Non-US Reader? Consider GPP.

In America, we are lucky enough to have a near-continual smorgasbord of photo workshops and seminars from which to choose. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for those of you who live elsewhere.

If you are reading this from Europe, the Middle East, the Subcontinent or even the Far East, make the jump to see several reasons to strongly consider making a trip to Dubai this March.

If there is no way in heck you would ever jump on a plane to the Middle East, probably best to skip the jump and avoid the temptation.

A Little Background

Three years and change ago, I open my inbox to see a email from some guy in the United Arab Emirates. His name was Mohamed and he wanted me to come to Dubai to teach at Gulf Photo Plus.

(Okay, curiosity = piqued. But Dubai? I dunno. And I had never even heard of GPP.)

So I looked at their program from the previous year and saw that I had a couple of friends who were involved -- Joe McNally and Scott Kelby. I called them up and they both gave me the same, two-word advice: Definitely, go.

I am now prepping for my third year teaching there, and it is always something I look forward to because GPP is such a fantastic week. For those of you who might be toying with the idea of making the trip, I want to do for you what McNally and Kelby did for me.

So if you are thinking about going (and if you are not in the U.S., you really should be) here is what to expect.

All Roads Lead to Dubai

One of the fortunate byproducts of Dubai's hyper-growth over the last 20 years is that you can get there very easily from just about any major city. Most people fly Emirates Airlines, for which Dubai is the main international hub. I am flying Delta this year just for baggage allowance differences, but I will miss the fiber-optic stars twinkling me to sleep in the ceilings of the Emirates' triple-7s -- they even take care of you back in steerage.

Once landed at DXB airport, you will proceed down a comically long moving sidewalk, after which you will be through customs in very short order. Bear in mind that it is an Islamic culture, so please leave any drugs and/or spicy laptop videos at home. Just be respectful of the culture and you won't ever have a problem. Same as anywhere else.

The whole cultural thing was an overblown concern I had before my first year there. It was a silly worry. Just be respectful, and for Pete's sake, don't use cultural differences as an excuse not to visit an amazing place.

And Dubai is amazing. No worries on language, either, as Arabic and English co-exist everywhere. Much of the population is from somewhere else, so English has evolved as sort of a universal language. All of the signs are in Arabic and English. Assuming you speak at least some English (or you would not be reading this post) you will have zero translation problems.

The inexpensive taxi ride will take you about 20 mins to the Holiday Inn Express in the "Internet City" area of Dubai, which is where you should stay. It is right across a parking lot from Dubai Knowledge Village, where GPP is held. It is less than $80 a night last I checked, and is very clean and modern -- just like most everything in Dubai.

Ironically, the internet at the Holiday Inn Internet City is slow and expensive. I usually snag the free wi-fi in the cafe court at Knowledge Village (left) instead.

But on the good side, the hotel serves as a pedestal for the Vista, the rooftop bar and restaurant where we usually gather each night for the views, beverages and conversation. Most of the attendees from out of town -- students and faculty -- stay in the Holiday Inn, so the vista is the default watering hole.

The late-night conversations over beers and sheesha up on the Vista balcony are one of the things I love about GPP. It is a very informal atmosphere with the students, assistants and faculty pretty much hanging out together. We study and shoot during the day and hang out / sightsee at night. For those of you who make the trip, I want to pull a Strobist mixer together one evening at the Vista. So stay tuned for info on that.

Your Week at GPP

I think GPP may be one of the coolest week-long photo events in the world, and here's why.

First, it is reasonably sized. All-in, it's under a thousand people involved (although photo Fridays can get a little crazy) so you'll see the same people repeatedly and make friends from all kinds of interesting places.

Second, there will be people there with skill levels ranging from beginner to pro. Worry about your skill level is no reason not to go. The classes are stratified enough for just about anyone to fill a week with appropriate courses.

The Mohamed I mentioned above is Mohamed Somji, a young Dubai-based photographer and the head of GPP, which is also an ongoing education venue for local photo enthusiasts. Mohamed is smart in that he pulls together sources of sponsorship and funding to keep tuition prices at a level I would say are on the low side of reasonable.

As a result, there is a gear vendor room that runs all week, too. So you also get to play with the toys between classes.

And the range of classes is the best thing about GPP. You could choose to take a 4-day workshop with McNally (which, of course would require nightly visits to the Vista to re-assemble your head) at rates below what the same class would cost in the US. Joe is also doing a one-day demo workshop.

Or you could spend a week in an intensive still-to-video class with Vincent Laforet, in an up-to-the-minute class like nothing else I have yet seen. Documentary photographer Steve Simon is also running a five-day class for the folks who are happiest when they are shooting out on the street.

If you do not want to go all-in for a week-long boot camp, you can go a la carte on a day-to-day basis. Take a two-day commercial lighting course with JoeyL, or learn how to do amazing post production from Chomasia's David Nightingale.

Kelby even let colleague Matt Kloskowski out of the tiger cage for a week to come over and teach five different day-long post production classes. If I were not teaching on Monday night, I would be sitting in Matt's "Layers" class. Talk about going right to the source. Matt wrote the book.

