Saturday, March 10, 2012

Shootout in the Desert, Round Three


Some advice is as good as it is self-evident: Don't whittle towards yourself. Don't pee into the wind. Don't enter into a land war in Southeast Asia.

And to that I can now add: never, ever go up against Gregory Heisler in the Gulf Photo Plus Shootout…
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To say the shootout had been on my mind this year at Gulf Photo Plus would be a bit of an understatement. I had been nervously anticipating it all week.

The shootout is held between three photographers at the closing ceremony of Gulf Photo Plus in a large, dark auditorium in front of 300+ people.

Long-time readers know the rules:

1. You have 20 minutes to conceive, create, edit and post-produce a photo after your subject matter is sprung on you. You're tethered and everyone can see what you are doing while shooting and in post.

2. Hecklers are part of the game. (On the mic this year were Joe McNally and Dave Burnett.)

3. Beyond that, anything goes.
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This year, the contestants would be Martin Prihoda, Greg Heisler and yours truly.

I went first. Mostly because it is one thing to compete against your long-tome photo idol, and yet another to follow him in a show of this type. (Wasn't. Gonna. Happen.)

Host Mohamed Somji sprung the assignment on us at the beginning of our allotted time. It was to be a self portrait, representative of something that we were about.

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.

Martin Prihoda went next, trying an admirably complex light-painting self-portrait in a meditative pose. After he walked her through it, Bobbi Lane offered an assist with the painted flashlight on Martin. Then Martin popped up for each frame to jump around and paint the tree and surrounding area himself.



The shots each took a long time to do, and I thought it was pretty ballsy given the tight time constraints. But he pulled it off.

Next came Heisler. Like Martin and I, he was a little taken aback at the idea of a self portrait. It was definitely a curve ball.

Mind you, Heisler was dressed in the full Arab garb that he famously wore in last year's shootout, so a self portrait was gonna be a little … different.

He started pacing, and did so for five full minutes. He was sparring with Dave Burnett and now Zack Arias, who had replaced McNally on the mic after Joe had to leave to catch a plane.

Heisler used up half of his time before his idea even started to (visibly) materialize. But the wheels were clearly turning the whole time.



He placed a 4x5 camera under a table-topped soft box in front of some white seamless. He added his hat, and then taped a pair of his trademarked round glasses to a light stand and prepared to shoot through them.

Eighteen minutes in, he pressed the shutter for the first time. He asked the crowd if he should keep shooting, and of course they wanted him to. So he fired off a couple of frames with a slightly different look to appease them. But he knew he was finshed after the first frame.

The first frame.

The photo was a perfect, symbolic self-portrait. Any photog familiar with Heisler would recognize that as a photo of him even though it did not include him in the frame:



The judging was by applause. Martin and I both got similar amounts of applause. Greg got … a dissimilar amount of applause.

I was pleased with what I shot, as was Martin -- and justifiably so on his part. But we were both swimming in the deep end Saturday night, and Heisler made short work of us. Short, elegant, iconic work. When the 2012 video comes out, I'll post it. (Links to videos from previous two years are below.)

My hat's off to Heisler. I know when I'm beaten. As someone said on Twitter, it's kinda like being invited to play a friendly game of horse with Michael Jordan. But the night -- and, as always, the whole week -- was a heckuva lot of fun nonetheless.

Dave, Erik and I have a free day tomorrow before heading back home on Monday. They were first-time GPP'ers, but I am betting they'll be back.

I know I will.
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:: GPP Desert Shootout 2010 (w/video) ::
:: GPP Desert Shootout 2011 (w/video) ::


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39 Comments:

Blogger John said...

Too cool! I have to say though, I really like all three portraits, and while Mr. Heisler's portrait reeks of symbolism and a very cool thought process, I think all three were equally cool and well executed.

I was so hoping you were going to post something about the shootout and I'm looking forward to a video ..if there is one.

Congratulations to all three of you, I think they are all awesome, original portraits!

