Anatomy of a Shootout :: GPP 2011 with Joey L

I can never speak highly enough about Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai. It is a week long photography education event filled with some of the greatest teachers I’ve met. It’s small. It’s intimate. It’s in Dubai. It’s a pain to get there from here (US) but it’s so worth it. I’ve had the honor of teaching there for the past three years and I swear, at some point, I hope I can just go and attend as a student.

We had another shootout to end the week this year and it was a showdown between myself and photographer extraordinaire Joey L. I had no idea what the subject would be but I had an idea for a shot when I was walking into the auditorium. I had Dan pre-stage some gear in the back that would be ready when I called for it but I forgot all about that when Hakam walked on stage. I’ve never seen Tanoura dancing and I was in shock. He was so smiley and intense. The voice of Borat was ringing in my ears. Suddenly the whole plan I had was thrown out the window and I had to come up with something else.

To see what this post is all about you can watch a video of the event here…

My first thought was “slow shutter speed = motion blur”. I was going to go there first but then I thought that would be expected. Joey was the first to shoot and that was the route he went so I was glad I changed my mind. Eventually it is where Heisler went as well. I was down the hall in a separate room while he was shooting so when I walked in the door I had no idea who the subject was or what Joey had shot.

Always the one who is thinking about logistics I figured this guy was lured into doing this with the promise of some free photos so I damn well better get a portrait of him. If we both went for “art” shots he would never have gotten anything he would be happy with most likely.

I figured I would somehow work a portrait + detail shot into a diptych and call it a day. Thanks to the language barrier, my stress level, the fact I just walked in from teaching a location shooting class, the time limit, following Joey, and world effing class photographer, Gregory Heisler, busting my chop every step of the way, I ditched the diptych idea because I wasn’t really getting the portrait part of him that I wanted and I was already losing a lot of time. My mind was melting down pretty quickly on this one.

Then I thought that maybe I would get a “performance portrait.”

When I got the  shot above I felt that at least I had gotten enough for him but I still needed my shot.

When I had Hakam start dancing I still had no clue where I was going to go with this. I was running out of time and had to do something. I had talked so much smack to Joey leading up to it I had to find something interesting so my mind went to “detail shot”. As he started dancing and I put a lens on him I saw his hands and I saw a horizontal frame and I focused in on that. I went vertical a few times but those images looked pretty boring. As that dress, or whatever it is, started to fly out I really saw a horizontal image and worked that till I got it. Finding his timing was the hardest part. Spraying and praying was not going to get the job done. It rarely does.

While I was editing I like this image…

I just about went with that one as my shot but I also liked seeing both hands in this one…

I like the hands and his neck so I picked that. Being Heisler was now stealing the show with his shot and I was having to deal with editing on Joey’s POS Macbook Air, I had a few extra minutes to get online, find a Polaroid frame in a google image search and present my shot on the screen in a Polaroid frame as a dig to Joey’s performance the year before as can be seen in this video…

Greg ended the evening really well. I loved his shot the most. Actually, I was looking over his shoulder while he was editing and there were a few other frames I liked even more.

The moral of the story is this…

A) You have to be ready to drop an idea and find a new one. Then drop that one too.

B) The real winner of these shootouts is always the audience even though I’m clearly the winner in any such event. ;p

C) Gregory Heisler is the man.

D) Joey L can eat sand. :)

E) Forgo buying that 85mm 1.2, buy a used 85mm 1.8 instead, and spend the money to go to Dubai next year and hang out for a week at an amazing conference. Seriously. That’s what I would do.

Cheers, Zack


  • Rick Young said on April 1, 2011

    Loved the video. Always teaching…

  • Shivakumar said on April 1, 2011

    He he he that was in one way hillarious and entertaining but most importantly educating.
    Saw this last night when it was shared by hobby and was laughing my heart out hearing your comments “am using a Canon and the focusing ought to be slow” :)
    Loved your moral of the story .. esp A and D 😛
    Keep inspiring us with such beautiful work and entertainment :)


  • Christian Carroll said on April 1, 2011

    These are always so fun to watch! Great job thinking on the fly with a difficult subject and a language barrier to boot. Admittedly, Heisler’s image was freakin’ awesome. However, as the MC didn’t he have the advantage of knowing what the subject would be ahead of time? Just curious. Again, awesome job!

  • Julia Weatherby said on April 1, 2011

    This year’s was so much better! Heisler was so funny, but you had some great lines, too! You did a great job under crazy pressure. That dig with the Polaroid frame is awesome. I’m really surprised that Joey L was allowed to compete again after last year…

  • Mauricio Mussi said on April 1, 2011

    This is genious ! Absolutely awesome! I’ve never seen this type of “competition”. It would be great if we have something like this here in brazil too.

  • Bruce Jones said on April 1, 2011

    Here I am up after midnight watching another shootout video on your blog – because they are just great to see that kind of attention to detail in such a short session.

