Gulf Photo Plus In Dubai Should Not Be Missed

Last year Patrick and I were invited out to Dubai to attend Gulf Photo Plus, a photography workshop unlike anything else on the planet. At the time the only thing I knew about GPP was that they did a shootout with 3 big name photographers. I never expected that attending this event would become one of the most memorable experiences of my life.


The deal was simple, GPP would pay our way to the event on the other side of the world if we created 2 videos for them. The first video would be a promo video that would be used to promote the 2014 workshop (above) and the second video was completely up to us. We decided to sit down with as many of the instructors as we could and interview them about what it took for them to become successful in photography. This video on success was released a few months after the event and you can read about the creation of that video here.

I didn't know a thing about GPP before last years event. I honestly didn't even know that there were individual workshops because the only thing I had ever seen was the shootout that they do with 3 big names at the end of their event each year (view Zack, Joey L, and David Hobby going at it here) . Being that the workshop was in Dubai, I always shrugged it off as something that was completely unattainable. I knew (at least I thought I knew) I would never get to go there so I never took the time to learn about the event.


burj kalifa tallest building in the worldAlthough I had no idea what to expect with GPP as an event, I had heard a lot about the city of Dubai. I had watched videos and documentaries for years about the creation of this almost mythical city.  This town in the middle of the desert has the tallest building in the world, the largest mall in the world, an indoor ski slope (in the desert), man made islands in the shape of palm trees and the planet earth, and more wealth per person than any city in America.


When Patrick and I arrived in Dubai we ran into Zack Arias, a GPP veteran, in line at customs. We got to pick his brain about what the next few days would look like and my excitement grew even more. That night we got to meet all of the instructors for the event as well as Mo and Hala who were the masterminds behind the event. Mo and Hala turned out to be some of the nicest people we have ever met, and their hospitality towards everyone made the jet lag and cultural transitions much easier to adapt to than expected.
Gulf Photo Plus Dubai Skyline
Unlike all of the other instructors who had to focus on their particular classes, Patrick and I had the ability to sit in on the majority of the courses. After the second day I started to realize that this event isn't just about learning photography, GPP is an experience, an experience so incredible that I recommend it to every photographer I know.


Photography workshops these days are really prevalent. I go to at least 5 major workshops every single year. I've been to local workshops with 10 students and I've been to WPPI in Vegas with tens of thousands of photographers in attendance. Obviously one thing that makes a workshop valuable are the instructors and GPP has always managed to have the very best in the world. 2014 will have Gregory Heisler, David Hobby, Zack Arias, and Lindsay Adler to name just a few. But these photographers alone don't set GPP apart, the experience does.


Dubai Skyline Gulf Photo PlusOnce I saw who was teaching at GPP I knew it was going to be a solid workshop. Good teachers = good workshop. But when you take some of the best photography teachers in the world and put them all in one of the most incredible settings in the world (Dubai), you have so much more than a "good workshop." Attending GPP was like going on the most incredible vacation of my life while also having one on one lessons from some of the biggest names in photography today.

The variety in the classes offered is unlike anything you can experience anywhere else. One morning I had access to photograph some of the most modern buildings in the world from the top of an office building. That afternoon I went into the desert and did a fashion photoshoot on location with camel farmers. That night I attended another class that ended up on one of the palm islands where we were shooting sunset shots of the entire Dubai skyline. The next day I was a bus with Joe McNally heading to "old Dubai" and the local fish market. Each of these locations felt like I was in a completely different country. Within a 5 mile radius we were visiting some of the most contrasting scenes in the world. One minute I'm taking a portrait of someone who literally lives in a tent in the desert and the next I'm photographing a million dollar sports car outside the biggest mall in the world.


I know the majority of photographers in the US are probably just like me and instantly disregard GPP because it's so far away, but I can assure you that this workshop is within reach. Flights to Dubai are less than $1000, the majority of students (and all of the instructors) stay at a very reasonably priced Holiday Inn Express. The majority of the courses are much less than comparable workshops in the US. For the price of a new camera and lens you could easily afford this whole trip (and like all continuing education, it's all a write off for your photography business)!
fstoppers in dubai
Workshops are great. They can be fun, they can help us become better photographers. For those of us who do this for a living, workshops should actually make us money in the long run because we are able to improve our businesses by learning from the best. But GPP is more than another workshop. Gulf Photo Plus is not only the best photography workshop I have ever been to, it is also the best vacation I have ever been on. I have found that the new camera I have lusted over never makes me a better photographer, and it definitely has never given me an unforgettable experience.  Gulf Photo Plus will teach you photography in a way that is simply not possible anywhere else in the world.