March 10, 2012 4:13 PM  
Blogger Luis Mendoza said...

Very very nice. The one thing that could have made it even better would have been if you'd have tripped the shutter from the iPhone ( if it was an iPhone ) that you were holding for the fill light on your face. Well done Sir!

March 10, 2012 4:33 PM  
Blogger Luis Mendoza said...

Very very nice. The one thing that could have made it even better would have been if you'd have tripped the shutter from the iPhone ( if it was an iPhone ) that you were holding for the fill light on your face. Well done Sir!

March 10, 2012 4:34 PM  
Blogger Luis Mendoza said...

DOH!! Just saw that it was an iPhone...

March 10, 2012 4:36 PM  
Blogger CC said...

All I can say, with the greatest respect David, is that I've been anticipating this and any video since last year's Heisassination of Zack Arias and Joey L.

March 10, 2012 5:18 PM  
Blogger Mark Davidson said...

Oh dear, thoughts of inadequacy are flooding over me.

March 10, 2012 5:29 PM  
Blogger Marina Dzhumaeva Photography said...

With all due respect to Mr. Heisler, I enjoyed a lot to see the way you worked with iPads and this self-portrait represents YOU a lot. Martin did the awesome job too. I got lucky to be present there are see three of you creating a masterpieces. You all are different, but awesome in your own ways. It was lots of fun. Hope to see you in Dubai next year again.

March 10, 2012 5:42 PM  
Blogger nomorspam said...

Looks like you drew the short stick what's up next are you going to be challenged to a game of Horse against Micheal Jordan?

March 10, 2012 5:48 PM  
Blogger Dominic Hanna said...

I can't wait until the video of the shootout comes out on youtube...

March 10, 2012 6:13 PM  
Blogger Sharna said...

Way Cool David! I thought that your image was GREAT! But, Mr. Heisler did a number on you for sure. 20 minutes and he thought of that? Wow, I couldn't imagine if he had a whole day to plan that shot. LOL

Ya'll did AMAZING!

March 10, 2012 6:13 PM  
Blogger Adrian said...

Jesus. I'm happy when I shoot a sunset and don't cock it all up. Someday I'll be creative...

March 10, 2012 6:35 PM  
Blogger MaxG said...

I am reading your blog for almost a year now. While I taken photos almost all my life, I never tried to be anything more than an snap-shooter.

The whole photography thing is for me similar to music; tons of tastes, with endless temporal and cultural influences.

As we are all our own judges or appreciators of these three shots, AND taking the assignment into account, you IMHO nailed the assignment best. It shows a self-portrait! And -- truly to your art -- is lit very colourful -- in the truest sense of the word, it has colour, it is a difficult lighting situation, beautifully mastered.

As for Greg, his portrait requires prior knowledge to make sense of the image, it is not self-identifiable. Original it is, but that's about it.

Well done Mr. Hobby!

March 10, 2012 7:25 PM  
Blogger MaxG said...

I am reading your blog for almost a year now. While I taken photos almost all my life, I never tried to be anything more than an snap-shooter.

The whole photography thing is for me similar to music; tons of tastes, with endless temporal and cultural influences.

As we are all our own judges or appreciators of these three shots, AND taking the assignment into account, you IMHO nailed the assignment best. It shows a self-portrait! And -- truly to your art -- is lit very colourful -- in the truest sense of the word, it has colour, it is a difficult lighting situation, beautifully mastered.

As for Greg, his portrait requires prior knowledge to make sense of the image, it is not self-identifiable. Original it is, but that's about it.

Well done Mr. Hobby!

March 10, 2012 7:26 PM  
Blogger Nas said...

A great write-up. I use that same 5x4 camera and lens rig, the bokeh is like nothing else.

March 10, 2012 7:59 PM  
Blogger Vimal said...

Congrats Mr Hobby, For me you are the winner.
Martins Image doesn't impressed me much.
Greg's Image was a supper photograph/effort just to outset you. He choose the otherway, as he would have knew that if if shoot himself he can't do better then you.