  • Christopher Bersbach said on April 1, 2011

    I love all four of thee shots, especially the performance portrait and your final image. Really awesome to see you blogging again somewhat regularly, as well. I’m hoping to save up enough for one or two domestic workshops this year, so Dubai might not be in the cards, but your advice on spending money on education rather than toys is well received.

  • Geoff said on April 1, 2011

    Heisler blew you both away! He’s the man. Joeys still a punk 😉

  • Kholloud said on April 1, 2011

    Both events GPP10 & GPP11 were amazing, this year Heisler killed it. I love it when you were running around trying to get more applauds and cheering in the crowed in order to win over Joey L, unfortunately i didn’t catch any of your free DVD copies hehehe

  • James Hazelwood said on April 1, 2011

    I just bought an 85 1.8 used on Amazon, so I guess that means I am committed to Dubai.


  • Rick said on April 1, 2011

    What I loved most about your part of the shoot out is that even though you were a little flustered you still took the time to teach and think out-loud for the audiences benefit. I also really appreciate your thought process explained here (not as obvious in the edited video) about trying to get a portrait that Hakam would like–this wasn’t just about you pwning Joey–it was _still_ about delivering a product to the client. Well done.


  • kevin said on April 1, 2011

    WOW…. just amazing.. wish I had the cash to get to Dubai… your work is amazing, your videos are inspiring and I hope one day we’ll get to shoot together and i’ll have the knowledge you poses towards photography.

  • Edwin Rivera said on April 1, 2011

    Great post! Awesome video. Always look forward to your blog posts and get pissed when there isn’t a new one :). You’re the man Zack!


  • ken said on April 1, 2011

    Glad JoeyL actually was professional enough to do something this year instead of clown around :-)
    You taught the best.
    Heisler’s photo was definitely the best…sorry :-)

  • Sean said on April 1, 2011

    Excellent! Really enjoyed the post and the videos. Have to agree with Rick. Loved how you demonstrated thinking on your feet even when you don’t really know what you want to do. Love your stuff Zack! Can’t believe you are coming to Denver and I’m not going to be able to come! Stupid finances!

  • Tim said on April 1, 2011

    You could tell this was more difficult than last year. I really liked how you were able to stop the motion and show the detail of the subject. I also liked how you continued to teach the crowd after your photos were shot. Again thanks for all you do sharing your technique and thoughts with all of us in the interwebs.

  • Paul A. said on April 1, 2011

    Real class act, as always. The “can’t stop teaching” bit is what gets me every time. Hope to see you again next year.
    Also, kudos to the video team. It’s almost better than in my memory.

  • Dan said on April 1, 2011

    Zack, Rick pretty much summed up my thoughts on the video. Despite the pressure on you, I really enjoyed and appreciated how you shared your thought process with the crowd in order to teach them and also worked in getting some good photos for the dancer as well. Thanks.

  • cat said on April 1, 2011

    Great job, Zack! Thanks for posting.

  • Antoine Thisdale said on April 1, 2011

    Hmm 85 1.8 and Dubai… you know what? that sounds like a plan… a very good plan…

  • rich said on April 1, 2011

    zack, your shots were really great! love how you get such great shots and are so willing to teach and share with others while you’re doing it!

  • Ivan said on April 1, 2011

    You are a great photographer and an inspiration to us all.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • stephane offort said on April 1, 2011

    a great time! I so appreciate that you took the time to explain the why & how of your creation all with humour. I have to say that Heisler’s photo was good, really good… One more time I can only thank you so much for sharing this video and all your ideas, teachings etc. You are not only dedicated to this art but also to the people who love this art; all in all it is always a great inspiration.

  • Mike said on April 1, 2011

    Color Efex Pro has a Polaroid simulator.

  • James Dyas Davidson said on April 1, 2011

    Just bought a used 85mm 1.8

  • Ben said on April 1, 2011

    Gregory Heisler is THE man….brilliant shot.

  • ChrisS. said on April 1, 2011

    Great video, but thought that Heisler had an unfair advantage as he had a front row seat to both you and Joey and could do something either of you didn’t. No judgment, just a lot good photography. Heisler’s image kinda reminded me of the classic StarTrek beam up images, with the hard silhouette and the whatever going on within the silhouette. I am just saying, someone might be a closet trekkie…… :)

    OneLight 2010, IN, alum

  • Rory said on April 2, 2011

    I liked Heisler’s shot the best. But it did strike me that he was probably in the loop long before you guys, and he was prepared with the white background. So not sure how even a contest that was


  • Jay Rodriguez said on April 2, 2011

    Awesome job from all of you guys! Looked like alot of fun! I will be meeting you guys there one of these day!

  • Bob K said on April 2, 2011

    Joey’s image looks like something I might shoot. Your image looks like what I try to shoot. Heisler’s image is what I’d wish I had thought of.

