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WPPI Grand Master

I have sat down to write this several times, and the only words that keep coming to mind are “Holy sh*t. I did this.  I finally, finally DID THIS.”

WPPI GRAND MASTER.

To explain to the muggles out there (that’s non-photography folk), WPPI is “the largest show for professional, amateur and emerging wedding and portrait photographers and filmmakers, drawing attendees from all over the world for 4 days of conference, content and business building interaction.”* It’s a convention that I’ve been attending for eighteen years. It’s a place where I’ve met friends, friends who became loves, loves who became family. It’s a hectic, batshit crazy adrenaline rush of a week with classes, parties, meet-ups, competitions, camaraderie, trade show wanderings, and so very much more.

In short, it’s one of the best weeks of the year.

I went to WPPI for the first time when I was a brand new photographer. I knew maybe two people attending, had no idea who any of the speakers were, didn’t even know what the classes were all about, but I hopped that plane to Vegas from Florida ready to learn it all. I went back the next year, when I was pregnant. I went back the next year, and the year after that, and the years after that. I learned. I made friends. I met my husband in a hallway en route to some social event or another. I met contacts at the trade show that are dear collaborators and supporters of my business to this day.  Every industry friend that I have can be traced somehow  back to WPPI.

I began speaking and teaching there. First small classes, then to larger ballrooms. I stepped foot on a demo stage at the trade show for the first time at WPPI, graduating to bigger stages, culminating in being a speaker for Canon USA. I fumbled with my words, my keynotes, my ability to translate technical ability into tangible takeaways for class attendees.

I also started entering print competition.

What is that? Well, to also borrow words from WPPI’s website , “WPPI’s The Annual: 16×20 Print, Album and Filmmaking competition is the most prestigious wedding, portrait and print competition in the world, and the capstone event of the WPPI Conference + Show, with an awards ceremony honoring the most illustrious photographers of the year, many of whom spend their entire year preparing for this competition. The competition culminates with live judging at WPPI’s yearly conference and a gallery exhibition at the show taking place in Las Vegas. Prizes include the Grand Awards and crystal trophies.”

Every year I took the time to sort through my images from the year prior, culling and culling again to get that final dozen or so of the best of the best. The images that made my heart sing. The images that depicted the decisive moment. The best light, best pose, best examples of my technical and artistic ability. I had them printed, packed them with gentle hands into their shipping cases, sent them to Vegas, crossed my fingers, and lived and died over the two days of judging until I saw how I did.

Sometimes I did well. My scores were great, I won awards, I managed to get two coveted Grand Awards, I gave some speeches, my trophy case grew. Sometimes I did terribly, and I’d find myself hiding in a Vegas bathroom stall angrily wiping at my eyes with tissues until the hurt of a bad score stopped stinging. Sometimes the yearly glass of champagne post-awards ceremony that I shared with my friend Justine was a glass of celebration, sometimes a “we blew it this year” drink of misery.

But you know what? Every good score, every bad score, every lovingly assembled print case – it all made me better. A better photographer, year after year. A better teacher and educator, as I balanced between entrant and judge. A better human being. A more sympathetic creator of images. A more careful holder of the frantically beating hearts of every other entrant who put their feelings and their work on the line when they dared to share their work with a panel of judges.

There is an Honors of Excellence point system with the WPPI competition. Your top four scoring entries (no matter how many you enter) go towards your Honors of Excellence point total. I could tell you about how the point system works, or you could just read it here – their site describes it better than I ever could.  Your points and “wins” help you rise up through the WPPI Titles and Designations, which are:

