I keep telling people that Gulf Photo Plus is the most unique and enjoyable photography conference in the world and this year it didn’t disappoint. The most maddening and stressful and best-est part of GPP is the shootout for the closing night. Normally there are three photographers pitted against each other. This year it was only two of us; Sara Lando and myself.

Last year, I was up against Lindsay Adler and John Keatley and I knew I had to do something to kick their ass. You can see that shootout here. This year I decided to do something different. This year I walked in with a preconceived idea. In the world of hip hop battles you could say that I showed up with a written rhyme. This year was for Meg. Let me give you the back story.

Before Meghan and I got married she was a single parent of one child. She was a touring musician and she was just starting to see the embers of her music career turn into a flame. We got married and blended our families. I brought my two boys to the mix. Then, to the shock of us all, Hawke Danger surprised us. He literally was a honeymoon baby. In the course of one year Meg went from being a single mom with one child to being married with four kids. BAM! Needless to say that flame of her music career was extinguished. The unfortunate discussion she and I have had too many times is my career makes us money and her career costs us money.

Meg put her career aside for mine.


Meg has been through a lot in her life; starting with her mother dying when Meg was thirteen. Meg is the oldest of four so she jumped into grown up life very quickly. She’s always been strong. She’s always come through. The weight of all this staying strong was bearing down on her and last year, when I was at Gulf Photo Plus acting a fool for that shootout, Meg was at home and was done with life. The short of the story is I almost had to leave in the middle of GPP last year to get home and take over for Meg. What saved us was the love and support of our family. I was able to finish my trip and once I got home Meg checked out for awhile. You can read about her side of the story here.

We are in a better place than last year and it was of utmost importance to me that Meg attend GPP with me this year. She came with me once, four years ago, and we had a not even one year old Hawke in tow that time. I taught all day and she dealt with an infant all day so it wasn’t that enjoyable for her. This time we were sans children! It was so awesome!

While at GPP this year someone came up to me and very kindly shook my hand and said I was their idol. I replied that they needed to get out more often. While I appreciate the sentiment and I’m thankful I get to help people, the fact of the matter is — I’m just a dude taking pictures. I appreciate the amazing opportunities that come my way but I don’t really enjoy being in the spotlight. I’m not trying to be anyone’s idol. That’s for sure. The fact of the matter is I can’t do one damn thing without the love and support of my wife. She is my better 7/8ths. When I’m sitting at a table listening to Joe McNally tell stories and share his experiences, she’s at home folding laundry. When I’m hoping and praying that I get an upgrade to business class, she’s getting four kids to four different schools in the morning. When I’m out with a camera in my hand, her piano sits dormant.

GPP 2014 Shootout

So this year for the shootout it was all about her. I knew I was going to do something for her. I kind of blew off the challenge in some regards because I wanted you to know about Meghan. I wanted you to know the sacrifices she has made for me and our four boys. I wanted to tell you what the price we pay is for me to do things like GPP and WPPI and Cuba and the assortment of jobs I take. If I’m on a plane heading to some place cool, Meg is at home dealing with four kids. And a cat. And a dog. And helping with behind the scenes stuff with my business. And all that.

Two things about the shootout you don’t see in the video. I did try to incorporate water because Meg has often said she feels like she’s drowning. I ran out of time though. The other thing is Meg couldn’t hear what I was saying when she was playing the piano at the back of the stage. She didn’t know the story I was building and had no idea I was going to do this. When she came to the front of the stage and looked at the photo she began to cry because she saw what I was trying to say. David Alan Harvey got a great shot of Meg.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 8.33.51 PM

What I should have said is, “The water is coming.” because I knew I’d make her cry when I was done. 🙂 I would have told the story and kicked Sara’s ass with that one line! Damn it! The other fact of the matter is, I knew I’d met my match with Sara Lando. She’s so creative and talented and she has a great accent so there just wasn’t anything I’d be able to do to beat her. 🙂 Have you seen Sara’s graphic novel Magpies? You should check that out. I feel like such a hack when I look at her mixed media work.

