Las Vegas Strip WPPi

This year was my first trip to WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International). It is an annual conference and tradeshow that takes place at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada that brings many of the top wedding and portrait photographers and photography vendors from around the world all under one roof.

On this trip to Las Vegas, I brought along my wife and kids and we stayed at the Flamingo Hotel, which is a 15-20 minute walk from the WPPI conference. I only attended the tradeshow thanks to a pair of free tickets I received for being a Westcott email newsletter subscriber. I didn’t sign up for any of the WPPI workshops, but wish I had. Nonetheless, the tradeshow experience was edifying, which gave me an opportunity to see, touch, and try many of the photographic products and services on my wish-list.

Here’s a list of Las Vegas travel tips for anyone who has not attended WPPI before. I hope these Las Vegas travel tips will make your trip to Las Vegas enjoyable and budget-friendly. I compiled these tips upon reflection of my own experience attending WPPI, as well as learnings from past trips to Las Vegas.

1. Where to Stay in Vegas for WPPI?

If you want to stay close to the action, use the WPPI special rate discount to book your hotel close to the conference and expo. If being close to the conference isn’t a priority, there are a large number of other options.

Vancouver wedding photographer

Where you decide to stay depends on personal preferences and your budget. If you want to be near the central area of the Vegas Strip, consider hotels such as the Flamingo, Caesar’s Palace, Bellagio, Harrah’s, Paris, The Mandarin, etc.

WPPI Las VegasHowever, if you’ve been to Vegas before, or you simply don’t care about the Vegas strip, I highly recommend looking at hotels that are off the Strip. Nightly rates can sometimes be better, and these hotel tend to feel a little less crowded.

One good option is the Westin Las Vegas, which is very central and just a block off the Strip. I didn’t stay there on my trip, but I went there to pick up my car rental and found the hotel to be very appealing, especially for families.

Flamingo Hotel Las Vegas

You may want to consider staying even further away if you can get a good deal on a hotel room. You can use those savings to rent a car and drive to the conference. With a rental car, you’ll be visit places outside the Vegas Strip as well. Parking is usually free at Hotels, but unless you arrive early in the day, you may be driving around the parking lot a for a while before you’re able to find a spot.

2. Taxi vs. Shuttle from McCarran Airport

This is one of the most common questions, so I’ve turned it into one of my key Las Vegas travel tips. If you don’t have a tour operator who has prearranged your hotel transfer, it can be a bit of a mystery what is the better and/or cheaper option to get you from McCarran Airport to your hotel.

The folks at WPPI usually offer prearranged discounts for conference attendees with one or more shuttle companies in Las Vegas (e.g. Showtime Tours). Although the rates may change from year to year, the cost is usually much less than a taxi if you are travelling individually.

So if you are travelling individually, your hotel is on or near the Strip, and you don’t mind waiting while the shuttle drops of other riders before arriving at your hotel, the shuttle will likely be the cheaper option for  you.

When pre-purchasing your shuttle ticket online (which is how you get the WPPI discount), you may only see a limited number of hotels on the drop-off list. However, a quick email to Showtime Tours (or whomever WPPI is providing discounts with) will allow you to add your hotel to the list of drop off locations.

Las vegas McCarran Airport taxi queue

If you are travelling with more than two people (or even children over 3 years old), the cost of a shuttle will often be more than the cost of a taxi. You can get a taxi fare estimate for your transfer from McCarran airport to your hotel by visit the Taxi Fare Finder website. Note that by Nevada law, taxi drivers must always take the most direct route to your destination, so if you feel that your driver isn’t following the rules or your fare is looking way above this online fare finder, don’t be afraid to speak up. If your hotel is on the Strip, one way to avoid a bloated fare is to tell your driver “don’t take the tunnel” before you jump into the cab. That will give him or her the hint that you’ve done your homework, and you’ll be less likely to be overcharged.

One more note about taking a taxi from the airport. During busy periods, it is highly likely that there will be a long queue. When we arrived in Vegas, we were one of the last people to go through US customs (we flew in from Vancouver, BC), so by the time we exited the terminal, most of the crowd in front of us had already left. For us, that meant there wasn’t much of a taxi queue to deal with, which was such a relief.

