top of page
  • Filip Hrebenda

xposure festival

Every year, a relatively large number of photography festivals are held globally. I have attended several of them, but one in particular stands out. It's the Xposure festival, which has been organized for nine consecutive years by the royal family of Sharjah, an emirate near Dubai. This year, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the festival, as we were invited by the organizer himself to receive an award for one of my photographs. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, I would like to introduce the festival through a brief report I compiled during its seven-day duration.

Royal Care

As soon as I finished reading the email inviting me to Dubai, I had a good laugh. Of course, I was pleased. But I've been invited to various festivals and award ceremonies all over the world, always at my own expense. So my first thought was: "Go to Dubai to pick up a trophy? Sure..."

Then I read further and came across a sentence that really surprised me: "The organization covers all expenses." Simply put, all costs including flights, hotel, food, and transportation within Dubai were to be covered by them. That's when I realized we were actually going. It took a few more emails where I explained to the organizers that I wouldn't go anywhere without my wife, but they understood and were very nice. The only thing that took them a bit longer to grasp was that we wanted just one room with a shared bed! How unusual... But apparently, it was for them. In the end, everything worked out and we set off on our journey.

The organizers booked our flights with the local airline, Emirates. After countless flights with budget airlines, it was finally a flight we enjoyed. We were a bit worried about how we would get to the hotel since we were scheduled to arrive around eleven at night. However, our worries disappeared when we saw a lady in uniform holding a sign with our name after we got off the plane. She guided us through the entire airport, but not only that. We didn't have to wait in any long lines. She clearly had a friendly rapport with every inspector and airport employee, so we got through everywhere quickly and without waiting. Another surprise for two Slovaks from a small town came when we wanted to pick up our luggage. A small, unknown, smiling man with told us not to touch it, so we simply explained that we had red suitcases, which he then went to find. But we probably didn't even need to give him this hint, as he clearly wanted to show that he was capable and could handle it without us. :-)

xposure festival

The man loaded our suitcases, and together with the lady carrying the sign with our name, they led us to a personal driver who drove us to the hotel entrance. They were already expecting us there, so we didn't have to worry about anything. We found ourselves in a different world, with a level of service we weren't accustomed to in the wilderness.

All festival participants were accommodated in the same luxurious hotel in the center of Sharjah (an emirate next to Dubai). They took care of us royally throughout the entire week.

All meals were included in the hotel restaurant, allowing us to fully focus on the festival, the associated ceremonies, and to relax after the workshop beyond the Arctic Circle.

pullman sharjah

xposure festival

Endless Exhibition of Xposure festival

On the first day of the festival, we didn't know what to expect. The hall where it was to be held was just a few minutes' walk from the hotel, so we didn't worry about arranging any transport. We love walking, so we happily began soaking in the local atmosphere. When we first saw the hall from a distance, we couldn't believe how enormous it was. We thought, "They must have only allocated a part of this huge hall for the festival." But that wasn't the case. The festival was truly large. It featured as many as 90 separate exhibitions by photographers from all over the world, covering all genres of photography. Each exhibition was of very high quality and conveyed its own message. Going through all the exhibitions in one week was not entirely easy, but we managed to see most of them and enjoyed them as much as possible.

Additionally, each exhibition featured its own author, allowing us to converse with many of them. In previous years, big names from the world of photography such as Steve McCurry, Paul Nicklen, and others have exhibited here. This year was very similar. We managed to speak with several photographers who have been working for National Geographic for years, personal photographers of American presidents, war documentarians, and other artists who have had a significant impact on photography for a long time. We gathered a lot of inspiration and exchanged many experiences and stories from our photographic careers.

In the landscape photography genre, this year's exhibitors included Alessandro Cantarelli (Alex Wides), Marco Grassi, Hans Strand, and Sandra Bartocha. I know most of them, so we had some good conversations during the festival. We also planned several trips together, such as photographing the sunrise from the forty-second floor of the ShangriLa Hotel, which offers a perfect view of downtown Dubai. These were wonderfully spent days.

Alex Wides

Alex Wides on his exhibition

Marco Grassi

Marco Grassi on his exhibition

Claudio Dell'Osa

Claudio Dell'Osa on his exhibition

Another pavilion was dedicated to various brands and manufacturers of photographic equipment and accessories. The equipment was mostly showcased at individual booths by brand ambassadors. However, there were also people present who have a direct influence on the development of these products—production managers, designers, and the like (from Nikon, Canon, Adobe, etc.), the "big fish" of the industry. With some of them, it was possible to have quite constructive conversations about their products.

Canon xposure

Inspirational speeches

Like practically everything in the United Arab Emirates, the Xposure festival was huge and grandiose. Besides the 90 large exhibitions, the complex also housed two large auditoriums (lecture halls), where exhibitors and other prominent photographers invited to the festival gave lectures almost continuously. All these lectures were freely accessible.

The speakers shared stories from their photography adventures, their most significant life projects and successes, and many lectures were also dedicated to education. The authors provided their insights on how to infuse the right emotion into photography, how to tackle various technical challenges in different genres. We were particularly captivated by a lecture given by war photographer Afshin Ismaeli. He drew us in with various uncensored photographs, showing us what real conflict photography looks like and how a photographer can cope with such experiences. His narration made it clear that he had been through a lot, and it left a significant mark on him.

