WPPI Vegas: a week in review

20120222-180906.jpg (I absolutely love this picture. So many airplane pictures are taken from the back of the wing, at least the ones I have taken. I wanted this to have a different perspective and focus more on the landscape. One of my favorite airplane pics to date.)

Last Sunday I boarded a Las Vegas bound plane to attend the WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International) Conference. I  was just one of 16,000 photographers.  I was not really impressed with the city of  Las Vegas.  It was brimming with casinos, booze, smoke, and vices.  I would like to say to all those who were handing out smutty cards, “No thank you, I ACTUALLY LIKE women.”

This is my first time to WPPI. I have been a professional wedding photographer for 4 years. Nina and I reached point in our business where we could go no further on our own. We wanted to go to some conferences and find some inspiration. The Jill Lafleur Workshop in Maui was the first step in our re-evaluation and intent to connect to other successful professionals.  We had come a long way in four years, but still have a long way to go.

Nina graduated from Asbury College with a degree in Journalism, and a photography background. I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in English that focused on Literature. We both play the guitar. I dabble in drawing, painting and song writing. So we have the tools to create an awesome business. We also have three intangibles that are necessary for every business.
1. Communication: We know how to communicate in both written and verbal form.

2.Creativity: Nina has a spontaneous knack to find a muse in nearly any terrain, and I have the ability to catch moments otherwise unseen or unnoticed.  We both approach our backdrops with different intent and a different angle, these differences create such a vivid acumen of art. Nina is the core of our business, she is the technical one. It is her vision and passion that we are following.

3.We are confident and  relaxed.  We make it a point to carry ourselves in a calm manner.  That confidence and calmness allow us to defuse undesired and uncomfortable situations.  We also possess great humor, which can unwind and tense moment.

We weren’t always in the photography business and both have had jobs outside of our degrees. The one constant over the course of our marriage is Nina’s love of photography.  Her ability to capture the essence of people’s personality in the camera lens, but for years she refused to accept the challenge of a business. In 2006 that changed. It took much coercion and pleading from Conrhod Zonio (now of Conrhod Zonio Photography) and myself to convince her to shoot his wedding.

The next year I joined her as an assistant and a second shooter; we only shot three weddings.

The year after that we shot 6 weddings, and so forth. In just 4 years we had a thriving, healthy client base. And the greatest part was that we were actually making money.

I was not technically trained like Nina but a tenacious creativity churns between my ears and rumbles in my chest. I am able to learn on the fly.  Even though I lacked formal education, I was able to capture some really good shots that our clients loved in the first few years. The bad ones were simply deleted and I “chalked it up to experience and started feeling better about myself. “(Rob Lowe, “a View from the Top”) I have learned on a really sharp curve of trail and error.

Over the last 4 years I have a better handle on photography and have gobbled up every scrap of information about lighting, aperture, ISO (film speed), and shutter speed, and how they all can live in harmony in my view finder. It has been such a great experience, learning a craft and another outlet for my creativity.

Writing and Literature have remained and will always be my first love. I don’t think that Photography will ever replace that love but that doesn’t diminish my passion for photography.

I love that I can capture an image that can bring our clients to laughter, tears, deep thinking, amazement, and joy. There is nothing like seeing your clients (and their family and friends)  smiling and gasping as they watch a slide show of their wedding day. We even received a standing ovation after one slide show, that was a humbling and uplifting experience.

[back to WPPI in Las Vegas]


(Monday morning we woke up early and got some really neat pictures of the sunrise. This is an iPhone picture, at 6:30 am or so. I really love that you can see the dirt and grim on the window. It gives the picture a grainy feel.)

I had no Idea what to expect, and was a little overwhelmed with 16,000 other photographers milling around.

I questioned myself, if I belonged here?  Will they be able to see through my unorthodox training methods and my struggles with basic fundamentals? Will they sniff me out as a fraud?! How can I ever match their knowledge and expertise in off-camera lighting, layers, textures, and cool shots?

My chest tightened as we walked shoulder to shoulder with the professional masses.  I was determined that I would not be pushed aside. I possess another valuable intangible, an incredible drive to learn. I am like a giant, thirsty sponge, and I can be driven until I master it or pass out from exhaustion.

The first few days were stressful as I diligently scribbled notes and diagrams (very helpful notes and diagrams…not discounting them) and my stress level grew. Those of you who know me and know my M.O. when I am out of my comfort zone know that I become an observer. I am a like a chameleon trying to see how quickly I can learn the environment and adapt. I have lived my life that way. I rarely get lost in new places after I have visited it once; I burn a map and landscapes into my mind. I don’t want to anyone to know that I might not know what I am doing. If people sense that you are uncertain they can take advantage of you or your situation, so I do everything in my power to adapt as quickly as possible. This has paid great dividends.

I had a break through this week. I had my Neo moment.

In the first Matrix Neo is fighting two of the Matrix agents and he is getting his butt whipped, but then it happens…he sees it, the Matrix Codes and how it all works. Suddenly, he is no longer fighting wildly and wasting his energy. He is calm and collected, no longer driven by fear but by knowledge. The agents fire their weapons at him, he puts up his hand and STOPS the bullets! The week I stopped the bullets fired from the barrels of competition and the photography business. Here it is: I don’t have to do everything!

Here is what my Matrix Revelation said, “I don’t have to shoot every kind of picture! I don’t have to compete with everyone! I am allowed to shot what moves me, captivates my attention, stirs my soul to the core.”

