5 Years ago, if you told me that: Aries, one day you will be WPPI Master with gold awards, and sit on the judging bench.
I would call you CRAZY!
What does FAILURE tastes like?
My first-year WPPI competition experience was horrible. I spent a whole year submitted dozens of my hard working images. NONE of them made a silver award. Be honest with you I was entering other international competitions with pretty good results, so you can imagine how I felt received nothing but a bunch of 70s.
I showed my results to closest friends; they said: WPPI gathered the best group of photographers around the world, their judging standards are ridiculously high and almost impossible to meet. There are probably 1 out of 10 people can tell the difference between 75s and 80s; plus you already have lots of clients, and they all love your work. This whole competition thing is somewhat unnecessary and probably a waste of your time.
Well, I don’t think so. I started photography as a hobby; I do wedding photography out of LOVE. To me, the whole competition experience is NOT about clients; it is about me. I want to learn from the best from the industry, hence make myself a better photographer.
The comments were critical, and I honestly wasn’t happy with it for the first couple of days. But after I went through it, it forced to me face my weakness and started to look for a solution.
Talking about being criticised, I survived four years of PhD candidature which was pretty much being criticized every week if not every day. So if there is anything about research and learn, I can manage it.
How difficult is it to start from ZERO?
I remember one of the comments I received the early years, something like “posing, lighting, and post-production needs refinements.” Not one of the best days of my life.
Well, a couple of weeks later I stitched my broken heart back, went back to the comments, and decided to start learning everything from scratch.
How life-changing would a good Mentor be?
phI was fortunate to meet Rocco Ancora as my mentor through WPPI. This man took me under his wings, helped me to reinvent in pretty much all aspects of wedding photography. Such as how to shoot for a wedding album but rather just WOW photos? How to communicate with clients to suit my shooting style? How the post-production should be in line with photographer’s vision, not to create a trendy surrealistic image that would fade out in a couple of years. He gave me a workflow and encouraged me to develop my unique style, that benefits me ever since.
So after one of his class, Rocco said: Aries if you are taking photography seriously, you really should go to Vegas, you would understand a lot after listening to the LIVE JUDGING.
WPPI Annual in Vegas is EXPENSIVE. I knew it as well as everyone.
I was POOR at that time when I decided to make the jump to WPPI conference.
The Australian home loan mortgage was super high, plus the living expenses in Sydney is beyond ridiculous. To save enough money, I was teaching in 3 universities whole year besides working as a weekend wedding photographer. Also, February is the busiest wedding season in Australia, going to WPPI means I have to turn a few couples away.
Felicia (my bride to be) knew about that, and she said: why don’t we use our Honeymoon Budget, just go to US as our honeymoon? With ‘eating Jiro Ono’s sushi’ and ‘viewing Mona Lisa in real’ as the top of her bucket list, Felicia always wanted to go to Europe and Japan for the honeymoon. Now you understand how much she loves me, and how supportive she has always been.
Even though we didn’t have the luxury to do sightseeing around Vegas afterwards, we flew straight back to Sydney, and I started to teach the second day and shot two weddings that weekend. It took me about 2 weeks to recover from the post-WPPI tiredness.
That year I reinvent myself as a professional photographer.
That year, I got the silver award.
That year, I raised my price and shot 120 weddings and bridal sessions. I probably was one of the busiest photographers in Sydney.
That year, my studio crew grew from 5 to over 20.
What’s the REWARD for being CREATIVE?
In his workshops, Jerry Ghionis encouraged me more than once, he said: Aries you have balls man, you should focus on creating your own style. I believe that is the spirit of academic research, and also the spirit of WPPI. Creativity is the essence of a true art piece.
Jerry’s words gave me the courage to rebuild my business. I start to focus on developing my style, try to deliver dedicated work for each couple. Gradually my customers shifted to couples with independent tastes and enjoyed my style. I found that I have lots of customers who are also photography hobbyist, the more in-depth they understand photography, the more they appreciate my work. Every time I posted my work on social media, people replied: this is something special, and not many photographers can do that.
I am thankful I joined WPPI and met all these world-renowned photographers through WPPI. I keep on pushing myself by participating in the competition.
