Ravi's in Dubai

How often do you feel like you are busting your ass and gaining zero traction? How often do you feel like your work won’t be noticed? How often do you look at other people and wonder why they are traveling the world and you aren’t? How many of you think I’m a pretentious prick because I’m blogging from Dubai? Let me tell you a little story.

Six years ago I didn’t have a passport. Six years ago I was busting my ass trying to build my name as a photographer. I was doing a good job in my local market but I dreamed of seeing the world. I wanted to get out of North America and experience new cultures, eat new food, hear new music, and meet new people. It was painful reading posts from fellow photographers who were jet setting around the globe with a camera in hand and shooting and/or teaching in new and exciting places.

One day in 2008 I was going through my RSS reader and catching up on some blogs. David Hobby’s Strobist being one of those. My feed refreshed and my heart sank. I read this post about David spending a week in Dubai teaching at Gulf Photo Plus. He was teaching alongside amazing photographers in a city that was on my top three destinations bucket list; places I wanted to visit at some point in my life. My heart sank because I felt defeated for some reason. I felt like I was passed over. I felt like I was working hard and nobody noticed much. I wasn’t seeking fame or fortune but it seemed that really interesting opportunities were always happening for other people. I was jealous. I was envious. I was depressed. I had a good ol’ fashioned pity party.


Why Can't I Do Cool Stuff Too?


I got over it and kept going. Kept shooting. Kept working. Kept teaching. Kept blogging. Then one day, maybe three or four months later, I received an email from a guy named Mohamed Somji. Mohamed is the director of Gulf Photo Plus. He was writing to ask if I would be interested in flying out to Dubai to teach. David Hobby had given him my name. Most likely David was telling Mohamed about me right around the time I had my big pity party.

Fast forward a few years: I just got home from teaching at GPP for the fifth year in a row. Spring isn’t the same if I don’t go to Dubai. How pretentious does that sound? Quite. I get that. Track my life back five, ten, fifteen years, and you’ll see that one little step led to the next. That led to the next. On and on and it goes. That whole thousand-mile-journey-starts-with-the-first-step stuff.

mo_footballMohamed Somji (right) joins a football game in Marrakech. 


So what’s my point? How often do you look at other people and think the grass is greener under their feet? Do you wonder why they get the jobs instead of you? Why are they on a plane heading somewhere and you aren’t? Why do some people just have it fall in their lap when you are fighting to stay alive just one more day? I want you to stop and think about how hard those folks have worked. How often they were passed over. How little they had, and a lot of the times, how little they still have to work with. I heard it said once that you are watching their highlights reel while you’re living in your behind-the-scenes reel.


The last thing I want you to ponder is this: Who is talking about you right now that you won’t find out about for months or, possibly, years from now? My friend Marc once landed a great job that led to regular work two years after sending out a series of promos. Two years until his phone rang. Patience sucks doesn’t it?


Keep working. Keep doing what you are doing. Keep transmitting signal even when you think no one is listening. Keep getting better. Be driven even when it’s dark. Stop the pity parties and get to work. Then… When… If… an opportunity comes your way, bust your ass to give 110%. Let that opportunity, no matter how large or small, lead you to the next. And to the next. Then in five, ten, fifteen years you’re going to look back and string it all together.



Zack Arias

A full time commercial and editorial photographer, Zack shoots everything from bands to CEOs to ad campaigns. A gifted teacher and communicator, he has an uncanny ability to meet and connect with all types of people.

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  1. Faisal Khatib

    Just the kind of read I needed. Thanks. Hope you enjoyed Dubai and Marrakesh… 🙂

  2. manu

    Inspiring post…thank u so much 🙂

  3. Ed Castillo

    Well said! I do get tired of the “woe is me” s#*t that others tend to post. It’s awesome reading about you, following you, and most of all learning from you. Even at three years into this, I’m still way new to it all. It’s a hobby slowly progressing into a business. It’s not a race, so long as we keep at it, we will all make it one day.

