Stargazing : George Varanakis


I felt alone. I felt scared. And I felt like I was in high school. Again. WPPI was my first professional photography conference and I was in over my head, partly because I had no idea what I was getting into. And, wow, I just made that sound like I was getting jumped into a gang or something. Maybe I’m the only person to have felt that way, but it’s dubious. WPPI is the largest convention in the world for wedding and portrait photographers and, well, it’s easy to feel lost. And alone.

I actually spoke to a few people at WPPI this year and they wondered if they had the chutzpah to go back again. I told them it gets easier with every year and the more friends you make, the better experience becomes. And then I started to wonder. And you know what happens when I wonder…wild things!…crazy things!…oh, that Jasmine is off wondering again! I wondered if I had known a few things in advance if my experience would have been better, and I think it would.

The point of this post is to get a legit answer from a legit person. However, before we get there, I offer one piece of pre-WPPI Las Vegas advice (and I’m totally un-legit): Get on forums like OSP or The B School and make friends. Create allies. Find roommates. Plan fun events in advance. It’s too easy to sulk in your hotel room and complain you’re all alone. The hard part is getting uncomfortable and going out to do new things…but that’s what makes the conference worth it. Learning how to grow under pressure.

Now, with a totally legit answer, I’m happy to introduce my good friend, George Varanakis. He’s the Executive Vice President of WPPI, so I thought I’d ask him a few questions to help make your WPPI experience better….

*If you could offer advice to a photographer attending the conference for the first time, what would it be?
Plan! Plan! Plan! Make sure you know what classes you’re going to take before you even get to WPPI. Also, make sure you walk the trade show. It’s definitely worth your time to check out new products, new companies, and see what the industry has to offer.

*What’s a common mistake a photographer makes at WPPI?
There’s a couple of mistakes you can make at WPPI.
One, Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the classes. The speaker is there to teach you, and if you have a question feel free to ask them.
Two, take notes. You’re going to be on information overload when you head back from WPPI, so the best way to remember what you learned is to take notes. You’re there to be a better photographer, make sure you take in as much as you can and write it down!
Three, network! You can learn so much from the people around you.

*How does WPPI choose its speakers? If someone wanted to be a platform speaker, how does he/she apply?
That’s a great question! Actually, we select speakers on how many friends they have on Facebook….kidding.
We review every speaker proposal that comes in. When we evaluate the proposals, we try to keep the topics relevant and think of new topics that our audience is going to be interested in (we had over 300 proposals this year). If you would like to be a speaker, you can find the proposal on our site or you can email us. The 2011 speaker deadline has passed, but we’d be happy to hear from you for WPPI 2012, as well as sponsor information.
Oh, and please don’t do the social network thing, we get 50 plus proposals a year on that topic.

*So, I just have to ask: Last year there were complaints of long lines and limited seating for certain events…is WPPI doing anything to change that for next year?
I know there were frustrations last year…I came out bruised, bloodied and with a severe limp. Our entire staff was in the middle of everything trying to fix it. It was frustrating for all of us, and I don’t blame people for getting riled up. We do our best to match the speakers with room size but sometimes we’re not always right. Some speakers draw a lot more than we anticipate, some not as many as we anticipate. It’s a challenge to judge but we are doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen ever again, including opening up more rooms so there’s more seats in every class.
Plus, we just added the MGM Arena for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of WPPI. The Arena is the MGM concert facility and holds over 15,000 people so we’ll have more than enough room for all the speakers for 2011. We are also looking into other options to help avoid any problems next February but alleviating any lines is our priority.

The only line you should ever have to wait in at WPPI is the line at Starbucks to grab a coffee in the morning.

*How do you keep WPPI different from previous years? Are you planning anything exciting for 2011?
The day after WPPI ends is when the wheels start turning on how to make WPPI better, and we always try to make it better than the last. This year we are launching WPPI U, a back-to-basics photography track that will run on Saturday and Sunday before the show starts. Classes offered are Posing, Lighting, Photoshop, Marketing, and Business. Plus, you get a really cool shirt. Can you beat that? I think not.
We have a lot in store for WPPI 2011, and there’s no convention and trade show in the world where you get to learn from the best, network with your peers and have the best time meeting new friends in the funnest city in the world.

Feel free to contact me ( in case you have questions, want to apologize for kicking me in shin because you had to wait in line at WPPI, or have constructive criticism for us. We can’t get better unless we get feedback from you.

I look forward to meeting all of you at next year’s show. Look for me, the only guy in a suit, stop by and say hello. See you in 7 seven months.

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  1. Devon

    July 7th, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Jasmine…I TOTALLY can relate…I am only 1 year in the biz so far and I went to Imaging USA in Nashville back in Jan….same feelings as you had!! But I have continued to be inspired and motivated by you and sooo many other GREAT Photographers!! Keep it up!!

  2. kelly marie

    July 7th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    This advice is soooo perfect. And Jasmine, I think the only line people waited in last year was for YOUR class! 🙂

  3. Beria Charles

    July 7th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Hey girl! Awesome interview!
    I missed WPPI last year…I was new to the business and afraid of everything..Vegas, the "PRos", the loneliness in a hotel room… But although I’m still new to wedding photography, this time I’m planning to attend next year convention! By the way, anyone from MA needs a roomate?