Flamingo Hotel swimming pool

3. Get a Monorail Pass

Las Vegas WPPI tram

If you are not renting a car and want to travel around the Vegas Strip, get a discounted multi-day Las Vegas Monorail pass. As an attendee, you can save a few dollars off the pass, but it’s well worth it even at full price.

Be aware that there are a limited number of monorail stations. It doesn’t go to every hotel along the Strip, so if you’re not staying near one of the stations, you may be in for a long walk.

WPPI Las Vegas travel tips for headshot photographers

4. Save Money, Eat off the Strip or use a Food Court, Fast Food, or a Drugstore. 

Let’s be real. Food in Las Vegas is expensive. Unless you’re getting Casino comps on a regular basis, the cost of restaurants and buffets can blow your budget in a hurry.

Las Vegas Fashion Show Mall food court

We rented a car on this trip, so we were able to have many of our meals off the Strip, where the prices seem a little more budget friendly. For breakfast, the Flamingo Hotel provided meal vouchers of up to $18 per day (or $9 per adult), which saved us a little (well, not really since we were also paying around $32 per night for their resort fee when we didn’t even use their resort facilities while we were there, but that’s a topic for another day). However, let me warn you that $9 per person for breakfast is not much – you’ll only be able to get a muffin and a large coffee for that amount.

For lunch, consider using the food courts, or find a Chipotle down the strip near Harrah’s. One evening, we dinner at the Fashion Show Mall food court, which offered good prices and was not as busy as some other locations on the Strip.

There are also numerous other restaurants far off the Strip, but you’ll need a car or taxi to access them. One evening, we drove to Chinatown and had a complete dinner for four for about same the price of one buffet pass at a Hotel on the Strip.

Las Vegas downtown

If you like buffets, consider going downtown to Fremont Street. Some of the cheapest Vegas buffets are in this area. Visit The Paradise Buffet at the Fremont Hotel & Casino (buffet dinner from $15.49*), the Buffet at the Golden Nugget Hotel (M-W dinner is $20.99), or the Garden Court Buffet (dinner from $11.99*) inside the Main Street Station Hotel & Casino.

We saved a ton by not purchasing food items from our hotel. For water and snacks, we visited a local CVS (across from the Fashion Mall). There are many Walgreen locations along the strip as well, but CVS had slightly better prices on the things we needed during this trip.

* B Connected card is required (which is a free signup at the hotel)

5. Sign up for Photo Walks or Classes!

WPPI Las VegasThis is one thing I wish I had been able to do on my first visit to WPPI. There are a long list of excellent classes and photo walks. Some of them are offered at a discount if you book them online before the start of the conference.

6. Plan to attend all 3 days of the Expo

Las Vegas travel tips from a Vancouver headshot photographer

Westcott and Elinchrom at WPPI tradeshow

There are over 250 exhibitors at WPPI, and several of them offer daily presentations and demonstrations, so plan to spend a lot of time visiting them all.

TWIP founder Frederick Van Johnson interviewing at WPPI
TWIP founder Frederick Van Johnson interviewing at WPPI 2016

Some of the most popular exhibits in 2016 were the Canon Profoto, Nikon, and Sony. Some of the talks they scheduled were standing room only, so arrive early if you want to get a seat.

Some exhibitors gave away chachkas as well as useful items like Lowepro CF card wallets (thanks to Sandisk!), so be prepared to walk out with a lot of little goodies as well as reading materials.

7. Bring Your Camera or Lenses for Cleaning or Repairs!

Canon and Nikon had cleaning and repair technicians at the tradeshow, so if you need work done on your camera gear, you may want to bring it along. You also be able to talk to their technicians about your equipment, so bring your questions as well.

Westcott at WPPI Conference and Tradeshow

8. Wear Comfortable Clothes and Walking Shoes

The Conference and Expo take up a large area, and convention venues are often larger than they seem on maps or photos. You’ll be doing a lot of walking during the tradeshow, not to mention any Photo Walks you may want to sign up for, so bring comfortable shoes for lots of walking and standing around.

WPPI is usually held in the winter, so Vegas temperatures are mild compared to the boiling summer season. You won’t need to or want to wear sandals, and you may even want to bring a jacket along. Whatever you choose, dress comfortably, but also dress well. Remember that you represent your business, and you may even be rubbing shoulders with your favourite photographers and other businesses, so also keep that in mind as you pick your conference wardrobe.

