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…

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.

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.

:: GPP Desert Shootout 2010 (w/video) ::
:: GPP Desert Shootout 2011 (w/video) ::


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