Five Reasons to Go to Dubai for Gulf Photo Plus 2013

March quickly approaches, and GPP has announced their instructors and courses.

I happen to think this is the best photo week of its kind on the planet. If you are anywhere near that part of the world, GPP is a no-brainer. But even if you are far away, it's worth the trip.

Here's why.

Go for the Classes

Duh. GPP's best draw is its variety of classes and range of instructors. Frankly, I am often intimidated to even be a part of this faculty.

Small classes, big classes, lectures, workshops, discussions—GPP runs the full gamut. This year I am teaching four classes—on deadline editorial portraiture, blogging/social media and two new offerings: small and larger lighting classes for absolute newbs.

The newb classes will be a no-fear environment, meaning you can be sure everyone in the class is in your same newbie boat. Also, the classes will include all of the items you need to turn your little speedlight into a portable studio. And the gear is yours to keep.

And what am I doing on my time off? Same thing most every instructor does: sneak into the other instructors' classes and learn everything we can. GPP allows the instructors crashing priveleges, and we'd be insane not to do it.

There are several instructors I have not yet met in this year's line-up. But even just considering the ones I already know (McNally, Arias, Greg Heisler, Dave Burnett, Bobbi Lane, Dave Nightingale, Scott Hargis and John Keatley) I am already gonna be hard-pressed to choose.

And there is a whole crop of new folks I have not yet met. You can bet I'll be listening to student feedback to see if I should be crashing their classes rather than those of the known-quantity folks. Decisions, decisions.

Go for the Downtime

Here's one of the coolest things about GPP: everyone pretty much just hangs out. It is a close-knit environment and ad-hoc discussions just pop up everywhere.

Sprinkle in a few drinks and some strawberry sheesha haze in the air to remind you that you are in the Middle East, and the only thing you'll be lacking during the week is sufficient sleep. By choice.

Go for the Shootout

Nowhere else in the world does this happen. Last year I (along with Martin Prihoda) got my ass handed to me by Greg Heisler. Live, in front of 350 people.

Shocker, I know:

This vid has been compressed down to ~6 mins. But it's a great thing to watch the unedited version live. (And, I can assure you, a completely nerve-wracking thing in which to compete.) It's the perfect capstone to an awesome week.

No idea who this year's victims will be . . .

Go for the Cultural Experience

How to put this?

There are a lot of differences, both perceived and real, between Western and Middle Eastern cultures. How you internalize those differences—how you learn from them—largely depend on whether you experience them first-hand or go on believing what other people tell you to believe.

I am a strong, strong believer in experiencing things first-hand and then forming my own opinions. Nothing has had nearly the impact on my view of the word (and, by extension, my understanding of myself) than has travel to other cultures. And I have made many lasting friendships as a result.

Here's the thing: Dubai in general is both Islamic and accessible. And at GPP in particular, you'll be learning in the midst of people from cultures all around the world. It's an amazing experience, and you'll leave having made new friends from all over the globe.

You can read more about the cross cultural experience in an earlier post, here. And my friend Dave Kile wrote briefly about the experience here.

If you are considering not going because of the cultural gap, you are exactly the kind of person likely to benefit most from the experience. See the world for yourself. Meet new people. Make new friends. Grow your own perspective and understanding.

Go for the Food

Even if cultural nuances are lost on you, you still gotta eat right? The UAE has a population composed about 90% of ex-pats. And they all brought their own food.

In particular, my very favorite restaurant in Dubai in the world is here. It is a little hole in the wall Pakistani restaurant called Ravi's, pictured above.

I am salivating just thinking about it.

Go for Dubai

Self-explanatory. One of the most visually insane cities in the world. It's like giving your camera catnip.

Sign-ups are now open. There is even an early bird discount on classes booked before January 17th.

Hope to see you there.


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Blogger hht420 said...

Talk about a timely post... (I was just tweeting you about GPP). I, like many others assume(d) that Dubai is an absurdly extravagant place, but you promptly pointed out that the hotel rooms can be had for $150/night. To me, that makes GPP a reasonable trip for the average joe.

Hopefully GPP (you, Arias, Mcnally, and Heisler)will still be doing this in a couple years so I can have this experience.

January 04, 2013 8:24 AM  
Blogger Sara Lando said...