So the story is this: A lot of people look up to me but I simply stand in the shadows of greater photographers. I’m by no means at the top of the hill. While I feel the people around me looking at me I’m just trying to get home to Meg. Meg feels small and isolated. She’s turned her back on her music because of the needs of our children.

As for me and Meg, this “balance” of work and home that people speak of is foreign to us. We think of it more like a rhythm we’re trying to find. We feel like short order cooks with six pans but only four burners on the stove. We are constantly shifting things around making sure one thing isn’t getting too cold or getting burnt. It’s hard to find that “balance.” At the end of the day, though, we are for each other and not against each other. She supports me and I support her and I’m happy to say she’s starting a new music project soon.

I lost the shootout this year… but at home… I won! 🙂

You can find Meg’s music on iTunes and Spotify.


ETA – Here is Sara’s blog post about being in the shootout.

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. Jon Holtz

    You are an amazing photographer and an even better husband and dad.
    Well done!


  2. John Wangelin

    This was a great tribute to Meg. As I watched the video I wasn’t sure where you were going but as soon as I saw the final image it all made sense. When I was at WPPI this year I was paying attention to all of the speakers wether they were doing platform classes or speaking multiple times at multiple booths (or both) and I thought about how hard they were really working. I also thought about the people behind the scene their wives, husbands, dog sitters who were carrying the brunt of the load. I say brunt because my wife had stayed home and forgoes a vacation this year so I can chase a crazy dream. So in a very very small part I can relate. Kudos to you and mostly Meg for giving so much of you to the rest of us.

  3. Jeremy Kim

    I never really knew much about your personal life because I tend to like to let internet personalities have some measure of privacy, at least from me, but after getting to know you and Meg that week, my heart melted when you started putting the images together. As little as I know about photography, I knew exactly what was happening as soon as you put the first silhouette on the screen, but it was the words that brought it all together. I knew your image was a success when I went up to Meg after the shootout, and she told me that she couldn’t hear any of the words you were actually saying, but I saw in her face that she knew exactly what you were trying to convey. I hope I never forget to appreciate all the people in my life that make it possible for me to do the things I love to do. Thanks for the wonderful lesson, Zack, and I also want to thank you and Meg for both being such a huge part of what made GPP all that it was for me.

    • Zack Arias

      It was great meeting you Jeremy! It was an honor for us to both be there. See you next year?


      • Jeremy Kim

        Hopefully. We’ll see if the med school people let me out of the asylum, but if I’m not locked down, I’ll probably escape to Dubai.

  4. Jim Shaw

    That was amazing to watch. Now I think I can see a little of what you are trying to mentor. J

  5. Bjoern

    I want to take the time to write a reply.
    Firstly about the idol part. It is good that you yourself don’t feel as a “god” and a person worthy of being someones idol but to a few people you kinda are. I learned a lot from the One Light DVD! And when someone asks me what the type of photographers are, that I like my answer is: Gregory Heisler, Joe Mcnally, Joey L., Benjamin von Wong and Zack Arias.
    About the part with Meg. I listened to her music as I was reading this post. I think that behind a strong man stands an even stronger woman and I feel about the same when it comes to my girlfriend. She is the one that gets order in my chaos and gives me the chance to be a semi pro photographer. She endures facts like not having a living room because I installed my studio background again, nearly tripping over lightstands…
    Meg is the same for you. She is the one that lets you pursue your passion and in turn you can inspire other people. So please give my thanks to Meg for giving you the chance to inspire me and many other people.
    And on an different but related note, I really like her music.

    Ciao Björn

  6. Phil

    As you were putting everything together and we started seeing where you were going – It was a beautiful thing.

  7. Martin

    Megan wasn’t the only person crying at the end of the shootout. It was an amazing experience. The whole idol thing reminds me of SLF’s song Nobody’s Hero. I hope you enjoyed the bottle of wine. See you again next year!

