What You Should Consider Before Going on a Photo Mission to the Desert.

Hello dear curious friend, tell me, are you fascinated by the desert?

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It is a place full of wonders, and obviously sand. But people who think that there is nothing in the desert couldn’t be more wrong. Recently my wonderful relationship with Gulf Photo Plus brought me to an opportunity to teach a class in landscape photography to someone who is not from here and haven’t ever really been to the desert. Of course I was super excited to be able to share my knowledge with someone who is genuinely interested in the subject, plus making a bit of money on the side is always a great idea.

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My student, Brian, was visitng his brother in Abu Dhabi, and was given a gift voucher for anything in GPP, so he decided to exchange it to a private class in landscape photography. Thank you for giving me a chance, Brian, you are a very talented photographer and I am sure you didn’t need half of my directions, but it was fun shooting together with you.

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However, when I woke up the day of the class, there was a bad sand storm even in the city. Bad to the point that when I went out of my building, I had troubles keeping my eyes open, and the outside temperature was at least 8 degrees hotter than it was the day before. Well, that’s gonna be fun, I thought to myself, but you never know how the weather would change in a few hours. I packed flip flops, a cap, water bottle and took a camera that I didn’t care so much to be sanded because that would happen no matter what you do.

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GPP booked us a proper 4×4 desert safari driver, who was very much insisting on selling us any kind of tourist entertainment (camel riding, dune bashing and so on) and couldn’t believe that all we wanted was to take beautiful pictures of the desert. But I have to give him credit, once I asked him to stop the car next to a tree or a bush, he figured that it was indeed what we had interest in and started proposing to take us to other landmarks (rocks).

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When we stepped out of the car first time, the desert was amazingly calm. It was quiet and no piece of sand was moving, but those of you who have been to the desert before can imagine how fast this situation can change. And indeed, in just 10 minutes we saw a big dark cloud coming out of the dunes, and the never-ending shower of sand started pouring on our heads. One other thing is, when you are out there, you don’t notice how hot it is (especially with a bit of wind), and all that sand ends up covering you completely in a thin layer that blends you in with desert even more.

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In terms of photography, desert is a tricky place to shoot. Being an ultra-wide angle shooter, it is especially tricky for me since one needs to find some point of interest in both the foreground and the background to make it work. If you manage to find cool patterned dunes, plus the mountains in the background and the clouds as a bonus – then you are in the money. But… in the UAE you have to be incredibly lucky to have all those elements lining up in front of you. So, if you are shooting the local desert, I would advise to go for mid-range lens, or even try a telephoto and really look for those patterns and geometric alignments. Most of the time you are in the desert, there will be sun (so don’t forget your hat), but in our case the light was actually quite flat because of that cloud. And though it added some interest in the skies that we didn’t even hope for, the sunset was completely non-existent.

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If you are out shooting the sunset in the desert, here is one piece of advice for you – find your angle, set up the tripod and wait for the moment when it is about 20 minutes before the sunset. Take 3 shots focusing on:

  1. front (foreground),
  2. half-way (middleground),
  3. and infinity or close (background).

then wait for the sunset to happen.

I will tell you why you should do it this way: when the sun is still high, the sand looks nice and textured, but it is quite washed out in colour because of the bright sun (that it reflects).  When the sun is not far from setting down, the sky starts turning red and orange, and these colours reflect in the sand making it the most colourful you ever going to have. However, when the sun is setting already, it is now too low to cast any light on the dunes and they turn grayish already (and stay like that throughout the blue hour). So be wise, and plan to blend your image if that’s what you would normally do.

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Being in the desert with Brian, I felt like a scout – running up and down the dunes, hunting for angles for him, telling him to shoot lower, to isolate, to follow the lines… and it was a challenge for myself too. I have never been to this particular location, and the weather was bad, the light was not amazing… but I think we nailed it. I am happy of the fact that I was able to shift my focus and look for patterns and textures instead of endless wide-angled compositions.

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What wasn’t so much fun though, trying to get that sand out of my bag, my hair and my zoom lens… but hey, you can’t have it all!

Thank you for reading and see you soon.

Much love,
Anna

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Shoot for the Stars or #GPP17 Shootout.

Hello friends,

Can it be more epic than to be able to post a blog post from high above the ground? I am pretty impressed by this myself.

Today I wanted to reflect upon the event that closes GPP events every year – Shootout. The principle of the shootout lies in having 3 photographers competing against each other on a given subject. None of them is supposed to know the subject before they arrive to the stage (as they are taken out while others do that). 

This year we had 3 amazing photographers to participate – David Hobby, Rafael Concepcion and Benjamin Von Wong. 

Although by winning a shootout you don’t actually win anything apart from a round of applause from public, there is still a lot of pressure involved. All the people who come to the event have stickers with the faces of those they support, and there is a lot of trash talking going on before the event starts. It is also usually super sold out, so you can’t just show up, you have to register, and usually there is a massive crowd before the beginning of the event. 

I honestly love all three of the above mentioned photographers, but I somehow made friends with Benjamin who is an amazing personality apart from being super talented and creative. I really wanted him to win cause he shared his idea with me and it looked really cool what he was planning to do…

The weather that Friday was more resembling the end of the world. Sandstorm mixed with heavy showers, wind *that actually managed to blow away my credit card from the pocket while I was walking from the coffee shop that day. Everything that was not attached was flying around. 1 minute spent outside and your eyes are so full of sand that you can’t stop rubbing them for the next couple of hours. That kinda weather.