Nina and I don’t have to take pictures of things that don’t inspire us. We don’t have to focus on clients who don’t have the same values that we have, we can work with those who love our vision. Our clients will be the ones who love our vision, and that vision stirs their souls.

20120222-180830.jpg(A cool picture of a few of the buildings. I love how the power lines create a visual illusion that creates a false sense of depth. The picture almost has a 3-d (cube) effect. Some may not see that or like it but that is the beauty of photography, some get your vision and your interpretation and some don’t; focus on those who see in your “frequency”(radio waves) and those who think it is white noise, let them be and move on.)

20120222-180846.jpg(I took this from the MGM Grand building during a break between sessions. The sky is so blue and the sun in shining directly on them. There is a slight angle and then the stair stepping of the Golden Building really appealed to me. If the buildings were drab gray or dark mirrored glass, I wouldn’t have found it attractive for the lighting but the Gold/Bronze with the deep blue sky works.)

So now that the Matrix code is cracked I only needed to find out what it was that stirs me. Sometimes you can only know what your vision is after some one shows you.

Up to this point I only knew what didn’t move me and what I didn’t want to do. Well, let me say that I knew what I loved but didn’t know how to produce what I saw in my mind when I looked through the lens.

This week I attended a lighting class and posing classes, and a  marketing classes. They were all good but it was pressure for me and I was stressed.  The stress and pressure that I felt was more like when you are sitting at a desk in our office job and you know that if you want to be president that you have to learn a lot of software and systems that you don’t love. I knew that I was not good enough right now to do these things and honestly didn’t want to do what they were doing, but they were so successful it was hard to say, “I don’t really like this or that” without sounding like an angst-filled teenager. Then it happened…Jose Villa happened.  Jose Villa unveiled the Matrix Code.  It is so simple, “Shoot for yourself first.”

A few week earlier Nina and I went to Maui and met Jose Villa (Vee uh, not Ville uh) and I really like his pictures but I had nothing to compare them to.  I was not stalking blogs or photographers websites. Remember, I am obsessed about writing at this point not photography. I was drawn to his images.

On Tuesday, I sat in the sold out Jose Villa session at WPPI. There it was, right in front of me.

That is what I want to shoot.

That is what I see in the viewfinder.

That is the emotion that I want to evoke.

I sat mesmerized as he played his slide shows. There are so many pictures that I could have stared at for hours and studied the colors, the images, the backgrounds; they are works of art. I don’t mean that flippantly or in a hyperbolic way. They are works of art. That is what I want to do. I want to create a beautiful art.

I don’t want to just shoot weddings or engagement sessions. I want to use our client’s beauty, soul, passion, and love to create breath-taking art. I want our clients to look at their pictures and be emotionally moved. I want them to sit and get lost in my interpretation of their love…the essence of their souls…the inexpressible joy on the lips of their smiles. That is what I want to do. I want clients who love my interpretation so much that they seek me out and find me to capture their love story.

Yet, as great as that is, it is still a bit shallow. 

Why stop at Weddings, Engagement sessions, or couples in love? What about the beauty that lies within all of us? What about the thirsty laughter of someone afflicted with a decade old broken heart affliction? What about those who have no idea that they are beautiful…why can’t I use my “lens” to interpret the broken, the poor, the hurting, the impoverished, and the lonely? What good is success unless you can share it? What if my interpretation of their beauty saves a life?

Can I use my camera to give someone a piece of Fine Art that is them? We are all the object of beauty! We are the muse of perfection, just like professional models or celebrities; we are all created in God’s image.

I had craked the Matrix code but there was something missing.

20120222-180915.jpg(This picture is journalistic, I wasn’t creating an ascetic picture here, just journaling the day.)

On Wednesday, the 22nd, I received the missing piece.

Jeremy Cowart spoke to us about “Making a Difference”; using your art to help others.

Jeremy has a resume that is nearly unrivaled. He is ubber successful, but soon realized that success means very little if you don’t share it with others.  In 2009 they started Help Portrait and several other mission minded photo sessions. Please click over and check them out.  Jeremy said several times that he has been given a platform and he will use that platform to the best of his ability. The work he and his partners are doing is amazing.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It didn’t help that he was crying a lot during his session. It was the first time my soul felt completely full.

So, there it is…I want to create breath-taking art that will change lives, whether my muse is a paying client or a person down on their luck who has never seen themselves as an image of beauty.

We are all made in the Image of God and if I can create that interpretation through my lens and my craft, and if I can strike a chord in the souls of people then I will say that I have done well.

I am Wes Mullins the Artist, welcome to my world.

20120222-180814.jpg(This is my last night at WPPI, chilling in my room as Nina went on a desert shoot [there was only room for one of us  to go]).

All Pictures were taken with the iPhone 4 with the Instagram app.

You can follow me ( @wesmullins ).  You can follow me on Twitter ( @wesleymullins).

You can follow Jeremy Cowart  on Instagram ( @jeremycowart ). You can follow Jeremy Cowart on Twitter ( @jeremycowart ).

You can follow Jose Villa on Instagram ( @josevilla ).  You can follow Jose Villa on Twitter ( @josevilla ).

You can follow Nina Mullins on Instagram ( @ninamphoto ). You can follow Nina Mullins on Twitter ( @ninamphoto)

4 thoughts on “WPPI Vegas: a week in review

    • Thanks for reading Anna, and I hope that you are able to keep up with us as we move forward. I love all the connections we made in Maui and we try to support and keep those connections alive. I think that there is something special in that network.

  1. Very encouraging to read, especially as I consider some risks and endeavors of my own. I’m excited to see what God is going to do with you.

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