WPPI Tradeshow

RecycleSmart is a Richmond-based recycling company that asked me to produce a series of creative headshots for their staff that they could use on their website and other marketing materials. Each person brought in a personal item that helped to characterize them in a fun way, and these are some of the results:

Fun corporate headshots by Pro Headshots Vancouver

Not all corporate headshot session need be static and traditional. Companies can really separate themselves apart by producing unique images that highlight their company culture. By producing these sorts of fun photos, RecycleSmart helped to promote staff morale and attract new clients and employees to their brand.

All photos were shot on-site at their Richmond office, and everyone made the whole experience fun and entertaining. I’m looking forward to seeing how they use these photos for their business going forward!

 

 

These are a couple of Vancouver realtor headshots taken for a local agent this fall. As a successful realtor in the booming Metro Vancouver real estate market, Thomas wanted to produce a modern headshot to use for his marketing efforts to local and international clients. On a sunny morning this fall, I chose a quiet location with modern architecture where these natural light business portraits could be taken.

modern Vancouver realtor headshots in the Fall Vancouver realtor headshots outdoors

We decided on a location session to produce a unique set of business headshots. Studio headshot work well for most situations, but if you are looking for real estate agent photos that are unique to you, outdoor on-location headshots are often the best way to go.

I started with my usual studio lighting setup, but due to the angle of the sun and cold windy weather, I decided it was better to have him directly the warm sunlight and used reflectors to produce the fresh and bright looking headshots I was looking to produce. I’m looking forward to seeing these images used in his real estate marketing throughout the Lower Mainland.

I did this headshot session with Sandeep over the summer. We shot outdoors using a mix of strobe lighting and natural lighting (a la Cinematic Headshot). Sandeep wanted something shot on location that would be different from the other realtors in town, so I chose a location with an interesting set of background cool bokeh options.

Surrey and Vancouver Realtor headshot outdoors

These realtor headshots were shot using Canon 580EX flashes and Westcott softboxes. What I loved most about working with Sandeep was his easy going nature and openness to showing his personality in the photos. The fact that he’s a sharp dresser with good attention to detail didn’t hurt one bit – All signs of a good up and coming real estate agent. I’m looking forward to see how he uses these realtor headshots in his Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley realty business marketing.

Metro Vancouver Realtor Headshots Metro Vancouver Realtor business headshot

These are headshots for a corporate financial group I had the pleasure of photographing in downtown Vancouver this past month. When I was first contacted about the headshot session, we were unsure exactly where we would be taking the photos. All I knew was that that wanted to use their office environment in their background – something of a mix between an environmental portrait and a corporate headshot.

Headshots for corporate groups in Vancouver

When I visited their office, the biggest location we could identify was their boardroom. Lucky for me, the boardroom faces north, which makes it a little easier to control for sunlight on bright sunny days. At the same time, it also meant that the boardroom would need to be lit with flash, so the challenge was to determine exactly where the lights could go in the limited space I had.

There just happened to be enough space for the lighting setup I wanted. Three Elinchrom D-Lites lights with Rotalux softboxes and 2 reflectors were used to achieve the final headshot portraits. in their boardroom space. I was also asked to make each shot slightly different, so I used different angles to change the look of the background to include some of the chairs and different segments of the frosted glass wall behind while still keeping the lighting setup mostly the same.

The final photos were shot to about waist level, which is something I almost always do because it gives my clients the flexibility to crop their images to different sizes depending on the publication. If I shoot too tight, it limits their options for publishing headshots in different dimensions.

The team photo below is an example of another composite corporate group photo created in Adobe Photoshop CC from 7 separate digital business headshot portraits. These types of photo composites are great for company websites and print marketing when the option to add or remove people is needed. It was shot against a pure white background in studio for the specific purpose of maximizing flexibility in the future to modify the team size over time.

How often have you scheduled a corporate group photo only to have one or two people become unavailable for the photo session? Do you reschedule and hope to find another date and time that works for everyone? Composite team photos offer you flexibility in these types of situations. You can photograph everyone that is present, then add team members missing from the photo at a later date.

Composite team photo created from separate headshots taken at my Vancouver photo studio.
Composite team photo created from separate headshots taken at my Vancouver photo studio.