  • 

5 points = Associate of WPPI title.
  • 15 additional points (for a total of 20+ points) = Master of WPPI title.
  • 15 additional points (for a total of 35+ points) = Double Master of WPPI title.
  • 15 additional points (for a total of 50+ points accumulated) = Triple Master of WPPI title.
  • 15 additional points (for a total of 65+ points accumulated) = Grand Master of WPPI title. NOTE: In order to actually receive the Grand Master of WPPI, the member must have also received 5 gold awards or above and at least 1 Grand Award from The Annual: 16×20 Print, Album and Filmmaking Competition (past Premiere Grand Awards don’t count) at some point during their time in the program. The Grand Master of WPPI title holds a lot of prestige. It will be difficult to obtain because of the amount of skill and longevity that is needed to achieve it. But it is still attainable enough to encourage members to work towards that title. No one who earns this award will be unworthy of it—they will have earned it over a number of years and with consistently highest scoring prints.

I have been entering The Annual: 16×20 Print, Album and Filmmaking Competition since 2007. I have entered a total of 107 prints. I have lived, died, breathed, cried, rage-screamed, and cartwheeled over my cases of images every single year.

And this year, I became a Grand Master.

I am only the seventh person in WPPI history to do this. The second woman. And the first and only female wedding photographer.

To say I am overwhelmed is a vast understatement.

Here are some of the 107 images over the years that have helped me reach this point:

When the award was given to me at the Awards Ceremony on one of the final nights of the convention, I completely blacked out once I got up out of my chair to accept it.  You see, my dear friend Melissa is the one who reads out the designations, and she’d crafted a speech that I had not been prepared to hear.  It was eloquent and beautiful, spoke of me so kindly, and reduced me to a mess of tears.

Here is the aforementioned choke-crying that I was doing at this point – thank you to Gerardo Soto for capturing this so sweetly:

I am a very, very private person.  My personal life is just that – personal, mine, quiet.  I have tried for a long time to separate my personal life from my professional life, and I am aware that sometimes that can make me appear a little cold, a little apart, a little hard to get to know.  I keep my husband and my children in a quiet place, because they’re mine-all-mine, and I don’t open up very often outside my social circle.  I keep my heart to myself, it’s been kicked too many times in this difficult industry, so I hold it tight and share it infrequently.   I value my reputation too much to let too much out, and as an unfortunate result, I also don’t let too much in.

It’s a long standing joke at WPPI that I don’t go to parties – and if I do?  I can usually be found in a corner trying to read a book, or as an example from this year, hiding literally on the floor behind a bar.  As in, tucked under a friend’s arm on the floor just away.  And when there were too many people, I bolted for the quiet of a nearly empty restaurant and the dear sweetness of conversation with close friends.

However?  Even though I spend a lot of time running from large gatherings,  the love that I have for this industry and the people in it is so huge that sometimes it cracks me open and pours out of my eyes.

And sometimes, not often but sometimes, I am at a loss for words.  I didn’t prepare a speech on awards night when that huge crazy trophy was put into my hands, I stumbled through a huge knot in my throat and a burning desire to fall into the arms of those I love and cry it out.  Therefore, I left out a lot of people who needed thanking, and I wanted to take some time to put it all into words so those words will live on a lot longer than a grainy iphone video of me mumbling at a microphone ever could.

So here we go.  From the beginning.  With all the thanks this heart can humanly hold:

