After attending WPPI for the first time last year, I was excited to return in 2020, and really explore the expo, and take advantage of all that it had to offer.
When we booked our flight, it was for a reasonable, 9am flight. However, the airline changed the flight time to 7am weeks in advance of the flight. This would mean having to get up at 3am to leave the house by 4am, to get to the airport by 5am; clearly not the ideal solution. Unfortunately, any other flights would leave late in the day on Saturday, and we wanted to utilize the full day in Vegas to get acclimated.
So we trudged to the airport at 4am, and made good time. Had breakfast, flew to Vegas, and landed in Las Vegas at 8:30am local time. I checked into the hotel on my cellphone, paying for the early check-in, and by the time we got to the hotel, our room was ready. We dropped our suitcases, unloaded some of our gear to lighten our backpacks, and then headed out to explore a bit. While preparing, I got a neat shot of Matt, looking out the window of the hotel room.
The day eventually wound down, and we prepared for our big shoot day on Sunday.
With one of our friends being a model, we headed to Death Valley, CA for the day. Matt had researched and picked a couple good locations, which included Zabriskie Point, and Badwater Basin. We hoped to perhaps capture some other locations while out there, but those were our two main objectives.
There were 7 of us, all told, heading for Death Valley. We rented a GMC Yukon, with room for 8. There was very little room in the back for our gear, and the passengers in the 3rd row were very cramped, so we elected to take 2 cars instead. With the cars loaded up, snacks obtained, and supplies (such as lots of bottled water) prepped, we started on our 2-hour plus drive. We stopped along the way a couple of times to take photos before getting to Zabriskie Point. We were mesmerized by the clouds over the low mountains, and couldn’t resist.
We eventually made it to Zabriskie Point, which had lots of other tourists there. We spent little time hiking off the beaten path, and out to some different viewpoints. It was there that I got a great photo of Matt, scoping out compositions for his photos:
The landscape was stark, beautiful, and quite something to behold.
After Zabriskie Point, we continued further into Death Valley, heading toward Badwater Basin. This is the location of the salt flats, and some incredible textures and patterns shaped by nature itself. But before we got to Badwater Basin, we decided to explore a nearby trail we discovered, called 20 Mule Team Canyon. We hiked up several of the nearby hills, and photographed our model there.
We finally made it to Badwater Basin, but skipped the tourist parking lot. Not only were there a ton of cars and people, but the walk out to the best part of the flats looked extremely far. So we drove on a little further and found a spot that appeared closer to the white salt flats than the main parking area. We pulled off to a spot on the side of the road (that appeared to be a pullout area), and hiked our way to the salt flats. Even though the weather was nice and cool (mid-70's), there was very little breeze, and absolutely zero humidity, so it grew quickly uncomfortable and hot. We persevered, however, and got some incredible shots of the salt flats, and our model. My favorite by far is the panoramic view.
With everyone tired, but ecstatic about the experience, we started making our way back toward Las Vegas, with a few stops planned along the way. I got some incredible sunset photos that I’m happy to share here.
And so it was that we made it back to Las Vegas, and named our experience the “Half-to-Death Valley” trip, as we felt half-dead the next day.
Without realizing how we would feel that day, Matt and I woke up to get ready for our photowalk, called “Cinematic Lighting for Dummies”. The biggest draw here was the description of it being about teaching lighting techniques used for Game of Thrones, and other television series. The fact they planned to have in-costume models was the draw, and we hoped to get some decent photos, while learning new techniques. Unfortunately, the photowalk did not live up to our expectations, but we still got a few good photos.
Our last stop of the day was the Eiffel Tower Experience, which is 46-stories in the air, above the Strip. I had been here before, and gotten photos with my cellphone, but this was the first time I’d taken my professional camera to the top. I was able to get a few decent pics, but this long exposure was my favorite (even with the wires in the way):
The following day was our 2nd photowalk, this time with renowned photographer Rocco Ancora, titled “Creating Something From Nothing”. Considering we’re from Houston, where stunning landscapes, or incredible vistas are nearly impossible to easily find, we felt this would be useful. We could not have been more right.
Rocco is a magician when it comes to finding light and taking advantage of what the environment provides. I learned a massive amount in this short period of time, and can’t wait to put it to use in the real world. Some of my most-favorite shots of the entire trip came from this photowalk, including those below. This photowalk took place at the end of a hallway, and outdoors in a maintenance area, and the model was actually another photographer — not a professional model, which makes the results that much more impressive!
We spent more time at the expo after this photowalk, but after this, I wasn’t very interested in taking any other photos for the rest of the day.
With no photowalks or classes scheduled for Wednesday, we decided to do a morning shoot with our model, followed by an afternoon/sunset at Red Rock Canyon. For the latter, only Matt and I went.
We had asked the night before about shooting in the arcade at the Excalibur, hoping that the bright lights would add some extra dimension to the photos. They granted us permission, and during the shoot, we got some awesome photos.
We rented a car once again to head for Red Rock Canyon, and spent the entire afternoon, scouting the locations, shooting photos, and prepping for sunset. In the end, sunset got there faster than expected, but we still got some incredible photos. There are too many to share all of them, but below are some of my favorites (including one of Matt.)
Thursday, 2/27 & Friday, 2/28
We elected to make Thursday a photo-free day, and spent the entire day at the Expo. We were scheduled to have portfolio reviews with Joe Edelman in the morning, but he didn’t appear, so we re-scheduled with other notable photographers. The experience was pretty cool, and definitely a chance to get some valuable feedback about our work. Later, we ran into Lindsay Adler, and Matt got incredible feedback from her, and was ecstatic. We also watched her talk about how to craft a photography career, which contained tons of useful information. All in all, it was a great experience!
This unfortunately also capped off the WPPI Expo, meaning the end of the conference, and our trip. We flew out the next morning, where I got one final photo of the Las Vegas area (Lake Mead, actually.)
With WPPI 2020 over, the rest of the year pales in comparison. However, I made valuable contacts there, and learned new techniques that I can’t wait to put to practice!