    • Zack Arias

      Loved it. Thank you !


  8. Scott Kobner

    You guys are truly in love. Your kids have amazing parents, and you each having an amazing person to journey with you through life.

    On an aside, DAMN Meg’s dress is SICK.

  9. Chuck Mitchell

    You’re a great man and an awesome photographer! A true inspiration to us all! Keep Kickin Ass Bro!!!

  10. Ivan

    I love your photography.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

    You, your work and your wonderful family inspire me.

  11. Ted

    I have learned many things from you, Zack, yet we’ve never met. Through your blog, your Kelby classes, you are mentoring an unknown multitude. After seeing the shoot out this year, yes, the water came. I’m barely an amature photographer, but my wife has given up a lot to take care of me and our kids as I have pursued a career. As I read Meg’s side of the story, I related to times past in our life. Thanks for giving us the BTS story. The shot out was great, your image, inspiring, but the love you showed for Meg is beyond words!

    Thank you!

    • Zack Arias

      Best of luck on your journey Ted. Remember to share the spoils with your wife! 🙂


    • Zack Arias

      Yeah, Sara kicked ass with that shot.


  12. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    Just wanted to say that you love and appreciation for Meg is beautiful. And that you are truly blessed (as you acknowledge you are), to have her support. And I can understand her struggle and your family’s situation. I’m just wishing you both the best, and that Meg can find a way to feel her own sense of fulfillment and happiness again too.

  13. Big Mark

    Dammit Zack! Making this grown man cry. 🙁 :: wipes tears ::

    Beautiful image. Beautiful story. Amazing vision.

    • Zack Arias

      Naw man. It’s just dusty in the room. 🙂 Sports!!!


  14. Diego V.

    Well played. You are a unique individual with talent and a heart. By God’s grace may you and your family continue to prosper and grow. Looking forward to your 1 light 2.0 video.

  15. Ben Taylor

    Zack, I stand in humble awe of you and Meg. I ain’t gonna gush. Suffice it to say that what you guys juggle is incredible. Four kids and a career where yours is at? Man I sometimes have struggles with my partner about my photography and we only have one kid. And I’m not doing anything like what you are. Big respect to you. MASSIVE respect to Meg.

    (Also kinda blown away by any and all photographers who stand on that stage and meet that 20 minute challenge in front of all those people.. not to mention the subsequent internet hoards. You’re all pretty damn cool)

  16. Dade Freeman

    We are no one without the support others afford us. Well done for taking the time to acknowledge and to Meg for being so open and generous with her own dreams to help you build yours. Go team Arias!!

  17. Markus

    Hi Zack,
    I already read on Sara’s blog about the shootout and couldn’t wait to see the video. Kudos for “bullying” here on the show and for your tribute to your family. Keep it coming!

  18. Bobbi Lane

    Zack and Meg,
    I have always held both of you in high esteem for the challenges and solutions you have found in life, as well as both of your incredible talents. At this year’s shoot out, we were all confused as to what Zack was doing, but once I “got it”, I started weeping, being a silly sentimentalist. And later, Zack, when you told me about Meg feeling like she was drowning, that really got me, too. In the photographic life, it’s hard to find balance within oneself sometimes and having a family makes it tougher. I truly love and admire you both. This image that you made is one of the purest and strongest expressions of love I’ve ever seen. An honor to be in the room. Thank you, both, for just being you and being so honest.

    • Zack Arias

      Oh Bobbi. Thanks. WE love you too. Thank you for being a good friend in this industry.


  19. Felipe Curvello

    Sorry to disappoint you, but you are my idol!

  20. jeremy verinsky

    Always an inspiration, Zack.

  21. Jason Barden


    Not only are you an inspiration as a photographer – but more importantly you are an inspiration as a father and husband.

    Thank you.

  22. Dave Wilson

    What a great event. Both ideas were fantastic under pressure. I too had some dust in my eye dammit…!!!