That year I received a third place. I also got my first silver distinction.
That year I raised my price again, chose to reduce the number of shootings. So that I can spend more time on my education, and I can enjoy the beach with my family.
How far are we away from WPPI Gold Awards?
If you are lucky enough, you could get away with a silver even though you do not meet the criteria entirely, especially in online competition.
But not a GOLD AWARD. It has to be perfect in most aspects if not all. I work so hard on one of my images, modify that for dozens of times before it won a GOLD.
I really want to thank my good friend Roger Tan. WPPI annual runs once a year. Lots of participating photographers are too busy working on their own images, and they don’t have any extra time or energy to help their potential competitors. But Roger is one exception. He is this guy always selflessly shared his experience, and criticized me to strive for better. When he knew that I received my Gold award, he was happier than he received gold himself.
You do meet lifetime friends through WPPI, and they are more precious than GOLD.
That year, I got two GOLD AWARDS.
That year, I became the most expensive Australian photographer who specialized in Pre-Weddings.
That year, I got married. Bought my first house, it has a spa in the backyard so that I can sit there and count the stars with my dog.
How much does WPPI Master worth?
Well, a master could be nothing or it could life-changing.
It could be just a milestone, a certificate, like your bachelor or master degree, says: Well done mate.
Master DOES NOT guarantee anything. If you don’t keep on reinventing your skills or business, you will soon be outdated.
Comparing the title, the Craftsmanship, Analytical skills, and Creative Ability I gained during the process is much more important, it became part of me. Where ever I saw an exhibition, watched a movie or simply just travelled to a scene, the abilities helped me accumulate inspirations, and be ready to shoot a better album for the next wedding.
I started to choose the clients who appreciate my style. I found most of my clients are highly educated, have an independent taste of arts rather than following trendy blogger style. I LOVE to work with clients born after the 1990s, I found they are super adventurous, and willing the explore crazy ideas with me. We had lots of fun and wild shots. Also, some of them already own a well-established business, they offered me lots of useful advice which brings my business to the next level.
Last year, I got two 1st places.
Last year, based on the key abilities I learned from WPPI, I was awarded “AIPP NSW Wedding Photographer of the Year”, “AsiaWPA Top20 Wedding Photographers” and “MPA Classic Wedding Photographer of the Year”.
Last year, Felicia was pregnant, she can quite all her work to be a happy woman do whatever she wants.
Last year, my first boy was born. I was able to afford the best maternity matron to take care of him and Felicia 24/7.
Last year, I finally don’t have to worry about a mortgage that much. We start to plan for our EU and Japan trip, to thank my wife for going to WPPI conference as the honeymoon with me.
Contribute back to the community.
I always feel like a fortunate man.
I am thankful to have all the nicest people to be my mentors and friends.
I am thankful met all the clients who appreciate my style.
So I started to help all the friends around me. I encouraged them to participate in the competition, not just to get the award, but to become a better photographer. To be able to help people, it makes me feel good.
This year, I took up a new role. I feel very honoured to be selected as a JUDGE, to sit among the world-renowned photographers and serve WPPI community.
To all my photographer friends – How can WPPI help you?
All Roads Lead to Rome. You DON’T have to participate in the competition to become a successful photographer. So what I am suggesting here is only one POSSIBILITY based on my personal experience, and I hope it helps:
If you join WPPI just to get a membership title, so that you can put the WPPI logo on your website banner, then I don’t think it would help you and your business much.
If you are trying your luck in the competition, hope to get a few rewards to show your customers. And you neither read the feedback nor use it to optimize the way you shoot, then what you can get would be very limited.
If you see WPPI as an educational institute, you participate in the competition, listening to all the live judging (even it’s not your work) carefully, then you will receive the most honest constructive comments you would never found in your facebook replies. From there you see the potentials of becoming a better photographer.
You can also see WPPI annual as a close community. You can talk to your idol photographers face to face, meet the friends of a lifetime, attend classes/events from morning until midnight, and possibly find your epiphany to change your life.
If you agree that sometimes we just need the courage to jump the fence, and if you also agree that Adele sounds much better in the live concert,
then maybe I will see you at Vegas this Feb?