Confession of a Gulf Photo Plus Newbie…

March 25th, 2012 | Personal, Seminars & Workshops

Burj Khalifah taken by Louis Pang during Gulf Photo Plus 2012, Dubai, UAE.

Someone said photography is a key that open doors. Two weeks ago, it opened me to the exotic city of Dubai. I taught two workshops and gave a ninety-minute presentation at the Gulf Photo Plus (GPP), the region’s largest photography conference. Taught for six days straight. Hard work for sure, but what a rewarding experience.

Hats off to Mohamed Somji & Hala Salhi for assembling a world class faculty. Honestly wished I wasn’t attending GPP as a teacher but a student. At dinner one night, I was sitting between Joe McNally and Gregory Heisler, with David Burnett just opposite me. Between them is a millennia of shooting experience, several hundred magazine covers, multiple Alfred Eisenstadt Awards, World Press Awards… Double pinch me PLEASE! These are giants whose work and legacy are the very foundation of the photography world we walk upon. Yet, they are the most gracious, kind, humble and passionate human beings you can meet.

David Burnett takes the portrait of Louis Pang during Gulf Photo Plus 2012, Dubai.
Above: What do you say when David Burnett asked to take your picture? “Yes sir!” I replied.

At this place, you don’t simply call yourself a photographer because it is a profession that is held with great respect, passion and care. I am perfectly comfy under my own skin, yet I am fully aware of the talents and accomplishment of this faculty. Tried real hard not to be starstruck when you get to hang out with your photography heroes. What a humbling and inspiring experience!

GPP runs a whole gamut of photography workshops from travel, lighting, portraits, commercial, editorial, landscape, post-processing, weddings for five days. These are intensive, hands-on and intimate workshops capped at 10-12 participants. They also vary in length, ranging from three days to half a day. All priced reasonably and very well attended with participants from 19 countries! People travelled more than a day to be here. So if you are within a 24-hour flight from Dubai, there is no reason you should miss it!

I enjoyed teaching at GPP. There were no rock stars or prima donnas. The instructors were supportive, helpful and generous. Everyone shared ideas, info and knowledge. Love the classes I taught and the participants I met. We all got a bit teary at the end of the workshops. Every good thing has got to come to an end.

Dubai is a beautiful city where the impossible becomes reality. I haven’t had the time to see enough of it to give a fair review. The people I’ve met have been gracious. You do the usual tourist stuff checking out Burj Khalifa & Burj Al Arab, ski resorts at the Kempinski Mall of Emirates, The Palms.

The highlight of my trip came at the final 20 minutes of GPP during the event’s highly anticipated annual Shoot Out. Three instructors: David Hobby a.k.a Strobist, Martin Prihoda & Gregory Heisler, winner of last year’s shootout. If you not familiar with GPP’s Shoot Out…each photographer is given 20 minutes to photograph an assignment before a packed hall of 300-400 people. The camera is tethered to a laptop and thus each capture comes up LIVE on the screen. Mr. Strobist started, and then Martin. Greg went last because honestly, nobody wanted to shoot after him. David Hobby did an excellent blog entry on the shootout. I just wanna share with you what I learned.

Like the two great photographers before him, Greg was dumbfounded when he was told the assignment was a self-portrait. In the first seven minutes, Greg just walked slowly back and forth the packed auditorium. He was thinking hard. Showed no sign of nerve though. Well I guess if you could handle the portrait of 3 American presidents, you could handle anything.  Then he announced to the crowd, “I will do a symbolic self-portrait.”

For the next 10 minutes, Greg just kept adjusting his composition, props, camera angles, light position. He metered and re-metered his exposures. Up till the 18th minute, two minutes before the deadline, the screen remained empty as Greg had yet to squeeze the shutter release. “Can he do it? Should we give him more time?” I asked myself.

Just past the 18th minute, Greg took the first shot. When the picture showed up on the screen, the crowd erupted. It was perfect & creative. It was so good, that it should be considered one of Greg’s iconic pieces. Anyone who remotely knows Greg would recognize his hat and glasses right away.

Gregory Heisler's symbolic self-portrait, created at Gulf Photo Plus 2012.

I was almost in tears when I saw the first frame up on the giant screen. It felt like a picture where Greg bid us farewell. The frame also shook me to my core. “Do not mistake activity for significance, or the capture many frames as many successes.” I knew I would have raced to grab this light and that modifier, shoot a zillion test frames by the 10th minute. Greg showed me that you can be creative, precise and deliberate at the same time. I felt inspired and hopeless at the same time. God, when I can even be remotely this good?

Check out the GPP Shoot Out video:

You can’t depend on your eyes, if you imagination is out of focus. I left home to teach photography in Dubai. I got home an enriched & hungry student of photography.

Gregory Heisler with Louis Pang at Gulf Photo Plus 2012.
Above: the man himself, Gregory Heisler

1 Response to Confession of a Gulf Photo Plus Newbie…

  1. Todd Beltz

    Hi Louis. What a wonderfully written article about your journey at GPP. Even though I was unable to attend this year, I really felt inspired by what you wrote and I too hope that in time to come, I can join in this great event and walk away feeling recharged and raring to try new things.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, ideas and stunning photos with us all. Keep up the great work.

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