Lee Morris's picture

Lee Morris is a professional photographer based in Charleston SC, and is the co-owner of

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So take me, boss


Yeah you can also take a chance on ending up in the Dubai hoosegow. Lots of westerners have. Trips to countries that do not follow any rules of law should be avoided.

That's the beauty of being associated with GPP and under their umbrella. Unless you rented a car and left the group altogether, I do not see how you would get in trouble in any way. GPP has sort of a resort type mentality. Lee and I did break out of that safety net at times (we had a rental car) but the majority of people would never leave the group like we did.

I travelled to Abu Dhabi, it's a near-by emirate, and had absolutely no
problems touring in the main city or the areas outside it. My group and
I, unrelated males & females, were polite and observed speed limits
and any other posted signs. We visited mosques, high end hotels, pubs,
desert towns and the Empty Quarter over ten days without a single
issue. Yes there are cultural practices that everyone needs to be aware of
but please don't bash a country due to ignorance.

I wonder how the thousands of expats manage to stay out of the "hoosegow".

Dubai Sentences European Rape Victim to 16 Months in Jail

Two Westerners Are Sentenced to Three Months in a Dubai Jail

Horrifying: Australian Woman Gang Raped in Dubai – Then Jailed 8 Months for Sex Outside Marriage

As soon as you quit your job in Dubai, your employer has to inform your
bank. If you have any outstanding debts that aren't covered by your
savings, then all your accounts are frozen, and you are forbidden to
leave the country

What happens in Dubai stays in Dubai (Dubai's jails, that is)

Just a sample of what Google brings up.


These are indeed examples of a system of law that is very different than our own and one that does not treat women fairly or equally. Two women were raped and that's horrible. Unfortunately, I fail to find "lots" of situations and if you read beyond the headline of your second example you'll find that these individuals committed a lewd act that would be considered a crime in a number of states.

These incidents should not be overlooked but so shouldn't the fact that most westerners visit this country without incident. I'm not disputing that there is a darker side to Dubai but your examples do refer mostly to individuals who have worked in Dubai and not tourists travelling to a convention. I don't see any gov. travel advisories either.

Here is another stat, there are more Australian tourists jailed in the US than in any other foreign country. Should Australians avoid the USA in order to stay out of the US hoosegow?

It must be nice to be as blind as you to the turmoils of the world...

Nah, that place is built in the backs of immigrant laborers with absolutely no rights.

And is one the international hubs of the sex trade.

Can't you say that too of the US....western hub for the drug trade? Obviously the middle east has different cultural and social norms but you can't blame the whole city or the organizers of a workshop for every problem in the region. It's easy to pigeon hole an ideal or region when you've never experienced it life with an open mind and make the judgement yourself after experiencing it yourself.

Its not a middle east culture thing or religion thing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the religion. It's the Amsterdam of the middle east. Not a damn thing to with anything other than bad people and hub of shadiness. Bangkok is in there too.

I guess we should forget about a trip down to Las Vegas, too.
For some actual facts try this link, The U.A.E is on the list but their explanation is slightly different than yours.

"According to Conor Knighton, an investigative reporter, this demand runs rampant due to the “the ability to buy sex so easily, while the government looks the other way.” This, he continues, “has certainly kept many of the tourist and businessmen who visit Dubai coming back.”[8]"

Pretty sure that is exactly what I said.

It has to do with the money and the business done in the area. Rich business men (mostly) fly in often for dealings and its an easy sell. Lax rules on human rights.

I'm pretty sure many of the readers can't ever visit it because of the restriction on anyone that happens to be Jewish from entering the country... I'd love to go, but some things just aren't possible.

Correction to this, only Israelites are restricted from entering UAE.

Geez guys. You're killing me here. I was just offered a chance to buy air tickets to Dubai around the time of GPP next year for next to nothing. The equivalent in USD would be about $500. I'm seeing tickets from JFK to Dubai around that time are over 1000 bucks.

Here's my concern, though. I've got a shoot I can't miss on March 8th If I left on March 9th, I'd get there late that night, so I can only start attending on March 10th. Would it still be worth it?

