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

Headshot Photographers, here’s how you travel light!


Last year, we decided to close up our bricks and mortar photography studio in New Westminster and go completely mobile. We discovered through working with our clients that they often prefer to have a professional photographer visit their office to do head shots. In many cases, it means more business for you as a photographer because they will often book you to photograph a longer list of people.

After doing this a few times with my studio gear, I really started to hate lugging around all that extra gear that is actually meant for a studio and not mobile use in rainy Vancouver. I’d had my share of lugging around heavy lighting stand bags and cases for my monolights, not to mention my camera bag, which was always on the heavier side.

So recently, I said goodbye to my studio equipment and started to build a kit for mobile use. Here’s what I came up with base on extensive research and months of actual in-field use: “The Ultimate Vancouver Headshot Photographer‘s Mobile Toolkit”.

This list is ordered by the level of highest benefit for mobile on-location portrait work. Items near the top are things I can’t live without and things at the bottom are nice-to-haves, but not as critical.

1. Lowepro Pro Runner x350 AW Rolling Camera Backpack


Lowe Pro x350 aw rollerThis is bag I really can’t live without. It’s a smaller roller bag, but it carries just about everything I need for a headshot session on location. It won’t carry all my lighting gear, just my Canon flashes (aka. speedlights), but it will take 2 bodies and all the lenses I need. I chose this bag because it can be easily converted to a backpack in case both my hands are busy with other gear. On a recent business trip to Calgary, Alberta I had no problems bringing this on board WestJet. I stuffed it pretty well and my only warning is that it will fit very snug in the overhead compartment. Had I got the x450 version, I’m not so sure it would have passed a carry-on luggage. As a Vancouver headshot photographer, going downtown to do corporate headshots is a real pain the neck from carrying all that heavy equipment from parking lot to corporate office. Having a roller-bag is a real life saver and it just looks more impressive to walk into an office with all your gear stuffed neatly into a small bag, rather than crash in with five camera bags hanging off your shoulder.

 2. Lastolite Reversible Collapsible Background (5×6′  White/Mid-Gray)

  I can’t believe that I used to haul a full background system around just for a headshot. What was I thinking? After years of filling my car with background stands, poles, clamps, and of course a long roll of background paper, I had enough and picked up a Lastolite Collapsible Background. I have the 5×6′ version in White and Mid-Gray. There is also a White and Black version, but I rarely ever shoot against a black background nowadays. Folded, the background is about 1/3 of it’s size and relatively easy to carry around. It’s still big, but no where near as big and heavy as a full background system.

3. Lastolite Bracketed Stand for Collapsible Backgrounds

 If you do decide to get this background, I also recommend getting the Bracketed Stand. It’s light and collapses to a small enough size to fit into any lighting bag. It will save you time and headaches trying to hang the background.


4. Photoflex Transpac Outbound Bag

  This lightstand and umbrella carry bag will carry almost everything a headshot photographer needs. I’ve stuffed up to 4 lightstands, and smaller Manfrotto tripod, a reflector arm, the Lastolite Bracketed stand, Photoflex umbrellas, the Westcott Apollo 28″, and several other small items in this bag (and checked it in at the airport too!). It’s not padded, so you need to add some padding or make sure it’s checked in with the fragile luggage, but man, does this think hold a lot of stuff. In future, however, I will be looking into a bag with wheels, but for now, this one bag takes care of all my on location lightstands and grip needs.

5. Manfrotto Alu Mini Stands

  These are the 6.75″ stands I often use for rim and fill lighting. They work great with my Canon 580EX II flash units and lightweight strobes such as the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra or even Alien Bees or Einstein E640 monolights from Paul C. Buff. I even used it with my bulkier PCB White Lightning monolights before with no problems – although be warned that you can’t use oversized modifiers (e.g. 53″ Elinchrom Octa Light Bank) with these light stands, they are simply too lightweight for that sort of thing. I love these stands because they are small and they click together, make it very easy to carry around three lightstands. If you are going to buy these lightstands, buy them in the 3-pack, you’ll be glad you did.

6. Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX S Head

  Elinchrom_Ranger_QuadraThese are the bees knees (if you know what that means, you rock!). I love Elinchrom lighting equipment. They are one of the top lighting companies out there. The only other ones that are better are Profoto and Broncolor, but those are the Lamborghini’s and Bugattis of the studio lighting world. Elinchrom is up there with their Ranger series as well, but a little less expensive overall. The Elinchrom Quadras give off beautiful consistent light and have been around for a few years now. People who own them love them for their portability, and at 400ws max, the power output is good enough for most portrait situations, but it’s the overall convenience that draws me to these lights. They are battery powered as well, meaning you don’t need to worry about bringing along a long extension cable – and thus one less thing to worry about! They may seem expensive, but how many speedlights would you need to output 400ws? Maybe four or five? And do speedlights have modelling lights? Nope, they don’t and you need modelling lighting in some low light portrait situations. You simply can’t function without modelling lighting in some office spaces or homes, so the Elinchrom Quadras help solve a huge problem for me on location. And why the Elinchrom S head vs. the Quadra A head? Because for most portraits, you don’t need the extra flash speed.

7. Westcott Apollo-series Softboxes

 westcott_apollo_softboxI love these softboxes, especially my 50″ Apollo, and the only reason they aren’t listed higher is that there are so many good light modifiers out there. Some I’ve tried and others that have excellent reviews, such as the Photek Softlighter II and the Elinchrom Rotalux series of modifiers. I love these modifiers because they help create even lighting and they work with just about any strobe out there (for the Quadra, an umbrella bracket is needed). The Softlighter II does a similar thing, and perhaps even gives off slightly softer light. I’m looking to purchase the Apollo Orb too, so perhaps that will find a spot on a future list.

8. Reikan FoCal Automatical Lens Calibrator


If you’re a Canon shooter with a 5D MKII or other camera with fine-tune calibration options, the Reikan FoCal may help you. I say “may” because there are few minor bugs with the system, but in theory, it should help you get better focusing results. I’ve used it and for most of my lenses, it appears to have helped improve autofocus, which saves me a lot of time and frustration. The one major downside is that it only works on Windows computers, so if you don’t have a PC, get a Windows emulator or get something like the SpyderLensCal Focus Calibration Tool or LensAlign MKII Focus Calibration System.