I CAN'T WAIT to be there.
I'm already completely bananas about the possibility of being exposed to so much amazing stuff in such a small amount of time.
This is going to be my first trip to Asia and I love the fact that not only I'll have the possibility to be exposed to a different culture, to new food and amazing scenery, I will also get to do so while meeting some of my photo-legends

January 04, 2013 9:20 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


We never know who is going to get the invite on a year-to-year basis, as the instructor list always rotates a little. But FWIW, the first year I don't go as an instructor I may well be there as a student...

January 04, 2013 10:13 AM  
Blogger Fonk said...

Wish I could afford to - sounds like fun!

January 04, 2013 11:31 AM  
Blogger Lachlan said...

Next year, so definitely going next year. Unfortunately I can't afford it at all this year and I'm in agony just reading the various classes running.

This blog post hurt. So many ways to learn.

January 04, 2013 1:21 PM  
Blogger Muzna Butt said...

its so lovely to read such positive feedback of dubai, ive done GPP for a few years whilst i lived in dubai and even went back last november for Frank Doorhof who was amazing! David you must come and shoot the view out of my balcony in the Marina, both Matt K and Frank have done it! In the meantime, ill wait for you to visit UK!
For those who havent been, its awesome, and i class myself as a product of GPP, learnt everything i know from there...

January 04, 2013 2:30 PM  
Blogger D.Meds said...

I hope you will be there too David as said @hht420 "Hopefully GPP (you, Arias, Mcnally, and Heisler)will still be doing this in a couple years so I can have this experience." away from 150$ the hotel night for me and my folks the visa to there is more like " there is no there there every body go home" but we still hope your consistent presence to tell us about the good things that happened and share nice feelings. good luck for this year GPP

January 05, 2013 5:06 AM  
Blogger Kurt Wall said...

I'd like to second what David said about seeing the Middle East for yourself. I was there in November with a head full of media images and preconceptions that were just plain wrong, sometimes pernisciously so.

I've never met friendlier, warmer, more open, more gracious people. Period. Full Stop. It was a wonderful experience just for the people. The food was, for me, to die for. Please, please go see for yourself; don't let anyone tell you what the place is.

And GPP will absolutely rock. What a lineup!

January 05, 2013 9:44 AM  
Blogger Silver Image said...

Sounds great! But, at around $3500 USD for the few days, I'll have to wait. sigh

January 05, 2013 10:29 AM  
Blogger Pogue said...

Well, can't do it this year, but I've planted a bug in the Missus' ear about next year...

So, is whatever bag you're including with the lighting equipment available at MPEX, or is it a special deal for the workshop? I'm using a tripod bag for my stuff now, but it's a little cumbersome for the stand/umbrella/DIY modifiers kit.

January 05, 2013 5:39 PM  
Blogger Uncle Two Toot said...

This sounds really cool and like others I would love to be able to go. But my question is, who can afford to go to $5,000 worth of classes plus pay another $1,800 (minimum) for airfare, plus another $1,200 minimum for hotel, plus who knows how much for food? I don't mean to be negative, but you are easily talking about $10,000. The instructor list is a dream come true between Heisler, McNally, Hobby and Arias, no doubt. But what would make this REALLY cool is setting a flat rate, lets say $2,500, which provides all access to the events. The photogs who can afford to attend GPP must already be awfully successful, and isn't the point to educate those of us who are trying to become successful?

January 06, 2013 12:43 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Sigh. I am convinced those are exactly the kind of completely uninformed assumptions that stop many people from attending.

Not even sure that you could spend $5k on classes if you chose every single most expensive class. Personally, I'd probably budget $1k to $1500 for classes, depending on who I really wanted to study with.

Heck, a three-day, 12-person class with Heisler is $800. And that is not counting the 10% before Jan. 17 discount.

$1800 minimum for airfare? For economy class? Really? I am coming from the US, which is about as far away as you can get, and I budget $1200 for airfare. From Africa/EU/India/Asia/etc., Dubai is a pretty cheap city to get to because of Emirates Airlines, with fares of ~$300 not uncommon.

$1200 minimum hotel? You can stay onsite for under $1k for the week, and if you wanted to AirBnB it to get a less expensive local room you could do it for under half of that.

Who knows how much for food? Um, I know that I will eat that week whether I am in Dubai or at home. And a quick check of Google maps would have shown you that a full grocery store is a five minute walk from the onsite hotel.

