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.