  23. Jonny Schnaible

    Hi Zack~

    I just wanted to chime in…that was a beautiful story. I can totally relate. My wife is going to continue to sacrifice for me to chase my dreams…granted I need to wait three more years to quit my full time job, but she recognizes that I have a true passion for photography and don’t really have much choice…I HAVE to do this.

    It was listening to a webcast with you that I decided to pursue Headshots as my focus, I’m getting there. You pointed me in a great direction, albeit unknowingly, and I thank you for that. You are definitely one of the many photographers I admire…and I definitely aspire to be as cool as you!

    Thank you, and keep doing that voodoo, that you do…so well!

    Jonny Schnaible

    • Zack Arias

      Glad to be of service Jonny. Best of luck.


  24. Darren House

    Wow That is a great video, Great images on both parts!

    Family Man Zack 🙂 Awesome.

    Think GPP is a great event and hope to visit it one year !

    All the best and catch up again soon!


  25. ebradlee10

    Powerful stuff, Zac. Saw the video yesterday and was moved. A good lesson that. We all want to progress with our craft, but if you forget about what’s important you’ll eventually be sorry. Thanks for that reminder.

  26. Heather

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. And your wife is an inspiration.

  27. Steve

    I was fortunate enough to be at the shoot out. Zack, as I told you, your photos and story literally gutted me. I want to immediate fly home to my family. That was powerful stuff. Kudos to you, sir.

    We are all trying to find balance. I hope 2014 brings that to you, Meg, and your family.

  28. Latesh

    This is a very powerful image and I love meg’s music composition a lot..

  29. James Spencer

    One of the most beautiful and honest things I’ve ever seen. So much more than a photograph.

  30. Sterling

    Good man. Great woman.

  31. Adam

    Dude, this is why I look up to you. Honesty and integrity in work, words and life.

  32. The Israeli guy

    I wanted so much to participate but couldn’t get a visa. After all these year their is still racism.
    The governments disagree and millions of citizens suffers …
    Hope to see you Zack in Israel

  33. Jim Robertson

    Your love of spouse and home make you my idol!

    You shoot pretty good too!

  34. Richard Wintle

    Well played, sir.

    Love your comment about how you can’t have a comeback without a loss… 😀

    P.S. Disappointingly little trash talk from Heisler in that video… how was it in real life? 😉

  35. Aksam

    Water was there in all the eyes Zack. Your talk at shootout was so emotional that I had to drink a cup of water (water again) to compose my self before coming to you and telling you that this was awesome. I was kind of emotionally choked.

    Nevertheless it was really awesome to meet you twice or thrice in this GPP. Once after the shootout and once when you were resting after your class and you told me about the God Father movie and the stuff you found in your hotel room 🙂 The joke about photographer’s gear price and his wife you told me was awesome. Although i haven’t told it to my wife else she would always try to check invoice for my purchases and then know the real price 😀 lols

    One last thing. You are a great photographer but thats not all. You are a great human being, a great entertainer, a great mentor, a great husband, a great father and a great reason of my expense of Fuji X100s and Istanbul travel expenses 😛

  36. Patrick Dodds

    Nicely done Mr A. Thanks for all that. And more.

  37. Edd Carlile

    Absolutely loved your homage to Meg.

  38. Jeremy Madore

    Dear Zack,

    I’m going to do my best to completely strip out the self-perceived (on my end) divide between your career and mine, as I have not even remotely hit your level of publicity and following so my tasks appear less glamorous than yours. Let’s get to the meat right away because everything is just a variety of flavor…

    My wife has given up every job she has ever had because of me. I’m an absolutely driven, impatient individual who has always been able to earn more than double what she’s made. That’s not meant to be a brag, it’s meant to illustrate the income desparity – which wasn’t an issue before we had kids. We’ve got two kids now, going on our third. She’s from a 2-kid family… I’m from a 9-kid family… to me it feels easy, to her not so much.