That's why I liked the festival so much. Seeing photos on the web is nice. Seeing them printed is great. But being there live with the author, seeing how the photos were created, hearing the stories behind them and understanding their message, that's something else entirely.

Afshin Ismaeli

Another lecture I greatly enjoyed was Florian Schulz's talk. Schulz, a photographer and documentarian for National Geographic, spoke about his challenging photographic projects and how collaborations with magazines and various media work. In recent years, he has focused mainly on documentary work, which takes him to some of the wildest places on earth. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect was that he undertakes a large part of his travels with his family—his wife and two small children, who handle it all without major issues.

Florian Schulz

Xposure festival

There were a total of 50 such lectures during the festival. Overall, they had a very pleasant atmosphere. After the lectures, attendees could ask the authors questions about what interested them. It often happened that someone randomly brought us coffee or tea during the lecture. Everything was of a high standard. Initially, I had some doubts about whether there would be enough to do at a week-long festival. However, in the end, I concluded that the week flew by in no time.

In addition to the regular lectures, the festival also featured many workshops covering all genres of photography and even video.

Awards and Ceremonies

Every year, the festival includes a ceremony that honors the work of photographers from around the world in various categories according to genre. This is why I found myself at this grand festival. My work was showcased, and one of my photographs even received an award. Interestingly, the winning photo was taken in Slovakia, specifically in the Tatras. When Simon Newton, the exhibition curator and one of the festival organizers, wrote to me at the end of 2023 saying they wanted me to attend, I was very pleased.

Although I often say that photography is not a competition, it delights every creator to have their work recognized at such a prestigious event. Throughout the festival, we were treated royally. The award ceremony itself took place on the fifth day of the festival, and entry was restricted to those with an official badge, which was provided to invited authors, media representatives, and selected TV crews. The royal family attended the awards ceremony as well, with the prizes being presented by his highness Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi.

I was very impressed with the organization. Every staff member knew exactly what to do. Before the actual award presentation, the organizers guided us on how to get to the stage, whom to shake hands with first, and similar details. Thanks to this, there were no awkward moments.

xposure festival

Filip Hrebenda

Filip Hrebenda

So which of my photos was awarded? It was the photo titled “Night Hunter,” taken in the High Tatras. I was thrilled it was this one because it represents a lot of hard work. Reaching the location where it was taken, under the conditions it was taken, was no easy feat. It cost me a lot of sweat and long hours of freezing at the peak.

I still remember how we climbed to the summit in knee-deep snow with crampons. The original goal was to photograph the sunset. However, at the hut below Rysy, things didn't look promising. There was fog everywhere. So I decided to forget about it and instead have a beer and goulash at the hut. That's what I did. But as I was finishing my frosty beer, I noticed through the window that the sky was starting to peek through the clouds. I looked at my watch and realized there were only 40 minutes left until sunset. So I quickly threw my backpack on and ran to the summit. You can imagine what it’s like to climb in such conditions, especially with a Plzeň twelve-degree beer in your system. Just below the summit, I finally emerged above the fog, and my euphoria grew. In my excitement, I managed to stab myself in the calf with my crampon spikes. It wasn’t too serious, so I kept going. I captured a perfect sunset.

After sunset, the inversion remained at the ideal height. So I decided to stay on the summit for a few more hours, despite the terrible cold and wind. Thanks to this, I was able to take this night photo. The result was worth it, and the festival organizers appreciated it too.

Filip Hrebenda

In addition to this photograph, my most famous photo, "Born of Fire," was also exhibited at the festival. It has already received awards from around the world. It was taken in 2021 during a fresh volcanic eruption in the Fagradalsfjall area of Iceland. Since then, it has been exhibited in Budapest, Moscow, Tokyo, Taipei, Oslo, Prague, Bratislava, New York, and other locations. This time, it has found a place in the United Arab Emirates.

Filip Hrebenda

xposure festival

The final evening of the festival was dedicated to the closing ceremony, where the organizers summarized the festival's success, handed out thank-you awards to the exhibitors and the people behind the event's organization, and we also got a trailer showing what next year's festival will look like. At the very end, a gigantic cake was cut, which delighted us as we were quite hungry after the evening ceremony.

This year's festival attracted more than 25,000 people from all over the world. Even though the festival is held relatively far away, I definitely recommend everyone who has the opportunity to visit it at least once in their lifetime. It is a grand event where anyone involved with photography, whether an enthusiast or a professional, will find something to enjoy.

xposure festival

xposure festival

When the festival ended and the staff drove us from the hotel to the airport, I already knew what my next professional goal was. To get back to this festival, but next time as an exhibiting and lecturing photographer. So, immediately after arriving home, I contacted the curator responsible for the exhibitions at the festival. He asked me to send him the exhibition concept and the photos I would present. A few days later, I received a response. They liked the photo panel and the exhibition concept so much that, in addition to the exhibition, they asked me to give a speech and conduct several workshops at next year's festival. Moreover, I will be part of the jury for the next year's worldwide competition, in which I was awarded at this year's festival. This really made me happy. Now, I can start preparing the exhibition and planning the lectures. I can't wait for next year!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page