Why I Love WPPI

by Jacqueline Tobin

May 13, 2013

This was my third year attending WPPI, and from the moment my plane touched down in Las Vegas until the moment I left to head back to New York, it was a blur of several days meeting amazing photographers, speakers, attendees and manufacturer reps, as well as popping into parties—lots of parties!

This year’s show was especially important to me because not only did I get to be part of a seminar with my dear friend Elizabeth Messina about the collaboration of our book, The Luminous Portrait (Amphoto 2012), but I also had the thrill of a lifetime when Jasmine Star asked me to introduce her at her seminar. Anyone who has ever heard Jasmine speak in public knows that she is incredibly engaging and her talks sell out fast; still, I never expected the crowd that sat waiting for her when I walked into the ballroom and did a quick scan of about 1,500 photographers—and that’s just a rough estimate!

Other special moments for me included proctoring the Premier room of Print Comp with Jerry Ghionis at the helm, and Weddings 1 with Jennifer Maring in charge; hanging out at Jose Villa’s party with practically every hip wedding photographer in the industry today; having my makeup and hair done by the talented Mar Romero of Team Hair and Makeup; and coming across the following people and their stories along the way.

One Man's WPPI Experience That Wasn't

Photo courtesy of Kent Morien

“Be nice to your mother,” I say with one last belly kiss that—after eight months—had become a routine. It was the eve of my second WPPI—Vegas here I come! One flight delay and three episodes of Homeland later, I was at the craps table, up a cool $50 and ready to call it a night, but not before reviewing the WPPI app confirming my workshop lineup. With my alarm set, I hit the sack, ready to learn first thing in the morning.

Fast-forward to 5:30 a.m. and an incoming call I never expected: “I don’t want to freak you out, but I think my water broke,” says my wife on the other end of the line. At this point, all logic and clear thinking have gone out the window as we try to figure out our next move with me not there. After a quick call to the doctor, the race was on. Call it what you want, but there was literally one ticket left on a 7:30 a.m. flight from Vegas to L.A., putting me back in Chicago at 3:30 p.m. Cutting every line, I grabbed a front row seat, obligatory Bloody Mary with chaser, managed to avoid any and all delays (a miracle), and “strolled” into the hospital at 4 p.m. to an unnaturally calm wife.

At this point contractions were starting to ramp up. We did our best to relax after the epidural at 7:30 that evening, killing a few hours in the dark. By 10:30 p.m., it appeared to be “go” time. Like, “don’t even sneeze honey,” go time. We waited for the flood of doctors and nurses to enter and prep us, then two minutes and six pushes later (no joke), we were parents. One minute after that, I was on my back with an apple juice. I blame it on the Bloody Mary and the flood lamps [in the operating room].

Funny how just 24 hours earlier my concerns were focused on the numbers on the dice at the craps table, and that I was losing an hour’s sleep to Daylight Saving Time. Now I’m sitting here holding my daughter and watching the #WPPI2013 tweets roll in, still in a surreal state. April 9th was our expected due date, but when that day came, our girl was a month old, and as I sit here writing this, I can’t imagine not already knowing her.                        
—Kent Morien

Roberto Falck's "Souls of Morocco" Win

Photo © Roberto Falck

Wedding photographer Roberto Falck says he experienced an incredible—and unexpected—surprise when he heard his name called during the 2013 WPPI Awards Ceremony. Falck, based in Park Slope in Brooklyn, had just won Grand Prize and First Place in the informal category of Albums, for his “Souls of Morocco” [non-wedding] portrait series (www.robertofalck.com). Here, he discusses what the win means to him, and why his passion for portraiture and travel continues to grow.

Jacqueline Tobin: Describe how you felt when you heard your name called and you were summoned to the podium to accept your award.

Roberto Falck: It was a very emotional moment for me. I had absolutely no expectations for the Grand Award, but when I heard my name, my heart started pumping much faster! This award means a lot to me. I have been a member of WPPI pretty much since I started my business, and I have grown in so many ways because of the relationship I’ve had with the organization over the years, everything from building relationships with other photographers to learning about the business and craft.

JT: What about the presentation, style, technique, etc., helped secure your win?

RF: I’ve been submitting albums for the competition for a few years, and I’ve always made it a point to attend [on site] critiques to hear the feedback from the judges, not only of my work but also of others… This has helped me tremendously. In terms of what I think about what made the album win, I cannot be sure, but I definitely took into consideration all the factors that the judges look for—style, technique, story telling, presentation, etc.—when I was putting together the project. I worked on finding a balance between the different elements and made sure that the technique of the photos didn’t overpower how it was being presented. For example, one image on a page seems sometimes more powerful than multiple images. Also the consistency in treatment of the images is a plus because in an album you don’t want to have the judges decode every spread. I wanted to give the most impact possible in the short time allotted.