    • Ed Castillo

      I have to appolgize, I feel like an ass for posting this. I saw your recent video of the shoot out at GPP, heard your story and it made me cry. Then I read Meg’s story and cried even more. Some people are going through hard times, and me whining about the whole “woe is me” was stupid. I went through depression about 7 years ago, I survived it, and life is now good…I’m sorry…I hope you both find happiness and balance. Oh, and now you both inspire me 🙂

  4. Drew Roberts

    Yeah. That’s all good. But. Ummm, what camera and lens did you shoot that first one with??? (…ducks and runs…)

    Seriously, thought, great information.

    I am not a photographer by trade. I love photography as a semi-serious hobby, but to pay the bills, I am a quasi IT, marketing and operations guy. There is no job description which would possibly encompass all the crap that I’m doing.

    I have more stress in my life than I ever expected possible, and I love it. With a full plate, I sometimes take on new shit because even if it adds more stress, it helps to add one more layer to my skill set. Whatever the hell that skill set is.

    I push on and know that if I push on, good things will come. I’ve never asked for a raise or a promotion. Those came organically as my efforts spoke for themselves. It’s ALL about perseverance and patience.

    So all that stuff you wrote above?


    Love ya, Zack.

  5. Jeremy

    Thanks for this, Zack.

    One thing I will add—if you don’t have an abundance of money or patience—is this: You don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to see other cultures.

    Stop envying the jet-set and start scouting your own backyard. Within two hour’s drive of anywhere in North America there is: a native reservation, an ethnic community, a homeless shelter, a natural monument, a place to go off the grid for a week and just shoot macro photos of mushrooms, if that’s your bag… the possibilities way closer than you tell yourself.

    Don’t set yourself up with fake obstacles like “I can’t afford to shoot there,” or “I don’t have that guys’s gear.” Dump your bucket list for a weekend, and go draw from the local well. Make your local competition wonder where the hell you got those shots. Then put some of the money you saved in the bank—for GPP 2016, maybe.

    • Zack Arias

      @Jeremy – GREAT point! Thank you for saying that. It’s so true. One that is lost on me far too often.


    • Rob W


      That comment hits me hard. I live in Alaska and have told myself so often “If only I lived in Seattle or New York I could be amazing.”

      I’m just starting to open my eyes and realize there are a ton of people right here that need their picture taken and I’m confident I can give them the best work.

      So while I still yearn to explore the world, I’m learning to explore home too.


      • Jeremy

        Hey as bad as anyone, and I live in Toronto!

        • Jeremy

          (I’m) as bad as anyone. Especially typing.

      • jjdarling

        I live in New York and often think “If I lived in Alaska I’d have way less competition.”

        I realize as I’m thinking it that I’m totally spoiled living where I do and that I’m ungrateful and wasting opportunities, but such is life.

      • Riswandi Koedreat


        Funny how I thought that Alaska would make a better playground for photography than my country. So hope that makes you feel so much better.
        I live in Indonesia BTW, and I bet there are people who would kill to be able to visit the country to make some great photographs.
        Keep shooting and cheers


    • Mai

      This is bang on. So much culture in our own cities. And thank you Zack for writing this.

  6. Iain Anderson

    Hey Zack,

    Going by your timeline I must have found you right around said pity party. If I remember correctly it was through a link from David Hobby who I had stumbled across when I didn’t know my OFC from my ISO.

    Right now it’s 6.20am on Saturday. My wife will be out of bed soon. She’s going into work (unpaid) for a family gathering day – she works at the bone & tissue donor bank.

    I’m excited about driving her there, dropping her off, and spending a few hours around the city shooting ‘lines’.

    But while I’m sitting here all self satisfied that I’m getting out there, making signal, doing the hard graft like Zack says – I can’t help but reflect that it’s her that busts ass. Every day. I really don’t care if I never get to GPP. The most important thing in my life is right here.

    Going to put the kettle on & wake her up now.


    • Zack Arias

      @Iain – You get husband of the year. I’ll order the trophy. Well said.


      • Iain

        Hey Zack,

        Just watched the GPP shoot-out.

        Think you’d better order 2 trophies mate 🙂


  7. michael

    I love you man!