Loved the lights you able to get from the small but effective and powerful devices.

March 10, 2012 8:38 PM  
Blogger Iain Mackenzie said...

Yep, Kudos to Greg Heisler! But it was amazing to sit and watch the wheels turn in all of your heads! And I personally think that Heisler was the most stumped initially. But man, once those wheels started turning...and yes, to sit and watch him slow down and set up his shot before that frame, well, it's a lesson in itself. Did you notice how quite the auditorium was?
As for the self-portrait line, you and Martin more than excelled - you guys were phenomenal! Your images that you presented represented who you are without question. And it show why you guys are the teachers and we are the students. Brilliant!
It was a pleasure meeting you, I hope to see you here again very soon!

March 10, 2012 10:06 PM  
Blogger fotosiamo said...

Amazing work from all three of you. I love the creativity and the end result. Of course, Greg is Greg, and there was no doubt that he would throw a curveball to the curveball.

Hats off (no pun intended) to his portrait! And David, thanks for all the inspiration you always sought after. Your passion in photography is evident in both your blog and your portrait!

- Joe G | fotosiamo.com

March 10, 2012 11:25 PM  
Blogger Kholloud said...

No matter what.. We love you and your photo you took, am sure if you"ll have time you will incorporate the 15 iPad you had, I still remember your first photoshoot where you kicked Zack and Joey .. Both photos were amazing and we all saw you a winner the 3 of you ...

Oh my God the look on your face was priceless I hope they got it on camera ...


Take care .. I wish I could have time to hang out with you more ..

March 11, 2012 6:31 AM  
Blogger Fadi Kelada said...

It was really cool to see you make this shot with this unusual setup. I really enjoyed beeing in your class this year, Dave. Thank you so much for coming to GPP and wish you a safe trip back. All the Best.

March 11, 2012 6:48 AM  
Blogger Mark Dunlap Photography said...

Well David, I think all three shots are wonderfully done and even though you and others are praising Mr. Heisler as the winner . . . I really think it's a matter of opinion. I don't see that his image has any huge advantage over your's or that of Martin. Good job all around.

March 11, 2012 11:52 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Geiger said...

I'm just glad there's someone out there that gives you the same feeling of inadequacy you give all of us...

March 11, 2012 12:12 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

A fascinating trio of approaches!
David, how did you set the white balance for your self-portrait? It looks like a challenging mix of lighting.

March 11, 2012 4:36 PM  
Blogger Richard Kimbrough Photography said...

Your image was the one that first caught my eye, even as a thumbnail. A great photo of you and a great use of unusual lighting that is still completely natural as well. Sounds like Mr. Heisler has something many wouldn't have in that situation, the ability to spend the very finite amount of time allowed to actually sit back and take in the situation, think it through, and come up with an idea, and then execute it. I think one area I'm still working on is being able to slow down, step back, and think through an idea, even when the clock is ticking and your subject is staring you down. Maybe not think it through for 15 minutes if your subject is there, but often even 30 seconds of thought vs. action can get you to a new place in the shoot.

March 11, 2012 5:28 PM  
Blogger Kevin B. said...

Having been taught by Heisler for a year at HIP, I enjoyed this report. Heisler doesn't spend time on post process simply because "Heisler don't NEED post process". And nailing it in one frame... the first frame... well, that's Heisler being Heisler. The portrait is a spot on representation too. I miss that guy... it would have been great to watch the competition in person.

March 11, 2012 6:11 PM  
Blogger chase said...

It may not have been a self portrait per say of Heisler, depending on how you interperite it.

Looking though his eyes, perhaps he was saying Hats off to you and Martin...

There's food for thought.

Nicely executed to all three of you, from what I see, there were no losers, only winners.

March 11, 2012 7:22 PM  
Blogger gretsch said...