  • Zack said on April 6, 2011

    @BobK – Hahahahaha! :)

  • celeste said on April 2, 2011

    hi zack sorry to have missed this shootout = met you briefly last year
    check out the history and my images of the tanoura in real life on my site:
    great shots you have

  • Theis said on April 3, 2011

    Hey, just blogged the video and a link to your blog post about it. Nice to hear a bit of the thoughts behind it all.

    I just wish selling my 85L F1.2 and buying a used f1.8 would make me enough money to go to Dubai but that’s not happening :(


  • ray said on April 3, 2011

    had a blast during the GPP week… GPP Photo Plus = “woodstock” of photography… can’t wait for next year…

  • Fadi Kelada said on April 3, 2011

    The fact still remains that Zack same as last year actually came in with his camera bag and his own stands with no pre arranged setups or extra help. That is what I really like about him. And yes, the DVDs was a very nice touch. I would have jumed to get a free copy but I already got mine last year :)))) Thank you Zack.

    Your student,

  • Mars said on April 4, 2011

    Hi Zack,

    Just curious why did you use a profoto strobe? i thought there was already a SB light in BIG MAMA?

    Cheer Zack

  • Charles said on April 4, 2011

    As soon as I saw Hakam, my mind went to the same solution as Joey’s, but really loved yours and may have ended up there given time… but maybe not.
    I was however astounded by Greg’s image – and will definitely be using all three techniques with a shoot I have coming up with a Salsa dancer.
    Amazing work on this… not so much from Joey of course 😉

  • Ron Putnam said on April 4, 2011

    Have to say that all the shots worked really well. Just loved to see people work so quickly in a high pressure situation and deliver. Good work.

  • Chris said on April 4, 2011

    Great post! Love the video + images.

  • adam said on April 6, 2011

    You’re nuts man! Just getting caught up on your blog. Keep on rockin’ in the free world, and thanks for sharing.

  • Brigita said on April 8, 2011

    fun to watch – thank you

  • Doug said on April 8, 2011

    Hmm, now if it was Heisler offering a one-on-one mentoring session for $16,000 … 😀

  • ArenaCreative said on April 9, 2011

    That looked like fun! Thanks for sharing. All three shots came out great. That dancer must be specially trained not to get dizzy and fall over, because that’s what would happen to me if I had to spin that much.

  • bimal nair said on April 11, 2011

    loved it. loved it. totally loved it. 3 Genius at their best of creativity and entertainment. Kudos to you all! Thanks for sharing Zack!

  • nate parker said on April 13, 2011

    hey Zack wheres the UsedFIlm logo, i can’t find it?

  • Zack said on April 13, 2011

    Nate – I’m moving away from usedfilm branding and replacing it with the Z. It in there. :)

  • Tammy said on April 15, 2011

    I’m wishing I had made it to Dubai again this year. I’d been in Dubai for other reasons just before and after the conference and couldn’t get there during that week. Your shares make me realize I’ve GOT to get back next year.

  • Peter said on April 16, 2011

    Everyone in the room and later in the published video is excited to see some reeaally good ideas from each of you on the stage. But, to keep it realistic and get maybe some pressure of you – it doesn’t matter how fancy the idea is and who wins. It’s about the fun. Thanks for posting the video and commenting it, it’s always a pleasure to see you doing photo “stuff”.
    Oh, and I am always looking for the logo in your pictures and wondering where you have hidden it this time :)
    Greetings from Germany.

  • Jessica Sweeney said on April 18, 2011

    I already have an 85 1.8. Does that mean I have to go to Dubai? The boyfriend’s not going to be happy about this one . . .

  • Noni said on April 22, 2011

    Incredible. Absolutely incredible.

  • Andrew said on August 5, 2011

    Super late comment Zach, but I was wondering; was there a ladder or a catwalk or something that you could have used? When I watch the video and I see the brief moment where the top half of the costume goes completely up creating a sort of funnel all I can think about is how cool a shot would have been shooting down during that moment while the dancer looked up. Maybe something tight, so the color and the cloth reach past the edges of the frame, as well as something wider to show the actual edges of the fabric. Seems like it could have been cool.
    Really great stuff, enjoyed the video and the teaching, glad Joey decided to actually make a shot this year, I don’t know how Heisler even thought of that.

  • Kaveh Ghobadi said on August 14, 2011


    Did you mean Persian Gulf?

    The Gulf does not exist in any location.

    The gulf you are looking for is unavailable. No body of water by that name has ever existed. The correct name is Persian Gulf, which always has been, and will always remain, Persian.

    I Love You ZACK…

  • subodh shetty said on March 7, 2012

    You are awesome…and i would be seeing you live in 2 days from now on Photofriday as part of GPP 2012…super exicted….:)

  • Swade said on February 26, 2013

    Flights to Dubai are cheaper than I thought, but one workshop at GPP is almost as much as a one way ticket there O_O.

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