As for the $2500 all-you-can eat price, that would mean that Heisler would have 400 people in his class and me and Zack would be twiddling our thumbs to an empty room.

All kidding aside, if you just want to throw up some numbers as a reason why you can't go, make them real numbers.

Is the whole thing super cheap? No. But it is nowhere near as much as you are you are assuming it is. Yes, you have to plan a little just with any international trip. You can't walk up the day before and fly cut-rate, as with the hotel. That's just a basic travel strategy.

You wanna go, fine. You don't wanna go, fine. But use real numbers if you are really trying to price it out.

January 06, 2013 2:38 PM  
Blogger Scott Hargis said...

What David said (both in the original post, and in reply to "Uncle Two Toot").

My flight is from San Francisco, which is nearly opposite Dubai in the northern hemisphere, and I'm budgeting $1250 for the flight. Classes tend to run about $400 for one day, or $700 for 2 days, which is very typical. "Uncle Two Toot's" numbers have no basis in reality.

Also worth mentioning that there are a lot of advanced beginners and intermediate photographers in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, the Subcontinent and SE Asia for whom this is a relatively easy trip. Everything isn't always focused on Americans.

Dubai is pretty awesome, GPP is serious stuff for serious photographers, and the instructor list is pretty much a wet dream.

January 06, 2013 3:02 PM  
Blogger Mathias said...

This year is going to be tight for my attending GPP (mentally rearranging flights & holidays).

Sounds like an amazing opportunity to meet like-minded photogs and experience a new culture!

For the sake of those liek me who won't be there - keep up the stream of pics & vids about GPP, please!

January 06, 2013 3:31 PM  
Blogger Dirk Sachse said...

I ve been there in 2011 and I spent arround 2300 EUR (3000 USD) IRRC.

600 EUR plane, 900 EUR hotel and 800 EUR for courses.

I dont count food, because the prices are the same as at home and transportation is super cheap also.

January 06, 2013 5:07 PM  
Blogger Anthony Read said...

From Australia it is $1800 for a flight (expensive flying anywhere from Aust) in economy and $130 a night for accomodation , so basically $3000 to get there. The airfare can't really be helped but accomodation is cheap (though the Holiday Inn they recommend is no Burj... )

The courses themselves though are for my 2c fantastic value. Some of the teachers won't ever come to Australia and others like say Joe McNally who did come last year usually do a 1 day auditorium session with several hundred people in it that you still pay $300-500 for. So to get 3 days for $800 with a maximum class size of 10 is pretty phenomonal.

Having taken my family to Dubai for a holiday previously I can highly rate it as a family destination. It is the sort of place you'd never think of usually or the kind of place you stop off at on the way somewhere else but it has a lot to offer the tourist and we had a great time there. Easily could be sold as a 'not just photography' holiday too.. just saying.

It's tempting for sure. :)

January 07, 2013 9:11 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

I just got the portfolio submission approval for McNally's 3 day Using Light to Tell a Story class, and I'm beyond stoked.

Based on the GPP website, it looks like there are only a couple of things that are really planned in addition to the classes: Photo Friday and the Shootout on the closing day 3/8.

Is all of the "hang out time" totally unstructured and dependent on being in the right place at the right time? That in mind, does pretty much everyone stay at that Holiday Inn Express?

January 10, 2013 1:13 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


The classes take up plenty of time, so you won't be bored. Yes, the HI-Express is the hangout, as is the general area of GPP in Dubai Knowledge Village.

You'll find GPP'ers every evening, just about, at The Vista, which is the rooftop bar/restaurant at the HI-Express.

Also there is, um DUBAI to soak up your time. Not to be missed: Mix light at the promenade off of teh Mall of Dubai to shoot sunset at the base of the Burj Khalifa.

You'll be close. The building is a half a mile high.

Bring a wide lens.

January 10, 2013 4:21 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

Cool, thanks for the tips! I was under absolutely no delusion that I'd be bored, mainly just wanted to make sure that there wasn't some "GPP inside info" that I needed to get the skinny on before planning the trip. I'd hate to book the HI-Express only to find out that most of the folks stay somewhere else, etc, etc.

I appreciate it, and hopefully will run into you out there. Cheers!

January 10, 2013 4:39 PM  
Blogger Scott Hargis said...

