I’ve had a privilege to attend GPP PopUp in Berlin last month. It took place in Babylon cinema located close to Alexanderplatz – the main square in Berlin. Like one of GPP organizers, Mohamed Somji said “it is a pocket version of what you can expect from GPP Photo Week in Dubai”. If this was just a pocket, I want to see whole thing! Not only was it the best photography related event I’ve ever attended but I’ve also met, shake hands with, spoke and had a beer with Zack Arias, David Hobby, Joe McNally and Gregory Heisler!
First talk was given by Joe McNally. You should know him from his work for National Geographic, LIFE magazine and more. We’ve had a chance to see a lot of his recent work with behind the scenes commentary where he explained exactly how he went from an idea to a picture.
He presented his thought process and how he progresses from an idea to one light, then second, third and further. He also talked about how to make everything working, how to work with people on set and keep it running even when not everything goes as planned.
What I particularly liked was what he said about photographing people:
“It’s the human relations exercise not f-stop and shutter speed exercise. You’re given a gift of them being in front of your camera and you have to repay them with being excellent to them”. After short break Joe actually created some images with two models. It was amazing to see him actually doing it from start to finish while explaining what is happening and why. He was also really entertaining during the whole process, so not only the audience but also models and assistants have had some fun.
Next speaker, Zack Arias, known for his One Light workshops, love for Fujifilm X-Series cameras and no BS approach (actually, this one is what they all have in common) made his point comparing being a photographer to being a director on a movie set. During the model shoot he spoke a lot about working with all kinds of people – from art directors to make-up artists to models and assistants. He advised to “be the biggest idiot on a set”. What he meant by that is that we as photographer are responsible for everything that happens during the shoot. So own it, whether everything is good or something bad is about to hit the fan. He also spoke about the importance of knowing your gear and being prepared for rapid changes, like sitting on a movie set and waiting for 6 hours just to hear “OK, you have 10 minutes from now to get that frame”.
Side note for FujiLovers: he was shooting tethered X-T2 with 16-55mm f/2.8 and 35mm f/2, but it wasn’t about the gear at all.
In terms of value, one of the best things that happened on Saturday evening – the PopUp Mixer. We all went to a pub called Volksbar (somewhere between 150-200 people I suppose) to get to know each other better. I’ve met dozens of great people – both professional photographers and enthusiasts, had unique opportunity to have a chat with Gregory Heisler (what a great man he is!) and David Hobby (another great human being) and couple of beers (and best schwarama in my life) with Zack Arias. Now I know how the teenage girl has to feel when Justin B gives her a hug! But I’ve learned so much at the same time. Unfortunately I couldn’t split myself to too many pieces so I haven’t had a chance to spend more time with Joe McNally. I’ve also met Sara Lando, who is known among others from GPP Shoot Outs, which you can watch on YouTube (you should really check it, it’s lot of fun).
Sunday started with Gregory Heisler. Do I have to introduce him? He shot over 70 TIME Magazine covers (more than any other photographer as far as I’m aware) and you should definitely check his book: “50 Portraits: Stories and Techniques from a Photographer’s Photographer”.
Light bows down before him. If you give someone else 50k$ in lighting equipment he will beat them with 40$ Home Depot fluorescent tube – I know, because that’s exactly what he used to create a beautiful portrait of Alina Ebner, one of the models on set. Just by moving around this extremely affordable and widely available light source he presented and explained how light source size and distance both from the model and the background influences the picture. All this without having to use words “inverse square law” which immediately make everyone feel worse. He also taught us a lot about being a photographer – thousands of hours worth of experience accumulated in 4 hours. There was also a lot of behind the scenes stories while he was presenting some of his iconic portraits.
Then there was David Hobby also known as Strobist – but don’t call him Strobist when you’ll see him having a dinner at a restaurant with his family (ask him why when you’ll have a chance). As he promised that he will never talk about the lighting or shoot after Gregory Heisler, he has focused on business and ethics side of photography.
His message, with which I totally agree, was that focusing mainly on income is not going to get you very far in long term. Focusing on your strengths, on what else you can do and combining it together with passion to create value is what ultimately gets you far further than anything else, which I personally see more and more throughout my life. It was full of really practical advices on how to boost your portfolio, visibility and how to exploit some free online services and your own local community, how personal projects can lead you to something bigger than you could expect.
Last but not least there was Zack Arias again – this time with a short talk about street photography with Fujifilm. He shared not only loads of useful tricks on how to approach streets with camera but also showcased some of his best work along with some funny and interesting stories behind them.
What was most important for me – they all were so approachable and it was so easy to have a chat with them, that something just clicked inside me. It seems obvious, but it came to me that at some point they could have same struggles as everyone else. The difference is the amount of time they spent on exploring the subject, situation, light. When most of the photographers are fine with what they get or just tired or bored, they are looking for other ways to show their vision. When other photographers look at the new gear, MFT charts and pixels, they are shooting pictures, calling potential clients or doing something that is going to move them forward. And they’re sharing their knowledge and experience just like that. Can you imagine Apple saying “This is exactly how we do it, if you want better results try this, and by the way – Microsoft’s new Surface is mind blowing, make sure you try it out”? Me too. But that’s what they do – they believe that there is enough space for all photographers and it actually makes world a nicer place.
Really nice thing to notice – there were only three small stands: Fujifilm – the headline sponsor of Pop Up GPP, Profoto and PROBIS (partners). It was the first time I’ve seen such small and not annoying or distracting advertising fingerprint.
I left Berlin with head full of things to think about, ideas to execute and pictures to shoot, but most importantly – with a lot of great, like-minded people on my contact list. People, that I will really look forward to see in the future.