Lastly, the words and proverbs that I chose to use throughout the book were a sort of “rope” that tied all of the images together.

JT: How long did it take to shoot this project? What is the cohesive theme of the album?

RF: I spent about five weeks in Morocco traveling, meeting people and capturing the images. After my return to the U.S., I started working on the images and putting the concept of the book together. The design concept came to me later, like one of those “Eureka” moments. The “Souls of Morocco” were what I had been encountering throughout my travels, so showcasing them individually was, for me, the strongest way to communicate that experience and journey. The cohesive theme of the album is the encounter with individual souls that collectively make up part of an entire culture. And it is not only the people that are part of it, the souls of the landscapes that surround them also make the work come alive.

JT: What did you use to shoot this project?

RF: Because I was traveling by myself, I needed to keep my equipment minimal. Here is a short list of what I used:
-2 Canon Mark 5D Mark II bodies
-24-70mm f/2.8 lens (for most portraits)
-70-200mm f/2.8 lens
-2 Canon 580ex II flashes
-Micro sync (radio transmitter and receiver)
-Quantum mini soft box

JT: What’s next for you in terms of this work?

RF: I will print the album and my plan is to show it in the fine-art world with the hope of finding a place to exhibit the work or to publish a book. As an artist, I constantly want to grow and explore. One of the biggest challenges is to find a voice; and over the years I think I have created work that has brought me closer to it. I know it is not fully developed yet, but that’s part of the fun. Winning an award is definitely an incentive to keep pushing and pursuing that voice, and so I will keep going. I am already planning the next project. Again I don’t have a clear vision of what the final piece will look like, but I definitely used what I have learned over the years to bring all the elements together to tell a compelling story.

Taylor Cincotta's Print Competition

Photo © Taylor Cincotta

If the name Cincotta sounds familiar, it might be because Sal Cincotta, a well-known St. Louis-based wedding photographer and entrepreneur, speaks yearly at WPPI on pricing and packaging. He also publishes the digital-only magazine Behind the Shutter, is co-founder of the post-production and album company EvolveEdits, and has a print products company named Virtuoso, among many other dabblings. But it’s his wife, Taylor, who is starting to make her own splash in the business, as can be seen in her recent accolades (scores of 80 and over) in the Wedding category of the 16 x 20 Print Comp.

Jacqueline Tobin: Was this your first year entering Print Comp?

Taylor Cincotta: Yes; this was the first year where I felt confident that I had finished my learning phase and developed my personal style more fully. I’ve become more of an individual, and I’m really proud of this work.

JT: How many images did you submit and what were the scores?

TC: I entered nine total in the Wedding category, five of which received scores over 80 [two 81s and three 80s]. Sal, who has been my mentor throughout this process, told me not to enter in Premier, that I was developed enough to skip over that room and go right into Weddings.

JT: That decision definitely paid off. Were you a photographer when you met your husband?

TC: No, I was working in the marketing department of Microsoft, which is where we met. I always loved photography as a hobby, but when I met Sal, I pretty much started out just carrying his bags…and we weren’t even engaged at that point! After that, I basically managed Sal’s life; my job is to help him do what he does best. People didn’t think of me as a photographer in my own right, but I am so passionate about it. Entering Print Comp this year was my way of saying, “Here I am.”

JT: How would you describe your photographic style?

TC: My style is part of my personality…whereas Sal likes dramatic lighting, crazy angles and high-fashion looks, I prefer the symmetrical, peaceful, calm images that have just a touch of whimsy. I really admire Elizabeth Messina’s work and try to incorporate some of her esthetic into my own images.

JT: It seems only fair to mention how Sal did in Print Comp this year…

TC: Yes, he entered 19 images and got 80 and above on 12 of those. He did great!

From Print Handler to Accolade Winner

Photo © Ron B. Wilson

Photographer Ron B. Wilson—who worked the Premier room this year as a print handler—had an especially personal experience when his image “The Swing” [shown at right] was up at bat in the room he was working. As described in this excerpt from his blog (www.ronbwilson.blogspot.com):

“I decided to go to Las Vegas a few days early to attend the Print Comp judging this year. Then I went a step further and volunteered to be a print handler and actually had the opportunity to work in the Premier room where several of my images were to be judged. People will tell you that to even be in the audience in the room hearing the judging of your work is nerve-racking enough. There I was standing in the spotlights when the first of several of my photos came up. This was one that I debated heavily about entering and probably my least favorite. My first score was a 79! Just one point away from an 80 and being awarded and hung in the gallery. AND…this was my least favorite image, so imagine, I was thinking that I had this thing locked up…Throughout the day more of my images passed by the judges…Scores of 77, ‘wrong paper choice,’ 76, ‘I don’t get it,’ 75, ‘average,’ ‘needs more contrast, no details in the blacks,’ 74, ‘below average’…It was so difficult hearing some not-so-great comments on my photos. But did I think I was a bad photographer or below average? NO. I realized that I had maybe made some wrong decisions after seeing the other entries, but mine were all images that I was proud of and that I knew my clients loved. What an experience. . .standing on my feet all day, seeing tons of amazing photos pass by, and getting a first-hand learning experience second to none.