Did someone say, "Mix light at the promenade off of teh Mall of Dubai to shoot sunset at the base of the Burj Khalifa."?

iPhone 4 is approximately 30mm -- this is 4 panels, stitched (badly):

January 10, 2013 8:25 PM  
Blogger Alex Bartok said...

I just booked and I'm pretty darn excited to be in your speedlight bootcamp session. Looking forward to meeting you!
To chime in to the cost discussion:
I have to support David on this (and give German travelers quick advice):
I booked the hotel (HI Express) through Standard room + Breakfast for 8 Nights (1/3 thru 9/3) is 402 eur. That is 50 eur/night or $66. It doesn't get cheaper than that. Just for comparison, I usually pull up the hotels site/call them to see if they can make a better deal. Their offer was 102 eur/night ($135). So please check the usual trip planning sites before ordering.

Also, I haven't booked the flight yet, but MUC->DXB, 1/3 & 9/3 through Kayak gives Emirates @ 520€ 6hrs nonstop. If you're willing to make it a longer trip you can save more: Swoodoo will give Pegasus Air at 369€ for a hellish 11 1/2 hrs (4 hrs of that is just layover in Istanbul though).

Obviously most people aren't flying in from Germany, but I'm just trying to say that if you keep your eyes open and compare for a bit, you *can* find a good deal, no matter where you're from.

Also to anyone flying Emirates: they have an onboard luggage restriction of a measly 7 KG (15 lbs) which is nothing compared to the equipment I'm about to bring. And my insurance doesn't cover checked luggage. Haven't solved that one yet. Anyone got any ideas?
Might have to switch to (the more expensive) Lufthansa...

Good luck everyone :)

PS: is there any way to keep in touch with the crowd like the day before, and meet up etc? Message board or anything?

January 11, 2013 2:31 AM  
Blogger Mohammad said...

Really excited about this and about learning from you. I've never shot off-camera flash before and I'm going to be buying a strobe soon; I'm looking to spend as little as possible for now (this trip has eaten into my budget!) so I'm most seriously looking at Vivitar. Do you still recommend the 285 or do you think it's safer to look elsewhere since they brought out a crappy version?

January 13, 2013 8:32 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Definitely not the 285. The current versions are an absolute piece of crap. You can't go wrong with a used Nikon SB-24, -25, 26, -80dx, or -800. And you can find many of those pretty reasonably with a little effort.

If you do not find one, remind me of this and worst case you can use one of my SB-800s for the class.

January 13, 2013 9:32 PM  
Blogger Mohammad said...


Thanks for the tip-I picked up an SB-26 from ebay and will hopefully have it within a couple of weeks. Very much looking forward to the class:) By the way, I know we get a lightstand and umbrella, but should we provide our own umbrella bracket?

January 14, 2013 5:31 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Nope, we gotcha covered, boss. Sync, too. Rock n Roll.

January 14, 2013 9:00 PM  
Blogger Gunnar Nettleship said...

David, I am so upset that I am just now seeing this, and somehow forgot about it from last year....that will not happen again! I am saving pennies to attend next year. Unfortunately I will be in Belize...ok, not unfortunately, but you know what I mean ;)

As for the price conversation; if want it bad enough, you will make it happen. The end.

I want it bad. I will make it happen next year. I just hope that you will be there to show me some so of your mad skills in person.

January 15, 2013 12:04 PM  
Blogger Gunnar Nettleship said...

David, I am so upset that I am just now seeing this, and somehow forgot about it from last year....that will not happen again! I am saving pennies to attend next year. Unfortunately I will be in Belize...ok, not unfortunately, but you know what I mean ;)

As for the price conversation; if want it bad enough, you will make it happen. The end.

I want it bad. I will make it happen next year. I just hope that you will be there to show me some so of your mad skills in person.

January 15, 2013 12:06 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Matthew L.

You left me no way to contact you in your DNP comment, and the linked G+ account did not look publicly active. So I'll just say right here that I would not be the slightest bit concerned about that.

It might be difficult to keep a Kosher diet. Having not tried it I would not know. But here is some more detailed reading:

February 17, 2013 2:23 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Matthew L.

Yep, you will find some GPP people hanging out at The Vista most every night. It's catch-as-catch-can, obviously, as there are lots of other fin things to do and see. No worries.

February 18, 2013 4:18 PM  
Blogger jojo lendir said...

i'll go for the food...:D

March 05, 2013 8:39 PM  

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