    I became a full-time photographer (self-employed: no benefits, zero guarantees) over a year ago with my wife’s support. She was working then, helping us save for a house. My corporate job was literally wearing me out to the point where I had a mental breakdown… out went the plan for a house, since we’d rather have me alive and kicking.

    So here I am, chasing after this dream I had, getting all self-employed and running things my way. She tries to help with the business but, in the end, she just gets all the mom responsibilities and zero of her own career. She feels down about herself and doesn’t know where to turn. We keep telling each other that things will turn around for us once we reach (whatever the next level of business is). The truth is, there is no “end” in sight. I’m not sure I want an end in sight, for that matter.

    But, at some point, I’m going to have to stop and make as much room as humanly possible for her to do whatever she wants to do. I keep asking her what she wants, for the record. I listen, I offer suggestions and I make allowances for the small things that she does ask for. Truth be told, she doesn’t ask for much.

    Anyhow – I guess this is all to say that you have a friend in your wife. You also have the morale support of a good portion of the photo community, for whatever that is worth.

    You also have my personal support. I’m a God-fearing type of guy… not sure if you are. Regardless, I’m going to keep you and your family in my prayers since that’s really all I can offer at this moment. I wish you the best and I sincerely hope Meg is able to reach somewhere within and bring out the best version of Meg that she can offer through all this.

    -Jeremy Madore

    • Zack Arias

      Wow Jeremy. Thank you so much for writing that. I appreciate it. I bet your wife does too. Thanks. Let’s hear it for the spouses that put up with our shit! 🙂


  39. Carlos Sandoval

    A very touching story. I know Zack says he does not feel like he´s the best up there with the great ones like Heisler and McNally, but, in my opinion, he´s the most generous when it comes to bringing everything he can down to the table (for us who are building our way into this craft), the most passionate photographer is ass kicking Zack… He´s not corny; no bullshit in his choice of words is what makes him the best. His choice of words make the best companion pieces for every single one of his images. This is a tough business, and, for people like me, who is passionate about what our personal take and vision on things, without the pressure of deadlines, gives us tremendous amounts of freedom. I am a father myself, of two boys. I understand the needs of being with the wife and kids. I was very touched with this one. So for me, Zack kicked ass, “Big” Time with his picture. Meghan is an amazing musician, maybe better than Zack as a photographer, and I really think Zack is the best! So, we got a great dynamic duo here, people. Cheers, Zack and Meg!

  40. Dave Jones

    Hey Zack, many thanks for sharing this. My wife and kids have made many sacrifices so we can run a small photo business for the past 15 years. She gave up full time employment to support me as I trained and slowly built our brand. We have and continue to make it work but Ill never be able to thank her for all she has done. This was a great video, frankly, your best yet! You have a wonderful family, well done on your success.
    Truly an inspiration, many thanks for sharing

  41. Jose Morales

    Beautiful and I feel your pain. We make beautiful images and video but often times it comes at a cost of our loved ones. Almost as if it is better to be alone in this craft so you hurt no one. I am thankful for a supportive wife as well and thanks for reminding me to remember it takes special woman to put their lives on hold for us. You have been an inspiration since seeing one light back in the day and I just purchased the new one. Stay genuine and thanks for sharing your world with all of us.

    Best Regards,
    Jose Morales

  42. Frank

    Wow that was two of the most brilliant creative shots I’ve ever seen; forget the 20 minute stipilation. Amazing work to you and Sara both. Next time I run acros a troll forum fight arguing over megapixels and dynamic range. I’m gonna’ just post a link to that video.

    That’s “professional photography” and why a “pro” is worth his money. Not for his particular toys.

    Yes your heart felt tribute to Meg; “Touched me”. but I’m not pressing charges…lol.

    You guys are a shining example in a world full of takers, “baby daddy’s”, throw away relationships and prenuptial agreements.
    Thanks for turning me onto Sara Lando’s work
    Take care you creative wonders.

  43. Prof. Sven Barnow

    really nice and thank you for this! I smiled and was touched and loved the photographs, more is not possible within 15 minutes 🙂