to these classes because the master photographers who give them are so giving of their techniques, tips, equipment, and software information. All you have to do is use it in your own way.

Some classes were so popular, that if you didn’t pre-board it before the conference began, it would fill up (600 seats!) and you couldn’t get in, and had to find another class. Usually 6-9 classes were occurring at the same time, plus print competitions, so that usually wasn’t a problem. (Unless you snuck in!) One thing I noticed all week was the amount of babies at WPPI. The type that breastfeed. Maybe that’s why they were there, because I didn’t see toddlers or pre-school aged children, only babies. Hmmmmm. Good for you momma.

One night after a long day of platform classes, I went to Tom Colicchio’s restaurant, one of two in the MGM Grand, called Craftsteak. I got this yummy salmon, probably the thickest piece of salmon I’ve ever had. Juicy all the way through.


After dinner, I finally left the MGM Grand to see what was outside. Believe me, you could spend an entire week there and never leave the MGM Grand.

There was New York New York, which seems to take up so much space on the block that I can’t tell where it begins and ends. I did peep the rollercoaster, and people were on it, screaming, even though it was so cold out.

The Las Vegas strip reminded me a lot of Times Square. There are a lot of lights and eye candy, and street performers or people standing outside strictly to get their photo taken and you give them money.

You know what you won’t see? Hookers. You know what you will see? Hooker solicitors. Men and young girls, two or three at a time, on brightly lit street corners, passing out flyers for hookers. Some of them make this clicking noise with their hands so that you glance down at their hand to see what the noise is, and then they can give you a flyer. And you can even get flyers and booklets for hookers from newspaper-like kiosks all over the strip. And people who don’t want the flyers drop them on the ground, for the children to pick up and see photos of naked women, for those people who insist on bringing their children to Vegas.

This is in front of a souvenir shop on the strip. Bubbles are supposed to fly out of the butt of the toy.

Everyone will ask, “Did you see the water show at the Bellagio?” Yep. I saw it. Photos don’t do it justice though. It’s pretty cool. It makes thundering noises when the water shoots out which totally enhances the experience.

Time to walk back to Tower 3 (the one on the left) of the MGM Signature and call it a night.

The next day, Staci, Tami and I went to our 8 am platform classes, which isn’t hard to do because we kept getting up at 6:30 am Pacific time, which is 9:30 am Eastern time. Getting up to go to 8 am classes was easy!

What wasn’t easy was the walk to class. The series of tunnels between the MGM Signature to the MGM Grand is about a 1/2 mile. I downloaded a pedometer app which told me that I walked a mile from our room to go to Starbucks and then to class. There was so much walking, the tunnels include the walking runways like you’d see in the airport. My feet were screaming at the end of the first day.

Then, after the morning’s platform class on Monday, it was finally time for the expo to open! At 9:45 am, photographers crowded the halls waiting for the doors to the Grand Ballroom to open.

Once inside, it was our mission to find the best show specials. If you come prepared, you know what to look for. I wanted a new website, and maybe new lights if I found a good deal.

In our search, Staci, Tami and I were stopped by Framed Network to do a 5-second promo. Cool!

I had to say, “My name is Insana Collins, I’m a Washington DC photographer coming to you live from the Framed Network!” Something like that. Then we were like, “What’s the Framed Network?”

Tami got a free massage, which you’d need walking around with your heavy camera all day or bags of promo items.

There were these cool engraved flash drives.

We saw this guy with the thinnest camera ever, around his neck, and stopped him to ask what it was. It was just his iphone!

Of course Nikon was there. Canon and Sony too.

One booth caught our attention because there was a ton of people at it. Why?

They’re selling an ICELight. What’s an ICELight?

This girl is holding an ICELight above her head. She looks like a mannequin, doesn’t she? She’s not, I just shot these on two consecutive days. We’re supposed to be paying attention to how she’s illuminated with the ICELight. Cool right? It looks like a Light Saber from Star Wars.

We were so intrigued, until we found out it’s $600. For one light. The battery lasts about 90 minutes and it’s an adjustable LED. Still, $600? They had a show special of $500. We shoved on.

Soon, we came across these video lights, which were recommended by Damon Tucci, a photographer I really like. Plus he shoots with a D700, like me. I was like, these are LEDs like the ICELight. How much?

Not only were they a fraction of the price of the ICELight (under $100), they illuminated Staci’s face just like you’d need on a shoot. So we bought some.