  • My parents, Bill and Joyce.  For sending me off to theatre school without once asking “How will you make money from this?”  For saying “That sounds like a good idea” when I started a photography business.  For being the actual best parents that anyone has ever had – go ahead and try to fight me on this, you’ll lose.
  • Mitch Stripling, who made my first website and told me to go.  To do it already.  Who held up our family when I didn’t have a real job.  Who let me turn our garage into a studio.  For this and a thousand other reasons, always.
  • My daughters, Emma and Olivia.  Who are everything.  EVERYTHING.  My beautiful stepdaughters, Samantha and Alison.  I celebrate the four of you, the amazing women you are becoming, the incredible forces you are.
  • Bill Hurter, Arlene Evans, and George Varanakis.  Who gave me a stage, put me in my place when I needed it, held me when I cried in the hallway over one particular print that scored badly, gave me opportunities, took a chance on me, and gave me more than you could ever, ever imagine.  Bill, you are so missed.  Arlene and George, you are my family forever.
  • Tony Hewitt, who taught me to judge.  Not just with my brain and my heart, but with the kindness and love in my words and my manner.  Pete Wright, who guided our panel so beautifully this year.  The kind hearts that I have judged with over the years – the love and care that you so passionately feel for every single image is palpable, and it’s been an honor to work by your side for the good of the prints and the love we all have for our industry.
  • Dan Neri and the team at Canon USA, who have given me the most inexplicably enormous honor of my career.  Being an Explorer of Light is a literal dream come true, and I cannot thank you for how you’ve quite literally changed my life.  I hope I do you proud.
  • My fellow Explorers of Light.  You awe me on the daily.
  • Aaron, George, and Craig who helped The Wedding School become what it is today.  Thank you, thank you.
  • The photographers I have taken workshops from, admired from afar, learned from online, and respected for years.  From my very first time in the studio of Dina Ivory in Tallahassee to reveling in the mastery of the likes of Ben Shirk and Lola Melani, you have all raised me up.  I hope that I have been able to do a fraction of that for other photographers.  You all mean so much.
  • Rocco Ancora, the glorious joy of a human who has printed my images for the past many, many competitions.  Not only does he inspire me to be a better photographer, he continually reminds me what it is to be a gracious, good-hearted human.  And by extension, the exquisite Tanya.  Who is, quite literally, a ray of sunshine.
  • Sandra Krauss, the loveliest friend and studio manager in the world.  She holds Susan Stripling Photography together, and has quite literally held me together for over a decade.
  • The vendors that have transcended vendor-ship to become friends.  Fundy, Tave, Cloudspot, Finao, Good Gallery, and far too many more to count.  You’ve trusted me with your business and I’ve trusted you with mine, and we’ve become family along the way.
  • The Grand Masters who have come before me, and taught me so many, many ridiculously incredible things.  Being on a list with you – Jennifer, Jerry, Rocco, everyone – it’s hilarious that anyone would rank my name next to yours.  Jerry, you’ve been a dear friend from the beginning and I’ll snuggle on a beanbag with you any day of the week.  Ryan, you’re my favorite person to awkwardly share a wedding with, and seeing your images forces me to raise my own bar every time I pick up a camera.
  • My friends.  The people who have come and gone.  The people who have been there from the beginning. The table of lunatics who exploded in screams and cried and forgot to take video on awards night, the ones who screamed and danced from afar, you know who you are.  I’ve eaten mochi with you, cried in your arms, shopped with you, hidden from parties with you, danced in weird bars with you at 2am and then fled when we recognized people, eaten pizza in our pajamas while wearing a Hogwarts robe, laughed hysterically in hallways, stayed in your homes, had you stay in mine, argued with you, collaborated with you, and texted with you late into the night.  You know how dearly I love you, trust you with my heart, and love you for all the amazingness you put into the world, all you do to raise up women, to do the work, to be pioneers for change, to be trustworthy beautiful people.  I love you, I love you.
  • And lastly, at the very end, when all of my words are never enough – my husband, Cliff Mautner.  In the overwhelming fear of sounding foolish while crying and speaking at the awards ceremony, I omitted his name from my list of thanks.  As I’ve said before, I’m private to a fault with my personal life, and my fear of embarrassment while stumbling over my words led way to not mentioning my own husband.  Cliff was an inspiration to me as a photographer before he was anything more on a personal level.  We met when I was a very young photographer who couldn’t master backlight or one single speedlite off camera, stumbling to make my visions a reality.  He helped me become the photographer I am today, and there is no way that I’d be the human that I am without him by my side.  We make each other better in so many ways, and the heart-shattering thanks that I have to him for being my partner, my love, and my confidant is simply impossible to convey in words other than I love you.  And I do, and I will.  Every day.  The end.

