Industry News

The Portrait Masters Conference: Looking Back and Ahead + Sale on Tickets! 

November 21, 2023

By Abbey Pleviak

The Portrait Masters Conference (TPM) in Phoenix, Arizona, happened just two months ago, and already the countdown has started for the next one. In a recent live announcement about the conference, Sue Bryce said she’s so excited that “we don’t have to wait another year” because this coming March, TPM will be linking up with the WPPI conference in Las Vegas for the first time.  

Ashleigh Taylor hosted the conversation and shared that TPM will be on Sun, March 3 and Mon, March 4, while WPPI will be from March 3 – 7th. Both will be happening at The Mirage Resort, but TPM will retain its boutique feeling with its own dedicated enclave inside the area known as “The Wellness Center.” TPM attendees will get to enjoy many of their favorite TPM features only for TPM ticket holders, including: 

Mary Flores had everyone in the crowd fired up during her rendition of “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” at the TPM Karaoke Closing Party — a favorite event that will be coming along with TPM to Las Vegas in March. © Spot My Photos

Additionally, they’ll have an exclusive cocktail party with TPM speakers and high-speed entry to select WPPI events, and everything that comes with a WPPI Platinum VIP Passport, which includes access to: 

  • 66 seminar classes  
  • An additional 20+ shooting bays 
  • 70+ Photo Walks to choose from as add-on purchases 
  • WPPI special events, including a welcome party, an opening night party, WPPI Shootout, and wrap party 

The most enticing change to the TPM format could be the price point. Being a boutique event, keeping costs down has always been a challenge for TPM organizers. But joining with WPPI in Las Vegas means that the conference will be more affordable than ever before. Last year, TPM was $1,800 whereas this year, a TPM ticket will only be $799. And, right now, until December 1, TPM tickets are an even better deal at $599 for a Black Friday Deal. 

Additionally, rooms in the Mirage are more affordable than in the Arizona Grand. However, if attendees wish to stay in the Mirage, which organizers recommend, they should take note that last year the hotel was fully booked and not everyone was able to get a room there, so attendees are advised to book their rooms early. Access TPM/WPPI reduced room rates. Tickets to TPM and WPPI have just gone on sale and can be purchased here

The crowd goes wild while making a TikTok video with David Suh during his Main Stage presentation. © Spot My Photos

TPM 2023 Retrospective 

Knowing that TPM 2023 would be the last iteration as a standalone conference at the Arizona Grand Resort, Bryce, organizers, and staff went in with the intention to make it “the best ever.” Attendee consensus was that it lived up to the promise with a positive, “go-out-with-a-bang” vibe that permeated the entire conference. Here are some main takeaways, tips, and highlights from the conference. 

Golden Nuggets from the Mainstage 

The main stage at TPM was full of real-time portrait photography demonstrations. What follows is just a tiny taste of what was presented there. 

Sue Bryce taught a class in mirror posing that had the whole audience following along. One tip from Bryce is that many people habitually cross their legs when sitting for a portrait. However, that makes it difficult for them to move. It’s better to put an apple box under their feet so that they retain range of motion.  

Sue Bryce demonstrates how bringing an apple box under one foot of model Kristina Wikle brings more shape and interest to her figure while retaining her ability to flexibly move. © Spot My Photos

Scott Robert Lim began his talk by encouraging photographers to make the switch to constant light because video is here to stay and we should be posting it every day. Constant light allows you to shoot video and stills at the same time. He says, “get into video asap because that’s where you’re going to get hired.” 

Teri Hofford did a live portrait interview with trans theater performer Maybe Burke, who poignantly shared her experience of the power of words, saying “You don’t understand the significance of words unless they are constantly being used against you.” Hofford’s session was a real-time demonstration of how connecting with your photo subject brings about profoundly beautiful images. 

TikTok sensation David Suh shared tips for engaging with social media. Suh said if you are simply looking for more clients, there are easier ways than social media, which takes considerable effort. He has posted every day for the last three years, which is incredibly time consuming. Suh said that “social media is social” and really for people who are committed to growing communities of like-minded individuals.   

After his Main Stage Talk, David Suh spends time with attendees, advising them on TikTok and making videos with them. © Spot My Photos

Elena S Blair taught a session on portfolio building for family photography and said one key thing to think about when looking for models is to make sure they fit the vision of what you want your portfolio to look like. Not all families are cuddly, so if that is what you are going for, make sure your model family is comfortable with getting cozy with each other. 

Ore Adesina gave a session on intimate portraiture. She said to set the scene, it’s important to get everyone on board with an intention-setting questionnaire. During the session, it’s great to start off light with activities like skipping, gentle pillow fighting, and thumb wars. 

Jerry Ghionis’ presentation spoke to the importance of creating meaningful portraiture, saying “the more meaningful it is, the more valuable it is.” Having started as a wedding photographer, Ghionis shared a valuable tip for working with brides who are feeling emotional and vulnerable, saying it’s important to use a soft, inviting tone of voice, give genuine compliments, and be nurturing. 

Sue Bryce’s closing talk of TPM 2023 was heartfelt and emotional. © Francis Alvarez Photography via Aftershoot

Fashion photographer Laretta Houston gave the tip to keep images dynamic by bringing them in motion. She encourages photographers to have their client hop, put their head down and bring it up again, or simply move it to the side. She says there’s no reason to take the same shot over and over, adding motion brings drama and excitement. 

Wedding and portrait photographer Kesha Lambert gave a demonstration on taking group shots. She says it’s important to “scan, scan, scan.” Look for places where people are holding tension, like the neck, shoulder, smile, hands, and feet. Check that body language and expression match for everyone in the portrait. 

