Story telling: the art of photography

As Gulf Photo Plus continues to build momentum with its latest event in Singapre with renowned photographer Gregory Heisler, Vision explores the nature of light and its role within portrait photography

In his recent book, Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits, the renowned American photographer offers some advice on photographic technique. In particular, he shares his thoughts on lighting – an area he is considered a master of. He writes: “Robert Capa once said: ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.’ I might paraphrase this slightly as ‘If your picture isn’t good enough, your light isn’t close enough’.”

It’s no surprise then that Dubai-based Gulf Photo Plus’s (GPP) ‘pop-up’ weekend event in Singapore, which Heisler is talking at, has a keen focus on the creative lighting process and the importance of appropriate lighting for portrait photography.

“Lighting plays a big part for photographers, whether it’s available light when shooting street photography or a large production in a studio using multiple flashes and strobe equipment,” explains GPP’s Ebla Maleh. “It's what makes an ordinary scene extraordinary, and many amateurs as well as advanced photographers struggle with it – they are easily intimidated by the number of options available, the science behind lighting and also juggling the many components that are required in making a shoot successful.”

Joe McNally photo
Renowned photographer Joe McNally uses powerful lighting in his portrait photography

Heisler’s book provides plenty of examples of his mastery of the area, from his dramatic image of Muhammad Ali haunted by Parkinson’s disease – an island of dignity in a snow-covered landscape – to his ‘two-faced’ portrait of former US President George Bush. “I often try and bring my light as close to the subject as I can,’ continues Heisler in 50 Portraits. “A common misconception I’ve heard from students is, ‘If you bring the light in close, won’t it get harsh?’ No, it won’t get harsh. In fact it will actually get soft.”

For the Singapore event, Heisler is joined by photographers Joe McNally, Louis Pang and Zack Arias. “All of our speakers are lighting experts,” says Maleh. “They have a way of teaching lighting that is simple yet very impactful, whether it’s Joe McNally showing what you can do with a couple of small flash lights or Greg Heisler's much more advanced techniques where, for example, he lights a large indoor studio to make it look like it is midday.”

Louis Pang photo
Louis Pang uses lighting to create unique looks

In March, the annual, week-long Gulf Photo Plus event in Dubai attracted nearly 3,000 photography enthusiasts and professionals from 44 countries, and the Singapore pop-up is the second in a series of events that will see GPP hosting photography-filled weekends across the globe. Says Maleh: “We select the speakers based on their ability not just to impart photo knowledge but also because they have a vast amount of experience to share.” And as 50 Portraits shows – with its selection of world famous political leaders, pop stars, athletes and more – Heisler certainly has no shortage of stories to tell.