  4. Shauna

    July 7th, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    George is a great guy and definitely your ally when it comes to WPPI and Convention time!

    And his hair looks so great in that picture! I wonder how he get’s it so curly???

  5. Juli L.

    July 7th, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    These are great questions…thank you for posting this. I wanted to go to WPPI, but thought it was only for wedding photographers, I didn’t realize it was portrait as well, but it makes sense – I just thought I would have to do the hard sell with my husband, since I’m don’t do weddings, but really wanted to go…lol! I would love the WPPI U, that would be great to get some hands on help as well. Maybe next year I will be able to make it! 🙂

  6. Sarah

    July 7th, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    love: we select speakers on how many friends they have on Facebook….kidding.
    I dream of going to there anyway that I could get constant contact style e-mails sent to me so I can remember to plan for it.

  7. Damaris Mia

    July 7th, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    This is great! Thanks Jas!

  8. Jim Blocker

    July 7th, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Great post today Jasmine! As a newbie to WPPI, the 2010 convention was my first. I was in town with another convention for my day job and was not able to spend nearly enough time at WPPI. 🙁

    As a first-timer at the convention I was a bit overwhelmed. I am no stranger to industry conventions, and was a little surprised to see that WPPI did not have some sort of "Newbie orientation" to get first-timers like myself up and running. As such, I spent a good deal of what little time I had, trying to figure out what I "needed" to get done vs. what I probably could have done instead.

    I learned the hard way. Take Jasmine and George’s recommendations to heart, plan ahead and you’ll have a great show!

  9. Jackie

    July 7th, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I have yet to go to one of the WPPI conference but this interview definitely helps for next year (which I’m planning on going). Thanks so much for the info!

  10. Jessica

    July 7th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks for posting! I cant wait to go to WPPI next year 🙂 Who’s with me!?

  11. JamieY

    July 7th, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks for this post, I am definitely going this year, easy too since I live in Vegas.

  12. Jasmine*

    July 7th, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    @JimBlocker: Now that’s a GREAT idea! I will definitely propose this idea to WPPI because it would be so beneficial! Love it!
    @Sarah: You can sign up for the WPPI Facebook Group here for all the latest and greatest:
    @Shauna: HILARIOUS! 😀

  13. Gabriela Fuentes

    July 7th, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. I was thinking of attending next year’s convention, but had a few doubts. This totally makes me positive about attending.

  14. MacGyver

    July 7th, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    noticed and wanted to point out to WPPI that even if people have reached the facebook friend maximum, they can still friend people although their friend number doesn’t increase, so it will be harder to differentiate the cool from the super cool as well as old school cool from the new kid on the block cool….just sayin’

  15. Jason Thon

    July 7th, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Great post Jasmine, and as someone who has gone to 4 WPPI’s, I can attest that each year is better than the previous and it all pretty much has to do with knowing more people. Put yourself out there and try to make new friends. It is such a great time to get together and re-connect with people. You will learn just as much outside the classes as you do inside!

  16. Romonia I.

    July 7th, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Thanks for the post J*! Great Q&A with George regarding WPPI. I can’t wait until February to get here! It will be a great birthday present for myself. Also, it was bittersweet being in Vegas during WPPI last year and not getting to attend things! Beria Charles, I am not from MA but this Texan is looking for a roommate if I do not find one here. 😉

  17. kelsy mccartney

    July 7th, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    this post was so helpful!! i can’t even tell you how excited i am to attend wppi this year as a first-timer… hopefully after reading this post and preparing myself, i won’t stick out as a "newbie" too much!! 😉

  18. Alexandra

    July 7th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Great post, Jasmine!!

  19. Courtney

    July 7th, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Oh my goodness! Only 7 months! It feels like WPPI was just last week. This year was my first year, and I felt just as you described. But now I know what to expect and can prepare better. And I did make a few new friends. Don’t forget about WPPI Road Show. Another great way to network, and with people more from your home area, and it includes Vegas registration. Woot Woot! Can’t wait for both events!

  20. michelle carrillo

    July 7th, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    I. CAN’T. WAIT!!!! Seriously… I’ve been to WPPI twice now, and it just gets better and better. Can’t wait to see what 2011 has in store!!!

  21. Lesley

    July 8th, 2010 at 12:07 am

    I can’t wait for WPPI 2011. I am going to bag that 50mm 1.2 lens. I do have one question: am I the only one that calls it "wippie" – it’s a bad habit and highly contagious.

  22. Jacqueline fronters

    July 8th, 2010 at 3:26 am

    I am always nervous to attend a conference but I think I’m going to Wppi next year. Thanks for this information and thank to George for his time. I hope to meet you both next year.

  23. Pamela Topping

    July 8th, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Looking forward to WPPI 2011!

  24. Linda Sherrill

    July 8th, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Haven’t been yet. Definitely feel better about going. Seemed like such an anonymous jungle before.

  25. Truc

    July 15th, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Great information. I haven’t been to WPPI yet, but hope to go next year.

  26. Apple

    August 6th, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Someday I hope to attend WPPI! I hope you’ll be speaking jasmine!:)