Sue Bryce closed out the main stage with 37 lessons from her 37-year career. One key takeaway is that creating a brand is the definition of putting yourself out there. It’s an exhilarating experience, but at the start, it can feel pretty terrible. Bryce says, “Nurture it. Grow it. Make it beautiful.” 

We can look forward to many of these speakers returning to TPM and WPPI in March 2024, including Scott Robert Lim, Elena S Blair, David Suh, Teri Hofford, and Sue Bryce with a talk entitled “The 10 Most Powerful Steps You Can Take to Be Confident and Valued.” 

These images taken during the Canon Shootout by Jeremy Cowart show how his method of shooting with two lights on random burst creates unique images with each click. © Jeremy Cowart

Shootout Takeaways 

TPM had two shootouts – one sponsored by Canon and another by Fujifilm. Sue Bryce, Jeremy Cowart, and Michele Celentano took to the stage shooting on Canon. Sue Bryce gave voice to a common photographer sentiment when it comes to camera choice, saying “When you fall in love with a camera body. . . It’s kind of for life.” She encouraged those in the audience to be proactive in building relationships with the makers of the camera of their choice.  

Jeremy Cowart noted that the Canon R5 combined with the Profoto Strobe is a match made in heaven. Cowart is a big proponent of novelty in shooting. To accomplish this, he shoots on burst using two lights alternating a/b/a/b, and has the model simultaneously move. The results of his unorthodox methods were unexpected and truly stunning. 

For the Fujifilm Shootout, Petronella Lugemwa, Caroline Tran, and Ben Chrisman shot on the brand-new Fujifilm camera that was released that very day, the GFX100 II. The GFX100 II is the fastest medium format in the world, shooting 8 frames per second, and its sensitivity is extended to ISO 80. Ben Chrisman decided to shoot through the stage backdrop, emphasizing how adding foreground can add interest and how the excellent iris in the camera made it possible to pull off the shot. 

Sue Bryce and Teri Hofford lead the parade at the Body Positivity Catwalk, which has become a tradition for closing out the final day of the Shoot and Shop in an uplifting way. Anyone who wishes can join in the “catwalk,” a celebration of confidence that circles the show floor. Everyone else who chooses cheers from the sidelines. © Spot My Photos

Spotlight on the Shoot and Shop 

As always, the showroom floor was bursting with activity from open to close with the pool bay being an exciting new feature and Teri Hofford’s Body Positivity Booth being a return sensation. For Lori Fox from Luna Studios, the shooting bays were her favorite part of the conference. She noted that as a first-time attendee, she had never before experienced an opportunity to shoot such a diversity of models with different body types, and she also loved the variety in backdrops. Her other favorite aspect of the conference took place on the showroom floor, parties, and everywhere else – networking. She said she had met so many new people who she already considered to be friends.  

The Pool Bay was a popular new addition to the shooting bays. Here are two images taken in the Pool Bay during TPM 2023. Left © Alana Lee, Right © D’Artagnan Winford

Mixed in with all the incredible shooting bays was a bevy of vendors, showing off new tech and classic favorite gear.  

Canon said that the R5 and the R6 mark ii were the most asked for during the festival. Canon Explorers talk about these camera bodies the most. The RF 100 mm macro lens was also popular. It’s great in the portrait range and can also get close beautiful details. Its SA control, spherical aberration control, and softer focus adds sharpening effect around a specular highlight. They were also showing off the RF 50 mm, F 1.2, which is an old standard focal length. It’s a bright lens and perhaps the finest 50mm Canon has ever made. The RF 28-70 F2 was also on display as the most unique zoom lens available right now. It is sharp as a prime throughout its whole range. It is really three lenses in one, effectively replacing the 35mm, 50mm, and 70mm. While not the newest Canon lens, it remains the most versatile. 

Sigma said its most popular gear on display included the 1–14 mm 1.4 DG DN Art with Fuji x mount, the 100 – 400mm Contemporary with an x mount, the 23mm Contemporary with x mount, and the 50mm 1.4 DG DN Art with E and L mount. 

Of course, Fujifilm was proudly showing off its new GFX100 II (mentioned above) with all its impressive features. 

TPM 2023 Attendees eagerly await the opening of Shoot and Shop. © Spot My Photos

Attendees Reflections on TPM at WPPI 

While a large focus of the conference was reveling in the moment and gleaning inspiration and knowledge from the events at hand, attendees couldn’t help but think of what would come next when TPM joins with WPPI in March.  

Matt Stagliano of Stonetree Creative is a long-time attendee of both TPM and WPPI. He mused on TPM’s unique boutique qualities, which makes the conference very much a shared experience, where everyone sees the same speakers, hits the Shoot & Shop together, and parties together, which has made it a tight-knit community. WPPI, by contrast, “is massive and has a choose-your-own-adventure vibe. Not everyone will go to the same things or have the same experience.” Stagliano feels that TPM has been heavily influenced by WPPI from the start, reaping the advantage of WPPI’s roster of outstanding teachers. He feels that having TPM and WPPI closer together will have a positive cross-pollination for both events. WPPI folks will have the opportunity to experience what a close-community conference experience is like, whereas the TPM crowd will be exposed to “many more areas of photography, more vendors, and more opportunities allowing them to build networks that are that much stronger.” 

Eleonora Barna of Eleonora Barna Photography feels pure excitement for TPM to join with WPPI. Her feeling is that the TPM community will get so much from experiencing the bounty that is WPPI. She says, “You get to craft your own experience there based on your level, based on what interests you. There’s just something for everybody at WPPI.”  

You can check out all the ticket options for TPM and WPPI right here

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