Composited group photos created using Adobe Photoshop offer a good way for business to add and remove people from their group or team photos. In the example below, 5 separate photos were put together to create what looks like a team photo (aka. faux group shot!). Since each person is on their own Photoshop layer, it is easy to add team members. Each person in the photo can also have their photo taken at different times – so if someone wasn’t able to make it to the photo shoot, no problem. They can be photographed separately and added later to produce a nice panorama shot for an “about us” page banner.

photoshopped composite group photo

Working in Vancouver, it is often difficult to get those interesting on-location hi-key photos during the winter months. The cold weather and dark rainy days limit shooting outdoors, and we get so few sunny days during these months. Many of my clients also work during the day, so a lot of my headshot photo sessions are done in the evening to accommodate busy work schedules. Quite often, I’m shooting in-studio using a plain backdrop, and using complex lighting setups to get the hi-key look for some of the portraits I produce.

So when I want to produce headshots that look like they were shot on-location, I sometimes need to rely on producing Photoshop composite photos to achieve the final product I’m after. Here’s a sample of what a Photoshop composite headshot looks like before and after:

Headshot composite before shot
Headshot BEFORE Shot – Shot in Studio against a white background

 

Headshot composite background
Background for Headshot Composite Photo
Headshot After Photo - Composited in Photoshop CC
Headshot After Photo – Composited in Photoshop CC

There are many Photoshop compositing tutorials on the web, so I won’t go into the nitty gritty detail of how to produce composite photos. But here are some valuable tips I’ve picked up along the way that will help you produce headshot composite photos that are easy to achieve and look realistic:

1. Use the Same Key for Composite Photos!

If you are planning to produce composite photos that is hi-key (i.e. lighter and brighter background), shoot the headshot against a background that approximates the color or key of the replacement background. So if the background you are adding in has a lighter tint (such as in the example above), try shooting the original headshot on a background on white or something close in key or tint.

Doing this will make it a lot easier to cut out your subject using Photoshop’s masking tools or a third-party tool like Topaz Labs’ Remask. This is especially helpful when you go to mask out the subject’s hair. If I had shot the above example on a darker backdrop, it would have taken a lot more work to mask out the subject’s hair for the lighter background.

2. Shoot Your Own Out of Focus Backgrounds

Whenever I see a cool potential background that combines colour, light, and shadow in interesting ways, I’ll shoot it out of focus and will save a copy on my computer for later use. As I shoot it, I’m keeping in mind the type of headshots I typically produce and apply just the right amount of out of focus blur in-camera. I also try to collect a number of different backgrounds I think can work for darker or moodier headshots as well as hi-key or brighter headshots.

Producing your own out of focus background doesn’t require you to scout out interesting locations. You also don’t need to purchase pre-made backgrounds for composites, although there are good resources out there if you do. Most of my shots are take around the studio, at home, or at a local park during a walk. There’s no need to find these backgrounds in hard-to-access places or to spend a lot of money buying them since they’re going to be out of focus anyway. Almost any place with a mix of interesting light, shadow, and color will do.

3. Use a Good Image Masking Program

Photoshop includes a good masking tool for a large number of objects, but I’ve found that other tools do a better job at extracting or masking out hair. If you’re extracting an object with a relatively smooth edge, Photoshop is fine. However, for subjects that have intricate edges (e.g. human hair or fuzzy sweaters), I’ve found that using a tool like Topaz Labs Remask, OnOne’s Perfect Layers, or Vertus Fluid Mask 3 makes the producing an accurate and clean mask a little easier.

4. Match up the Direction of Light

After you’ve extracted your subject and placed him or her on a layer above your chosen background images, the next set is to match up the direction of light. It’s usually easier to match up the background with the foreground subject than the other way around, but of course, that all depends on your particular image. A good way to achieve this is to use the Photoshop Curves tool to bring the overall exposure up or down to match the foreground subject. Then use a gradient mask to produce a directional lighting effect that matches the direction of light of the background with that of the foreground subject.

You may also need to flip the background image to match up with the direction of light on your foreground subject. In the image example above, I shot the background with the window light reflecting off a white wall on the right of the frame, but because I shot my subject’s headshot with an Elinchrom Rotalux Octa from the left, I decided to flip the image in Photoshop (using the Flip Horizontal adjustment under the EDIT > TRANSFORM menu) to match up the direction of light.

Keeping these tips in mind before and during production of your composite headshot photo will help you achieve final images that look as natural as possible. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them behind in the comments section below.