Thank you all for reading this far, I know it’s a lot.  But receiving this Grand Master distinction is about more than just entering print competition and racking up scores.  It’s about the family that has surrounded me for years, that family that WPPI has brought me, the loves and heart-explosions and surprises along the way.  It’s about over a decade of my career spent chasing a goal that has bettered me in thousands of ways.

I’ve been told that I’m an inspiration to female photographers, to photographers in general, to business owners, to people trying to navigate this difficult industry.  If I am, it’s only because of everyone mentioned above, this blindingly beautiful community, this gorgeous world.

Thank you.  Thank you.

Tether Tools How I Got The Shot

I’m honored to be a part of the Tether Tools How I Got the Shot Women’s Edition Guide! tether tools how i got the shot

This guide features the work of thirty incredible woman photographers, and I’m so overjoyed that my bridal session shoot was included!

This shoot was a wonderfully collaborative effort between the dream team of myself, Justin Bowen (hair), Hayley Podschun (model), Michelle Elise Artistry (makeup), and the brilliant Catherine Deane (bridal gown).  The entire shoot was filmed phenomenally by my wonderful friend and colleague Shayla Benoit of Shady Theatrics.

I began my business as a wedding photographer only.  I shot….weddings.  That was it.  Over the years, my clients expanded their families and a new portrait side of my business was born.  After moving to New York in 2008, my business expanded once again to include theatrical portraits, headshots, branding images, and editorial work.

It has been a joy to watch everything evolve, and grow myself as an artist and a business owner.  Every shoot I do, every client I meet, every team I collaborate with, every person who walks into my studio changes me as a person and a photographer.  I am so deeply thankful to this crazy business, this industry, these people.  I love the work I do, every day.

You can see the entire shoot unfold here:

 

As a photography educator, I love seeing guides like this being put out.  When I first got started as a photographer, I often wondered “How did that shot get set up like that” while perusing the work of other artists.  I learn by seeing behind the scenes setups, and I think Tether Tools did a remarkable job of educating, entertaining, and championing photographers in these wonderful guides.

Thank you again to Tether Tools for including me into this amazing feature.  It’s truly an honor to be published alongside such incredible women photographers.  The work they do is important, breathtaking, inspiring.  I hope you download the guide and check it out!

Here are a few final images from our shoot for Tether Tools How I Got the Shot: Women’s Edition Guide:

how i got the shot tether tools tether tools how i got the shot women's edition tether tools how i got the shot download

Canon Explorer of Light

I bought my first camera with my own money when I was 18.

Christmas morning, circa my early high school years.

But let’s be honest, I’d been in love with photography for quite awhile before that.  Point and shoot cameras, my father’s old film camera, I loved it all.  I was the one who always brought a camera to social outings.  I was the one who took “artsy” pictures of my friends for our senior year scrapbooks.  I was even the one questioned by a police detective for taking pictures in a cemetery when I was nineteen, but that’s another story for another day.

When I was 18, I got a job to buy my first camera.  It was a Canon film Rebel, and I wanted it so badly that I worked at McDonald’s to get the money to own it.  I’d visit it in the mall camera shop, admiring it and imagining what I could create with it.  When I finally had enough money to go buy it, I went straight to the mall to pick it up.

(I still have that camera.)

I went to college, camera in hand.  I majored in theatre.  I took pictures of everything.  From  theatrical productions to pictures of my friends playing guitar in the quad, I shot everyone and everything.  I took a darkroom class, fighting against my fears of the dark while fumbling with film canisters late into the night.  Every day my love for photography grew, married entirely with my love of theatre and the arts.

Guys and Dolls, somewhere around 1998

In 2002, I started my photography business.  I was a college graduate, having dabbled briefly in a theatre career before deciding (quite rightly so) that wasn’t the path I was meant to take.  I was married, with a new baby.  I picked back up that Rebel and turned my eye towards wedding photography.