  8. Jim Shaw

    Well written Zack,I am retired and don’t have that burning in my gut to be “The Photographer” But do like the idea of people looking at my work. You are a inspiration for me. J

    • Zack Arias

      Well, give us a link! 🙂


  9. marc flemington

    I’m there Zack and I’m listening. Great post.

  10. Jim Donahue

    I’m 75 years old and I still am hoping and hoping and hoping. Never get down on yourself, you can’t see up when your looking down. I still have faith that someday I will be able to travel, camera in hand and be able to post a good one.

  11. Mark Loader

    @Jeremy…yeah absolutely. Be a tourist in your own home town/city. Just because you’ve driven past something a thousand times means you’ve actually “seen” it. And that’s what all this is about isn’t it? My friend Brett is a funny guy. At our beauty/fashion shoots while we’re all shooting, he just stands at the back watching, chatting. Then in the last 15 minutes out he comes and takes 10 shots to our hundred or so. His meagre 10 are ALL winners because all his photography was done well before he put his eye to the viewfinder. Bastard. I learned a lot from him. Seeing first…the key?

    • Zack Arias

      Great story Mark! Sounds he works like Heisler.


  12. Mo

    I needed to hear this today. Thank you for the reminder!

  13. Tomasz Kowalski

    Hi Zack.
    I like your demons.
    Your demons are mine, and I think that my demons are yours…

    ups and DOWNS. a lot DOWNS.

    I want to build something from darkness to reach the other side.

    I like your demons.
    Your demons are mine, too.

  14. Adam

    I used to be envious of colleges that travel the globe for work all the time.
    When chatting to them about it most a sick of the travel. Makes me wonder if it is a “grass is always greener” type of thing. Sure it would be great to travel but if you not taking your loved ones to experience it with then I guess that takes a lot of the shine off it.

  15. David Charles

    It’s been a pity party around here all winter. Lots of stress and drama, bad weather, cancellations and no shows by models on planned shoots. Yada, yada, yada. I love this post because it hit me at the best time. I have a few lines pics to get posted to flickr today (I quit Flickr not long ago, re-started my account just for dedpxl – then did nothing for a few weeks) and it’s hitting 53 here today, so I’m excited to get back out there again today. Thanks Zack!

  16. Simon

    Amazing words Zack!

    Especially since the “photography” part of it is really secondary to the message. It applies to all other job, career, etc…!!

  17. Nils

    NIce post!

    Today I went to an exhibition of the art collection of Gunther Sachs (famous german playboy, industrialist and photographer). A lot of great modern art, some Warhols, some Magritte, some great american Pin-Ups. A lot of people where standing in front of some of the works saying something like “Wow, this is art? I could have done this when I was five years old…”

    Well, most of the time I actually doubt that they could have done it. But even if they could: they didn’t. That’s the difference. Could have, would have, should have… Do it. Even if you suck at it first, do it. You actually might learn something…

    And now off to shoot lines 🙂 Keep on the great work, Zack!

    • Zack Arias

      Well said Nils. I hear a lot of folks complain “I could have done that.” Hell, I’ve said that many times myself. Then one day you realize what you just said… Yeah. But you didn’t shoot that did you?


  18. Ashley Jones

    “Keep transmitting signal even when you think no one is listening” – I LOVE this! That’s exactly what I am doing right now and hoping big things come from it down the road (preferably sooner than later, but I am patient and determined). Thank you for the encouragement!

    • Zack Arias

      Keep going Ashley!


  19. Ian

    badass. I just watched your shoot-out win from 2013. The f’ing cape entrance? One thing I noticed… you went all in. You can tell when someone is playing for keeps, and someone is holding back. You play for keeps. It’s inspiring.

  20. Brian Rodgers Jr.


    Even though I have heard this story before in previous interviews, it’s nice hearing it again. Still very inspiring. I love the quote “I heard it said once that you are watching their highlights reel while you’re living in your behind-the-scenes reel.” So true. Thanks for the post!

  21. Ellie Gotchal

    I, too, once sent out a series of promos then got a bunch of work two years later. A designer had loved them, pinned them up in her cubicle, then got in touch when the right project came along.

    But ZA, don’t you have some kind of giant catalog operation going on behind the scenes that pays yours bills? You’re not making all of your money freelancing, are you? It just doesn’t add up, all of the gear you have and the other stuff. Don’t I recall you posting once how you met someone at your church which turned into a firehose of work?

