What a ride. Since 2004, I have attended the annual WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International) convention, pretty religiously. 2015 marks my final year as a speaker, for reasons that will become apparent later in this post, and this is a love-letter to those years, and the industry that spawned them. I also want to give a shout-out to Bryan Caporicci, whose blog-post about his FIRST WPPI experience was the motivation for me to write this one.
When I began in the photo industry, it was as the head of sales, marketing and community at Pictage (who became one of WPPI’s largest sponsors and supporters, on my watch) and I was shown the ropes of this industry by one of its most gracious advocates, Skip Cohen – who also happened to be in charge of the WPPI convention, at that time. When Skip moved on, his apprentice, George Varanakis took over and kept the pace as well as anyone could, under the pressure of a changing market landscape and a global recession. Like Skip, George eventually moved on (to become the head of education at CreativeLive) and, after a couple years of chaos and a transition to a new owner, WPPI fell into the hands of another loving parent, Jason Groupp. (Bias disclaimer: Jason also happens to be a student of my Specialism movement, a leader in its Team X community and one of my oldest friends in this business.)
The last three years of Jason’s influence have been the greatest transition I’ve ever experienced in this industry.
I’ve seen it grow from a few thousand attendees (mostly dudes with PPA medals and camera strap suspenders) to over 15,000 photographers of great diversity (from dozens of countries and over 50% women) in 2015. This change alone would make my heart swell… but, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for WPPI success. I’ve also seen the personality of WPPI evolve, over the years. Initially, just another “old boys’ club” run by 50 year-old film shooters who had “evolved” from actually taking pictures to selling miscellaneous camera gear, how-to classes and made-in-china plastic stuff; it grew into a true, professional industry of specialists, ranging from experts in outsourcing, web design, infrastructure and even sales and marketing professionals.
Walking the Expo floor this year, I was struck with how few photographers with “side-businesses” there were, compared to full-time businesses with a singular focus on what they do best, and how that can help a photographer excel in their own business, as well. For the first-time, I can see the future of this industry as a “business” rather than just a profit-oriented “enthusiasm.”
And, following that increased call-to-action for the industry to act primarily as a business, I’m also seeing and hearing many more photographer-leaders who are making the time and bearing the cost of teaching classes that include a motivation for photographers to understand the value of the photo “experience” instead of simply delivering a folder full of great images. This is a client-focused message that reinforces what I’ve always believed:
I’ve never met a camera so advanced it could create a wonderful moment, and I’ve never met a successful photographer that couldn’t.
So, if I’m happier than ever with the industry, why am I making the conscious effort to stop participating as a speaker? Ironically, it is because I’m so happy with the evolution that I’ve decided to make this change. For the last four years, I’ve spent most of my waking hours coaching professional photographers and consulting to photographer-focused businesses, with the aim of helping create a new breed of industry leadership. This year, I’ve seen that effort pay off, better than I ever dreamed.
From witnessing the incredible Expo successes of two of my family-clients, ShowIt and ShootDotEdit, to the overwhelming pride I feel for the MANY Team Xers who taught platforms, workshops and master classes, I can NOW safely assume that this industry is in GREAT hands, and the future is something I should sit-back and watch flourish. Further, this tells me that it is time for me to stop taking up room on the program… since my Team X students, coaches and mentors are truly better equipped to teach what I believe in. After all, they have the added advantage of actually EXECUTING on the strategies I teach – where I am stuck with science, psychology and examples. The real future of Specialism lies in the words, purposes and actions of those who now represent the future of WHY being authentically YOU is best for both your business and your life.
For those reasons, I happily relinquish my spot on the WPPI stage or programs, knowing I am not leaving them vacant, but making room for the next generation of great thinkers, and DOers. It is YOUR time to shine. Go get em.
P.S. To be clear, I will continue to consult to a selected few companies, who I think can have the greatest impact on moving our industry forward, and will also keep developing educational curriculum for the Team X Academy. I have no plans to “go gently into that good night” – at least, not just yet.