There were many, many, many vendors selling wedding album designs and printed products. Most were leather bound, but one company had these furry bedazzled albums.

This company sold skins for your lenses. You, too, can have a leopard skin 70-200mm lens.

And throughout the day, at many of the larger vendors, photographers were featured and offered a class to anyone who wished to attend. Staci, Tami and I set down for Damon Tucci’s class, and he schooled us a little more on how to use the LED video lights. Right on time!

This photographer was doing a teach at Canon about group posing.

This woman was selling photo luggage on wheels. If you wanted to check it out, for some reason she would sit on the luggage and make you pull her around like a wagon. It was funny though.

A few companies sold custom backdrops. With glitter!

This album company had a hookah couch in the middle of their booth, behind beads. It was a pretty groovy set. I don’t think anyone could actually smoke it though.

This unique company sold photo pendants. They were pretty cool.

This company sold painted frames that seemed to continue the photo within the frame.

This unique company personalized skateboards with photos.

Spin the wheel, win a prize!

Once we walked out of the expo ballroom, we saw a crowd of photographers taking pictures behind some woman. Who was she, and what are they taking pictures of?

Why, it’s master photographer Bambi Cantrell.

Bambi made a dress out of newspaper, put it on this model, and was shooting her outside. I think it was a teach of some sort, but I was never quite certain who her students were. It was great though. I want to make this dress myself now.

Later that week, I took Bambi’s class on wedding posing. She shared her equipment and post-processing tools.

After the expo, the photography ministry members got together at ministry president Teandra’s suite at the Marriott Chateau to eat some homemade wheat spaghetti and salad. YUM-O. After being so scattered in classes and at the expo, it was good to get everyone together in one place.

After dinner, I headed out to find the Cosmopolitan Hotel, to meet up with my UMCP homie, Nat, who recently moved his family out to Las Vegas, where he manages a mall.

In both the MGM and the Cosmopolitan are these huge touch screen directories. They are so cool! Here is Nat using the one in the Cosmo.

Nat tells me that the Cosmopolitan is the newest and coolest hotel on the strip right now. It was awesome. Like the MGM, it was full of clubs and restaurants, and had a mall on the higher levels. And, of course, a casino. It was a beautiful place.

This chandelier is three floors high.

This is the lobby of the Cosmopolitan, made up of huge LED columns that are made to look like bookshelves, with slowly disappearing books. But since the columns are screens, I suppose you could go on another day and the columns could look like a tropical rainforest. Who knows? It was soooooo cool!

I had dinner with Nat and his friends at a place called Holsteins, which served alcoholic milkshakes. One even had Captain Crunch Cereal in it.

What a cool night. The Cosmopolitan was SICK!

Back at the MGM Grand, throughout the week, brides could be spotted in the strangest places. Not because they were getting married, of course, but because they were props in a photography class somewhere.

On our last day there, Wednesday, Staci, Tami and I went to Me Ra Koh’s class. She’s a mom photographer. Which means she is a photographer who has children. This is pretty important for other mom (and dad!) photographers to find a self-employed work life balance and not feel like they aren’t spending enough time with their children. It’s a pretty big deal and she was inspirational.

Then, after the morning class, I went outside on the strip, in the daylight, and it was a balmy 72 degrees! Which is never an excuse to ride your motorcycle in shorts. Ever.

There was a fake Zach Galifianakis on the strip, and lots of people had their picture taken with him. He even had the baby, Carlos, from The Hangover.

The Adidas store sold these wacky sneakers for $2-300.

I had to get some MandMs from the MandM store! This store is four stories high. I only went into two floors. The whole place smells like chocolate, which is kinda great. IF you like chocolate.

I paid too much for aqua, pink and purple MandMs because I knew I couldn’t get them anywhere else. Other people were buying T-shirts and what not.

I also got a better look at some of the hotels.

More street performers. Just like Times Square. I wonder why we don’t have this so much in DC? Is it that people are too busy to stop and listen?

Tami and Staci headed to the airport first, and we had to say goodbye. We had such a good time!

By the time I headed to the airport, I had exactly one photo left on my memory card.

I had an evening flight, a red eye to Dulles. And just before we landed, I was greeted by an awesome sunrise above the clouds.

Great time in Vegas. Learned so much I thought my head would explode. Signed up for a new web service. Do not bring children to Vegas. And wear comfortable shoes.

The End