Canon 5d, 200mm and f/2.8, ISO 500, 1/250 sec

My first camera was a Canon.  I nurtured my love for theatre and art with a Canon in hand.  I started my business with my Canon film Rebel, then a digital Rebel, then the D60, then eventually my first beloved 5D.  I built an entire career with my Canons at my side.

Canon 5d, 35mm and f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/100 sec

 

Over the years I grew my skills, my ability to see light, my understanding of photojournalism, and my sense of style on Canon cameras.  While time did lead me to shoot other systems, I’m overjoyed that my path has brought me back to where I started.   I am so thrilled to enter into 2018 with a Canon at my side once again.

Canon Mark IV, 135mm and f/2, exp comp -2.0, ISO 100, 1/2000 sec

I am also beyond humbled to now be a part of Canon’s Explorer of Light program.  It is simply impossible to describe what this honor means to me.  From the eighteen year old with her nose pressed against the window of a mall camera shop admiring her first Canon film camera to the photographer that I am now, I have come full circle.

What does it feel like?  It feels like coming home.

Canon Mark IV, 85mm and f/1.4, ISO 160, 1/250 sec

 

New Product : Image Folio Box

I am so excited to share this new product with all of you!  I’ve wanted to incorporate a folio box in my product lineup, but have been on a search for the past few years to find just the right one.  I wanted to find something modern, yet still luxuriously timeless.  The quality of the build had to be phenomenal, but the box itself also had to be pretty to look at.

I’ve been a fan of the team at Design Aglow for many years now, having used many of their templates in my business over the past decade.  When they released this folio box, I knew I had to get my hands on one for my studio!

I am a huge fan of the way these boxes are constructed.  The box opens on a diagonal, which is a wonderfully modern touch to a classic folio box.  I love the charcoal boxes, but will absolutely be adding one in “natural” to the studio asap!

When sharing my images with portrait clients, I place each of the images in a mat and display each on the custom rails in my studio.   This way the clients can choose the images they want to populate the box, placing each image in the box and leaving with a completed product on the same day.  These mats fit so beautifully on my display wall that I don’t ever want them to leave!

If you’d like to add an image folio box to your wedding or portrait collection, just email the studio and let us know!  I’d love to create a custom box for you and your images!

 

 

** Links herein are affiliate links!

 

New studio location!

For those of you who follow my Instagram already know, I moved into a new studio this past week!  On April 01, 2017, Susan Stripling Photography moved out of our old Crown Heights studio and into our new studio in Industry City.   You can find our new address and contact information here!**

Industry City is an amazing part of Brooklyn, located conveniently in Sunset Park. Industry City is an amazing community taking up sixteen warehouses right along the Brooklyn waterfront.  Need outdoor space for portrait shoot or engagement session?  No problem.  This location boasts over five acres of outdoor space only for tenants of the Industry City units.  Want gorgeous views?  Industry City has that.  An incredible loft-like creative studio space?  Welcome home.

It’s been a whirlwind of a past few years.  I moved to Brooklyn in 2008, after establishing a wedding photography business in Florida that had been flourishing since 2002.  I worked from home until 2014, moving into my Crown Heights studio and sharing with another accomplished photographer.  It was a great place to expand and grow my business.

In the past three years I’ve shot a hundred and fifty weddings.  I’ve photographed cast members from Hamilton, gotten to know the Broadway community, expanded into portraits and headshots, and begun to create fine art theatrical portraits.  I became a founder and co-owner of The Wedding School and began to bring real, honest wedding photography education to wedding photographers worldwide.  I photographed dancers, actors, singers, artists, business owners, brides, grooms, and my own children.

It was a great three years.

I am so excited to see what the next years bring to my business in this incredible, artistic, beautiful space.  I am so glad that moving day is behind us, and it’s time to build out, decorate, clean, and SHOOT!

 

**The studio is by appointment only.  Please contact us via email or call to make an appointment to come visit us!