Ben showed up early and didn’t know much what to do with himself, so I asked him if he wants to go for coffee. He is that strange person who wears a t-shirt and bracelets with his own name (well, we all have our peculiarities… I like to wear bright pants :P) but what was funny that day is that he managed to lean on some freshly painted wall so his t-shirt and also most part of his arm was covered in paint. If you ever met Ben in person, this fact probably won’t sound surprising… but out of all days, this had to happen when you have to create magic in front of 350 people… 

After that coffee I don’t know whether it was the stress or the caffeine, but my friend turned into fire-spitting selfie-sticks-spearing entertainment machine and went to warm up the crowds, riding up and down the street on his boosted board. 


RC was half, if not the quarter of the RC we have seen during the week cause he was super tired and couldn’t sleep last night. David Hobby continued shitting his pants, although he has done the Shootout before… but he was the most stressed out of them.

During event there are also commentators, and someone who counts how much time is left to complete the task. Each photographer is given 20 minutes to take the picture, and to edit it. And in the end the audience decides who took the best picture. No pressure, really.

David Hobby chose to be the first since he couldn’t stand the waiting any more. This is when we found out that the subject of the shootout was “Balance”. If you are given a task to shoot balance in 20 minutes, I don’t know how many ideas will emerge in your head… but I thought right there and then, shit, I can’t think of anything. 

But David found his balance by inviting a father and daughter on stage and took a simple one light portrait of them saying that it is so difficult to balance your work and personal life and the line is so thin and fragile. It was incredibly touching. I think Zack Arias cried. Although people say he cries all the time. It was sweet, just the image wasn’t that striking.


The next in line was my dear friend Benjamin who couldn’t be himself if he didn’t put out the show. I think everyone sat there with their mouth open looking at what he was trying to do. He put one of the directors of GPP on his boosted board, gave her a 360 camera, made half of the audience run upstears for more dynamic image, smoked the place up with some smoke aerosols, asked the other director of GPP to pick up the fire extinguisher and to push Hala on the boosted board through the audience. It was spectacular but the technology or Mohamed’s pushing abilities failed a bit and the picture didn’t come out that well.

The last was mister Rafael Concepcion who I was expecting to be joking around and making everyone cry of laughter as he usually does, but instead he wasn’t saying a word. He asked for a tripod, trigger, gels, some lights. Pulled out a random Emirati guy with a camera and a girl in the background and was trying to create something without telling us what his idea was. It was stressful to look at him. Even more stressful that looking at David Hobby almost making the little girl cry.

And in the end, RC created an image of red and blue balance in the back of the Emirati guy who was wearing the perfectly white outfit. The image didn’t speak to me really, but we all just wanted to give RC a hug and say that he did great. So that’s how he won the shootout. His image was the most technically perfect. That we can’t deny.


It was a great show that felt like it only lasted a couple of minutes. Everyone was on the verge of exhaustion, but we took a group picture where I got to hug RC 🙂 and then loaded ourselves on the bus to go party in style in Dawn’s villa. 


Lack of sleep, stress and long working hours don’t mix well with alcohol so half of the night people were trying to throw me into the swimming pool, spilling drinks on each other and then when it started raining we were all dancing around the plastic ball that changes colors in a half tribal, half Macarena way. It was definitely a night to remember.

Enjoying PhotoFriday #GPP17

Hello friends,

The photo week #GPP17 has officially kicked off.

Greeted by David Hobby at the door as I stepped into the magic land, I grabbed a coffee and drifted off to the world of photographic bliss.

There is nothing better than to start your day with some inspiration from Benjamin Von Wong, who is too cool to wear shoes during his presentation. Shoes are overrated anyway!

He also has this absolutely kick ass cool assistant Valentina with green hair and fantastic eyes. Can’t wait to see what they are about to create this season.

Laughed to tears and teared up with sadness at Zack Arias’s talk. You just got to love this guy, he is like my photographic version of Murakami. Turns ordinary into pure magic.

Flavoured with spicy stories of photographing celebrities including Donald Trump by Martin Prihoda. I know it is not easy to deal with them.

Finished off my day with a presentation of Elia Locardi, who has undoubtedly the most beautiful portfolio in the world!

Saw many cool people, got to play with the new Fuji Cameras, felt the love, spread the love.

Have a class to teach tomorrow.

Gonna be fun.

Love,

Anna

Let the Magic Begin.

Hello from sunny Dubai on this particular February day.

Today we are kicking off #GPP17 photo week that brought together a team of internationally acclaimed photographers and creatives. “Take the Shot” is the name of our new exhibition that marks the opening of the week.

I woke up today being so excited, that I don’t even need coffee to keep me awake.

I can’t explain you that feeling when you step into the room full of photographers that you know and love, and whose work has been shining at you from your computer and phone screens, and here they are, all sitting and chatting around. Ben Von Wong cruising around on his boosted board, and Lee and Patrick from FStoppers sipping their coffees, and when you can answer David’s Hobby of strobist.com about the lights that we are using for his class, and when Zack Arias of deadpixel gives you a hug, and Elia Locardi tells you about the price of wine in the hotel they are staying, and Sara Lando is so beautiful you can’t stop photographing her.

A year ago I was a student in this event, today I am a part of the team. I listened to every word every photographer told me in the last 365 days, I stepped out of every comfort zone I could find, I smiled and I took pictures.

I thank each one of you who contributed in me being where I am. Nowhere else I’d rather be in this moment in life… Let the magic begin.12967923_10153585486115885_872443035724092111_o

P.S. Thank you Eric Kim for your awesome talk last year. You’re a very inspirational person.

Thank you GPP team, I know how hard you work but it’s all worth it.

Much love,

Anna