    I’m really curious.

    You DO have a gift, and I’m a long time reader, ever since that video you made long ago with that little video camera everyone had at the time (forget the name, how time flies.) It was a poignant and touching piece, and so funny too at the beginning with your sarcastic take about teaching new photoshop tricks or something. Which is all to say, that I think you’re a good man and deserve it all.

    Oh, and how cool is it that you and David Alan Harvey are buds? Great photo of your wife that he made.

    I like the new dedpxl. Don’t like that the first thing you see though is you selling crap. Give us the info, THEN tempt us to buy. It’s ungentlemanly for goodness sakes! 🙂

    And that thing with the section of cool stuff we should see? Meh, I don’ think we need another listing on the web of random cool stuff we should see. But all due respect, that is your call sir!

    I love my xt1. I own the 14 and 23. Do I sell and buy the 10-24. We MUST know! Tell us, Zackarooni!


    • Zack Arias

      @EG – I did have a lot of catalog work going on. I have split that off this year with two partners. I brought the equity of the studio and the gear and they are dealing with the day to day. It isn’t very much income for me now. I have mainly been living on my freelance editorial and commercial work with a small percent of income coming from speaking and teaching gigs. I retired the OneLight workshop two years ago to concentrate on shooting for awhile.

      Give you info first? What have I been doing for the past several years? What was my Q&A blog all about? How about all the stuff I had on main blog? Reviews. Tutorials. Discussions. How is it that I somehow owe people free shit before I put a shingle out advertising my wares?

      I made the decision to lead off with “crap for sale” on DEDPXL to put it out there that DEDPXL has to bring income in if I’m going to do what I want to do with it. I’ve been blogging and posting stuff on the Internet for years without any expectation of income being derived from it. I want to blog for awhile now. I want to work on new personal projects. I want to be in control of my travel schedule more than I am now. I want to let a few editorial clients go so I can pull back, shoot new work, and then go fish in new waters.

      The beauty of being self employed is I can ebb and flow with what I do and when I do it. I taught for awhile and then pulled back. I shot for awhile and now I’m pulling back. Not from shooting per se but what I shoot this year is what I want to shoot. Not what is assigned to me.

      As far as the section of cool stuff, that’s Meg’s domain. She sees us photographers staying too focused on photography and she’s a great curator of interesting things that are inspirational outside of photography.

      Anyway… Stick around. I have a lot of plans for DEDPXL. 80% of what I want to do here will be free to you. I’m hoping the other 20% will fund it so I can keep it going. Have I put out a shit product yet? Stick with me. Have a bit of faith. It’s going to be good.


      • Ellie Gotchal

        Thanks, Zack, for the measured and polite response. I feel dumb now for laying on the snark. Apologies. I’m along for the ride. Make that SINCERE apologies.

        I guess with a big enough audience, advertising and Amazon links, it’s possible to survive as a blogger. David Hobby did it / does it in a HUGE way, right?

        You DO have a gift, Zack, as a communicator. I’m staying tuned.

        • Zack Arias

          No worries Ellie!


      • Mai

        You would be someone I would love to have a Coffee with one day. Good work.

  22. Paresh


  23. Rungroj Rojanachotikul

    I was in the self pity spot the other day, thinking about how I’m not being recognise for what I do and here I am reading your article, a person who i really look up to.
    Thanks for your awesome article man

    much love

  24. Fred

    Damn Zack, great message… and timely as hell for me… I needed this right about now. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Dave Sundstrom

    Awesome post Zack!

    It’s all about momentum, you have to keep the ball rolling and hopefully it’ll eventually pick up enough speed to take you to where you want to go.

  26. Rob W

    Hey Zack!

    Im almost 23 years old and have been taking pictures for several years now.

    I was shy and reserved and sans-backbone when I started and I ended up losing a lot of momentum early on when I took a two year sabbatical which ended with me now trying to start rolling that ball once more. (Whoops run-on).

    I often feel like I wasted so much time and like Im so far behind.