Also, anyone want to be my friend while I'm there? :P Hahaha. I just got back from Japan and absolutely DIED of loneliness while I was out there.

I think it is still worth it because you are going to want to spend some time enjoying the city anyway. Plus the "shootout" is at the end of the week. If I were you I'd stay a few days after the event to explore or visit other cities in the area.

Yeah, that's what I've been thinking as well. I'll probably stay there until the 19th or so to experience the city a little better.

Are you going next year again, Lee?

Man, I'm just bummed that I'll miss the first couple of days :/

I'm not sure yet. It's up to GPP

Hey Lee, what do the workshops normally cost?

A country that stands for luxury to the expense of other people, marginalisation of women (to say the least), NO environmental laws or concern any where and disputable banking practices...

Yeah let's all go there and contribute to their tourism....

Really, meh? I live in a western country and we suffer from these same issues.

Which "western" country? I'm guessing you are speaking of some south american countries?

No, I live in Canada.

US here.....our politics, consumption-ism, and banking practices are some of the worst in the world. If you are an America you ARE the 1% of the world in terms of luxury lifestyle. I don't think it's fair to make such judgments without experiences their culture first hand.

Wait... he wasn't talking about the U.S.?

Still not as bacwards and revoltingly patriarchal as the emirats...

Keep telling yourself that "it's not too bad" if it helps you, but it's clearly not...

EDIT: read through a few of these... clearly an open minded, tolerant country... -_-

I can honestly say Dubai is more westernized than many cities in America (especially the south). While there I saw muslims line dancing in a Texas BBQ restaurant, religious women shopping at Victoria's Secret, and went to an Irish Pub and had a few beers. There are some things you can do that will clearly get you arrested (for a day or two) or fined but most of those things would be a visitor blatantly disrespecting the cultural norms (like drinking in public, wearing Victoria's Secret in the mall, swearing out loud, etc). I'm not telling myself it's not too bad, I am remembering my experience I actually had while there :)

I also live in Canada and you can't possibly compare the shithole that Dubai is to ANY city in Canada.

Canada has a mayor that just openly admitted to smoking crack and the country is better than its richer neighbor to the south. Quit saying Canada is "suffering". The US and Canada have the means to fix any thing at home if they REALLY want to. They just dont.

Along with Israel, saudi Arabia, some african counties and a couple of other states, Dubai is a place that looks alright, but doesn't deserve the income my stay would bring until they fix the way they run the place. And as a (hobby)photographer, I don't want to help them "polish a turd"

Pat & Lee, My wife and I are Americans living in Dubai, and would love to pick you guys up at the airport, drop you at the hotel, grab some food on the way if you want. We used to live in Charleston and as I'm personally a fan, I'd love to meet you guys. Happy to show you around while you're here too, whatever you guys are up for. We've only been here about 6 months (arrived like 1 one week after GPP13!), but I have managed to get some rooftop access in a couple different buildings for some high altitude shots if you're interested. Let me know.

- Jeff

That sounds great Jeff. I'm not sure if we are going to be out at GPP this year or not. I hope my trip this year is not my last though; it's an amazing place and I def would love to explore more landscape photography there since that is a field of photography I often neglect. Since you live there, I hope you are signing up for their 2014's an awesome way to network with people in the region.

Yeah I skipped the short one last month to save up for GPP14. Like I said, missed last year by one week and I was totally bummed. Let me know if you guys are in town! Has Lee decided if he's going?

Workshops are good for n00bs but the only way you're going to get better as a photographer is to shoot more.

To some degree I agree with this but I think it's important to push yourself outside your own imagination. It's kind of like the saying "perfect practice makes perfect." People can "practice" all the time and still become bland at their craft. I can only speak for myself but watching how Heisler approched some of his biggest photoshoots like George Bush (Sr and Jr), Mohamed Ali, and Mayor Giuliani really made me re evaluate how I approach my own portraits. Plus with all of these workshops, you are shooting beside the great, not just listening to them.

Yeah, blowing 10k going to a workshop is going to make you the next John Keatley, Greg Heisler, David Hobby, etc..

No....but it might make you the next you :) Seriously though, this thing costs about $3000-$5000 depending on where you are flying in from. If you are at the point of spending a few grand on your own productions for your shoots, then yeah you are probably beyond the point of needing workshops.