The iDevice shot was a great concept, esp. lighting with the VAL iPads. The meditation pose is very well done and technically amazing within 20min.
But Greg's shot is just amazing. "Think, then shoot." He spent 90% of his time prepping and thinking, 10% shooting. Tho of course it helps if the person doing the thinking is Greg.
How did he manage to make a shot in that environment that engages me emotionally? Simply stunning.

March 12, 2012 3:46 AM  
Blogger djaef said...

Awesome work David. No shame in being slightly overshadowed by one of Mr Heisler's ability. I really like yours as well, despite the crop near the foot being a bit tight for my taste.
I haven't been to GPP yet, but I'm hoping to go next year...

March 12, 2012 5:56 AM  
Blogger AJ said...

David, Excellent work, you did end up using the small lights in the stairs as you had said in your class earlier in the day. But at the end of the day Mr. Heisler is Mr. Heisler, kudos to him.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to witness the action live at the shootout but am looking forward to the video.

It was a pleasure meeting you. Thanks a lot.

March 12, 2012 6:06 AM  
Blogger Ashley Collins Couchois said...

Hi David! The shootout was great and all three of you shot photos that really matched your personalities - well executed. It was a wonderful week with lots of adrenaline that I will never forget. Thanks so much for all your assistance. It was great to be in your class.

March 12, 2012 10:52 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I see enough of people looking at their phones

March 12, 2012 5:06 PM  
Blogger greatxam said...

Have nothing to say, just AMAZING!

March 13, 2012 3:35 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Man how I wish I could've been there with you guys. i'll make it my short-term goal, to be present at what seems like a very good week, and meet you guys!

As for the portraits, I am not very familiar with their work but the nothing would portrait you more than manipulating light the way you did!

Congrats!

March 13, 2012 8:12 AM  
Blogger 2z said...

No disrespect to Gregory Heisler, he's a legendary photographer. But his self portrait is symbolic only. To me it's the same as if he were to take a picture of a bunch of baseballs in Yankee stadium, between 2nd and 3rd base, along with an armored car full of money, and call it a portrait of Alex Rodriguez. It may symbolize the man, but it isn't the man.

In my view, you gave him the win based on his reputation. Last year his photo was best. This year he didn't have the better self-portrait...you did.

Humbly submitted.

March 13, 2012 4:39 PM  
Blogger subodh said...

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have witnessed this shootout live...Gregory Heisler - wow WHAT A MAN...the thought process which went into his shot, the intensity of his vision, I guess thats what makes him what he is today. Nevertheless You were equally creative and so was Martin. It was fun on photofriday and on flashbus with you and Joe McNally...hope to see you all in GPP2013...theres no way I am going to miss it...Lots of Love from Dubai :)

March 13, 2012 5:40 PM  
Blogger NBuonin said...

Not to take this off into a totally different direction, but does any one else think that Heisler was referencing the well known Picabia "portrait" of Stieglitz?

March 14, 2012 1:33 PM  
Blogger Problem Photography said...

Uhmm, land wars in Asia. Southeast Asia was a generation ago, southwest Asia is current, with central Asia as a fallback when it gets slow around the shop.

Just saying.

March 14, 2012 11:11 PM  
Blogger Vicco said...

great stuff, all three shots, chapeau to you all!!

March 16, 2012 4:48 PM  
Blogger Jacob Benjamin Taylor said...

I know Heisler, I've sat down with him a few times. He's helped me set up lights even. 90% of what I know of lighting I learned from him. He might be the greatest living portrait photographer. Martin Schoeller is pretty amazing but Greg knows things no one else does. Greg does things no one else does. Greg is beyond words.


Jacob Benjamin Taylor.

March 16, 2012 5:39 PM  
Blogger jim "shu" carroll said...

this is just a wonderful blog, and a beautifully written account of three excellent artists expressing themselves in our "medium of choice". the creative and technical differences in the photos prove that they chose three very worthy "contestants". brilliant.

March 20, 2012 7:19 AM  

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