The GPP Shoot-out, 2012
Posted by Dave in Workshops & Events on Mar 30, 2012 comments and reactions

Every year Gulf Photo Plus – the premier photography training company in Dubai and the Middle East – runs two major international events: one in March, the other in November. I've been lucky enough to be an instructor at every one since 2007 and have run workshops on various aspects of post-production (e.g. Creating Dramatic Images, Understanding the Curves tool, and Enhancing Portraits), a Landscape Photography workshop on the shooting and post-production of desert and urban landscapes, how to shoot the architecture of Dubai, a crash course in HDR photography, and a whole range of other workshops and seminars.

The November 'FotoWeekend' events are relatively small scale – around four of five instructors – but the March event brings together a much bigger group. This year there were 13 of us – me, Zack Arias, David Burnett, Greg Heisler, David Hobby, Chris Hurtt, Bobbi Lane, Joe McNally, Louis Pang, Martin Prihoda, Claire Rosen, Steve Simon and David Tejada – and, as always, it was a delight to meet up with those I know well and a pleasure to meet those who were attending GPP for the first time.

I could spend a long time writing nice things about GPP, including how well it's run by Mohamed and Hala and the rest of the GPP team, and could spend an equal amount of time writing about how much I enjoy taking part, how great it is to work with capable and enthusiastic students, and how much I enjoy taking photographs in and around Dubai ... but I won't, at least not now, because what I want to talk about in this post is one specific aspect of the March event: the shoot-out.

The shoot-out – a competition between two or three of the instructors – takes place during the closing ceremony and is structured around two key points. First, each photographer only gets 20 minutes to plan, shoot and edit their shot. Add to this that they're shooting in a relatively dark auditorium, in front of hundreds of people and their fellow instructors, and you can begin to see why this isn't a task for the faint-hearted.

But it gets worse. Right up until the start of their 20 minute slot they don't know what or who they're going to be asked to shoot. In 2010, for example, Zack Arias, David Hobby and Joey L were asked to photograph two models, both of which had to be incorporated into the shot, while in 2011 Zack, David and Greg Heisler were asked to photograph a Tanoura dancer. Oh, and throughout the 20 minutes, in addition to being expected to keep the audience informed about what they're thinking and what they're trying to achieve, they all get a running and less than complimentary commentary, provided in 2012 by Joe McNally, David Burnett and Zack Arias. So, no pressure at all :)

If you're interested the GPP video for the 2010 shoot-out is here (including the infamous Joey L polaroid), and the one for 2011 is here. If you watch them both I'm sure you'll agree that they all did a great job.

2012 followed the same format as previous shoot-outs, but with an interesting twist; the photographers were asked to produce a self-portrait, depicting both their essence and how they like to be portrayed. If you want to see how each of the photographers reacted to the news, just watch the GPP 2012 shoot-out video here.

David Hobby was first up. Here's how he described the shot in a recent blog post:

"Being a nonstop blogger and hopeless iDevice addict, I photographed myself using (and lit by) my iPhone. Zack Arias did the honors on shutter after I set it up. Fill and separation light was courtesy a pair of iPads which were VAL'd just out of the frame. (One separating my shoulder and one splashing my foot.)

I thought it would be cool to mix things up and do the photo in the dim auditorium without using strobes. I was happy with the result and thought it was a departure from the previous shootout images."

David shot 53 images (he chose the 39th as his final shot), educated and entertained us, and produced an awesome shot at the end of his 20 minute slot.

Click the image to enlarge
Click the image to enlarge
David Hobby Martin Prihoda

Next up was Martin Prihoda. When Martin came into the auditorium he wheeled in a trolley of props: a small tree and some cushions. This seemed like a rather random collection of stuff but it turned out that he thought they might be asked to photograph a faloncer and his falcon. No such luck.

Instead, after a minute or so of pondering, Martin chose to light-paint himself, sitting on the cushions beneath the tree. He painted the tree and surrounding area and Bobbi Lane painted him. Given a few hours or so this still wouldn't have been easy, but it would have been manageable, but with only 20 minutes to set up, shoot and edit Martin set himself a serious challenge. He shot 20 frames (a phenomenal amount given the amount of effort involved with each one), and chose the last frame as his final shot. He definitely pulled it off.

Which brings us to Greg Heisler.

If you're not familiar with Greg, check out his website. His portraits and essays have featured in Life, Esquire, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Geo, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and the New York Times Magazine. He has also produced over 70 cover portraits for Time. In short, he's a legend.

Greg started out by saying that he didn't want to photograph himself, and then spent the next five minutes or so wandering around. He chatted to the audience, and to David Burnett and Zack Arias, but didn't take a shot, and didn't seem anywhere close to even knowing what shot he was going to take, … or so I thought.

Ten minutes in and he started to set things up.

He placed David Burnett's 4x5 camera under a soft box in front of some white seamless and balanced his hat on top. It fell off a few times, so he put it back on and adjusted the camera lens to support it. He checked his composition through his viewfinder and metered the lighting – "f/13. Hmmm. Can we go higher than that? No? OK." – but still didn't shoot a single frame.

At this point, with well over half his time gone, people were starting to get a little bit nervous.

He wandered around some more then sent his assistant back to the staff room to fetch his glasses. He taped them to a light stand and placed them between his camera and the camera and hat so he could shoot through them. But still no shot.

He then spent another minute or so checking his composition, moving the glasses, and shifting the hat slightly (which fell off a few more times). By this point, with just a few minutes left, a lot of the audience, including me, could hardly bear to watch. Surely he wasn't going to blow it?

With just two minutes left he finally pressed the shutter. As the image popped up on the screen (he was shooting tethered) a huge cheer went up from the crowd. He'd nailed it in one: an iconic shot, instantly recognisable as a representation of him. He did take a couple of extra frames, more for our benefit than his, but we knew he'd got the shot with his first frame.

Click the image to enlarge
Greg Heisler

I wish I had the words to convey exactly how it felt to watch Greg work, but I don't. Suffice to say that we all knew we had witnessed a genius at work: 18 minutes, one frame, and a utterly perfect shot. Without a shadow of a doubt it was the most extraordinary, spine-tingling and awe-inspiring piece of photography I have ever witnessed.

If you'd like to watch an abridged version of the 2012 GPP shoot-out you can do so here.

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