At the very end of the day, I knew that I had one more photo in this category and after learning about what these particular judges were looking for, it could go either way. But I still had a chance to score an 80. With a very small stack of images to go, there it was—’The Swing’… the judges discussed it a bit and then it was receiving some good comments. I had a chance; I could still get a winning image. ’The score is 81’ said the moderator. My knees got weak. I had done it! Then one of the judges on the higher end started challenging the other scores and wanted to fight to get it to an even higher score. I was thinking to myself, ‘I’ll take the 81, please move on.’ In the end they did do a rescore and it received an 82!”

Smitten with Anne Almasy

Photo © Anne Almasy

One of the photographers I met during the show was Atlanta-based wedding and portrait photographer Anne Almasy, who recounted a story that I still can’t get out of my head. Fortunately this story has a happy ending.

“After ten years of shooting weddings, 2013 was the first year I decided to purchase a print ad in a wedding magazine—Weddings Unveiled (WU),” Almasy explained to me. “WU has always been one of my favorite wedding publications. I love the photo-centric spreads and clean design; I love the beautiful, uncluttered covers. I could’ve chosen any number of lovely pictures of a smiling bride with her tuxedoed groom, or a clever detail shot of brooch bouquets and feather boutonnieres, or one of those dancing photos with the lens flare and the motion…but I wanted to publish a photo that says something about me as a photographer; about my philosophy; about my heart for photographing these momentous (and often wonderfully ridiculous) celebrations.”

Almasy selected her image and submitted her ad. “I chose this picture because, to me, it says love. It says home. It says joy,” she explains. After that, she received a letter from the editors of the magazine asking if she had a different image to submit because—as she tells it according to their letter—they didn’t feel comfortable publishing an ad featuring a same-sex couple.

After Almasy recounted the ordeal on her blog and it seemed like the whole world weighed in, the publishers decided to run the ad [shown at left]. “This story will give other photographers and industry pros the courage to speak out,” Almasy summed up. “With the involvement of the community, I was able to convince a major wedding publication to change their stand on publishing a photo of a same-sex couple! We have to let our personal beliefs guide our business decisions! Stories like mine matter.”

The entire account, including the moving response from the publishers once they decided to run the ad, can be read on her website at annealmasy.com.

Photographer's Ignite

Photo © Nino Gallego

Every year, photographers submit one-minute videos to photographer and entrepreneur Kevin Kubota and the crew at Photographers Ignite with the hope of nabbing a five-minute speed-dating type of presentation on anything and everything photo-related. This year’s presenters included Tracey and Dee (of 37 Frames); Jennie Edwards; Vanessa Joy; Karen Seifert and Lindsey Thorne; Nichol Krupp; David Hakamaki; Julieanne Kost; Matt & Katie; Craig Strong; Lisa Novitsky & Ali Anderson; Mandy Hedderly; Becker; and Melissa and Jerry Ghionis. Here are some of the highlights:

• Lindsay Thorne, who used to work with wedding photographer and WPPI director Jason Groupp, and Karen Seifert, his current studio assistant, did a funny bit on “How Not to Suck at Second Shooting.” Some of their entertaining one-liners included the following:

“Finding a good second shooter is like finding a good date…and we know how much finding a good date sucks.

“We went through what we like to call ‘The Jason Groupp Boot Camp,’ like one long bad date that never ended, but at least you paid for it.”

“So the group boot camp entailed us being amazing second shooters, and amazing assistants all the time at the same time. Anticipating anything, getting blamed for everything, all the while getting great, detailed shots before the wedding is even finished. Yup, that about sums it up.”

• Becker offered up “Chicken Soup for the Photographer’s Soul” with this sage rule for success: “Deliver the goods. The other 56 don’t matter but I have four–and-a-half minutes to kill so just hang with me,” while Lisa Novitsky and Ali Anderson discussed “Trends in Photography: The Good, The Bad, The Funny.”

• Perhaps one of the funniest bits of the night came from Melissa and Jerry Ghionis in their presentation, “Energy Creates Energy,” as Jerry yawned, did the wave and started cupping his wife’s breasts as Melissa talked about how as a photographer, your energy does affect the person you are photographing. “At the wedding you can be the person that gives your couple permission to have fun,” she advised.

Now that Photographers Ignite is over, it’s time to start planning your submission for 2014! Visit photographersignite.com to find out how and where you can submit a one-minute video of yourself explaining what your presentation would entail if you were chosen to be an Ignite speaker.


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