Zack Arias will be back this year, too. He is doing two OneLights, in addition to a beginner's class and a two-day workshop. I predict Zack will be dead from teaching by the end of the week. Dude goes all-out.

Bobbi Lane is also teaching lighting, Chris Hurtt is doing a wide variety of beginner-oriented classes, and the list goes on. There is lots to choose from -- the full course list is here.

My Courses

I'll be teaching one- and two-day classes all week. Monday evening will be on social media, where we will be looking at how to integrate blogging, Twitter, etc., into your long-term strategies -- be they photographic, business or personal. No secrets and nothing is off-limits.

Tuesday and Wednesday will be a two-day intensive on shooting people. It is a very small class environment. We'll have demo and lecture on Tuesday morning, then you get thrown in the deep end for the rest of the time. You'll be broken into three-person teams, with multiple shooting/editing sessions throughout the next day and a half. I'll be alongside, as will UK photog Adam Swords, who I'm told will be assisting me this year. [UPDATE: The two-day class is sold out.]

That's Adam, left, checking his email in the ground-floor bar at the hotel at GPP 2008. Sadly, Adam was not yet of legal drinking age, but he was more than welcome to hang out anyway.

The two-day class is the longer version of what I wish every day-long lighting seminar I teach could really be: Very small class, starting off with the information fire hose and then plenty of time to drill the techniques into your brain with guided shooting time.

The class label says "confident beginner." But we will be able to tailor the shooting sessions to more advanced students, too. Suffice to say, your butts will be sufficiently kicked.

My other two classes are day-long lecture/demo shooting formats. One is on table-top/illustration and the other is a new lighting class that I am debuting in Dubai: Lighting in Layers.

The latter is a sort-of exploded format that I cannot easily do on a blog, walking through the "how" and "why" of individual lighting problems and progressions.

We go step-by-step, picture-by-picture up on screen to build a shot, showing mistakes and solutions along the way. Photogs are visual people, so that is the way we try to learn it.

Wedged in on Friday (which is sort of like Sunday in an Islamic culture) is Photo Friday, a large-class sampler of many different offerings. It is very economical and aimed at a wider audience, so that gives you a change of pace if you have been skedding more intensive classes all week.

Some full-weekers hit the Photo Friday lectures, and others might opt for some of the off-the hook shopping and sites of Dubai that day.

Stuff to Do

Bearing in mind that nothing in Dubai is old, you may want to visit the souk down by the creek, which gives you a neat window into the culture with the many commercial stalls and the activity down on the water.

And you can also take a trip out in to the desert, many of which end up at a encampment with food, sheesha and those etherial desert sunsets. Or, if you are insane, try a little dune busting with a guided 4WD trip. (Loved it.)

The Madinat (pictured at the top of the post) is also a cool, quick trip from GPP. IT is only five minutes away and is a resort area with a historical theme. (Looks old, but is new. Good place for souvies.)

Nearby is the Burj al Arab, the world's only gazillion-star hotel. Bring decent clothes if you want to hit the Sky Bar up top. That place is all about the superlatives.

If you are a shopper, or just like to walk around slack-jawed in marvel at what a few billion dollars can create, Dubai is your place. Don't let the economic news out of Dubai deter you -- it's all still there, and off the hook. It's just that they are trying to figure out how they are gonna pay for it now.

There are three humongous malls in Dubai -- the Mall of the Emirates, Ibn Battuta, and The Dubai Mall. 'Emirates' is the one you have heard of which has the indoor ski slope -- with real snow. IMO, skip that one in favor of the other two if you have to choose. Which should tell you something about the other two.

Ibn Battuta Mall is themed after an 13th-century Islamic explorer, with ginormous pavillions dedicated to the parts of the world that Battuta explored. Why we learned about the standard explorers in western civ class instead of this guy, I will never know.

Shown at left is the China Pavillion. That's a full-sized junk in the background. Ibn Battuta is about 15 mins away by cab from GPP.

Ibn Battuta, BTW, is the little one. The Dubai Mall pretty much blows the curve for any other commercial venue on the planet. They have an aquarium, left, about the size of Rhode Island, and you can walk out on the promenade (at twilight is best) to view the half-mile high world-record skyscraper next door.

It is insane.

The thing is, I am not even a shopper. I find a pair of tennis shoes I like, I buy three pairs on sale so I do not have to go back for a while. But I still find these places amazing. It is a look into the heart of brain of consumerism -- one big, breathing sociological experiment to watch.

Just Go.

If you are worried about culture shock in Dubai, don't be. Well, other than the mall thing. It is just one of those cities you want to see once in your life.

And if you are wondering about whether GPP is worth the trip, it absolutely is. For those of you in part of the world that make the US classes too long a haul, that means you are probably close enough to Dubai to make it a reasonable hop.

It is certainly as far east as I will get this year, and I hope to see many of you there -- in classes as well as at the Vista afterwards.

Link: GPP 2010: March 1st - 6th, 2010


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