    I really appreciate your work and your blog for helping me be patient but hungry. I’ll get that ball moving even if it means breaking my new found spine 😉

    • Rob W

      ha! didn’t see the comment just before mine until just now

  27. Sara Lando

    You know what the weird thing is? I was you, a couple of years later. Looking at your blog and thinking you had it all figured out, asking myself: “why not me?”, wondering why everybody else seemed to have it easy but me.
    I just spent a week teaching to people all over the world and my name was right next to yours and I feel smaller than I felt back then, still wondering why everyone else seems to “have it” and I’m still just me, trying to figure it out.

    One thing happened in Dubai that floored me: meeting you and Heisler at breakfast and realizing you were both freaking out about the day ahead of you, probably even more than I was, mentally asking the gods of photography to look down and smile, to cut you some slack.
    There and then I realized it just never ends, it never “gets better”, so to speak.
    I spent so much energy to get to the top of the hill and from there I could see how much longer the road ahead of me was. And then I started to see the huge freaking mountain in the distance.
    I’m gonna climb that motherfucker, for the sole reason that it’s there and I have to.

    I’m right there, chasing you chasing what’s in front of you. Behind me a bazillion people younger than me, stronger than me, more connected, assuming I know what I’m doing and I have it easy while I curse my camera because everything is so. freaking. hard.
    But if there’s one thing I learnt from long distance running is that you honestly can’t say who’s going to be at the finish line by looking at people at the start of a marathon.
    Natural talent is a 100m advantage. Connections can keep your spirit high when you pass that 10k water station. But at the end of the day you either endure or you don’t.
    And I’m sure there are people who are way more talented than I am, who have it easier.
    But I’m fucking relentless.

    • Zack Arias

      Damn Sara. I can see why Meghan is leaving me for you. 🙂

      It’s awesome to watch you run and climb. I’m going to climb that motherfucker too. See you at the top. Save me a seat when you get there.


  28. Kunal Mehta

    Hello Zack

    You are a true inspiration. You are a mentor i would love to have and work with one day. I am still waiting for that call from you to say Kunal we would love for you to work for our studio. Please keep me on your list and let me know if I can ever do anything.

    Thanking you for being who you are and doing what you do.


    • Zack Arias

      Thanks Kunal. You’re pretty much at a point where working with me isn’t going to get you any further ahead. You’ve grown by leaps in bounds since we first met.


      • Kunal Mehta

        Hey Zack

        Those are very kind words. I believe there is always room for learning. I want to move into commercial photography using my knowledge from past 8+ years of wedding photography experience and i believe i have lots of learning to do and I believe in learning from the best. I will wait for a phone call or email.

        Thanking you again


  29. Kaisa

    Great post! Because it’s so true. And sometimes it’s too easy to think that other people have more luck (slippery slope to pity party). Well, what the heck. Nope, it’s just life happens and while having a little bit of luck is jolly good then nothing truly great thrives on luck only.

  30. oscar

    great post Zack! Thanks for keeping it real, it’s what keeps me coming back.

  31. Hitesh

    Zack I have a great appreciation of your work as a photographer, but a huge amount of respect for you as a person. Posts like this are the reason that I’m here on dedpxl. Keep up the great work. You are an inspiration.

  32. Byron

    Just throw a wild PITY PARTY this week! Still suffering from the hangover! That said after reading this post Zack, this was the right hangover cure.

  33. Mockstar

    Hi Zack. You have no idea how much this resonates with me right now. I feel like I’m at a crossroads, and I’m experiencing a lot of sadness because my photography career is not where I want it to be. I just started delving into this site and can’t wait to dig in deeper. Thanks for a really insightful post.

  34. Rey Cuba

    Sometimes I feel living in a big, huge, gigantic Iceberg lost at sea and my problems are not common to anyone.

    Reading your post was a huge ahhhhh, I am not the only one. Of course I am just studying and learning, but dream doesn´t cost anything.


  35. Richard Wong

    Words of inspiration, Zack. Love your honesty. Kudos for plugging away at it and getting to where you are.

  36. Kemp Howland

    I think you are the Dale Carnegie of your day. Inspire. Teach. Lead. Do.

    Many thanks.