What You Should Consider Before Going on a Photo Mission to the Desert.

Hello dear curious friend, tell me, are you fascinated by the desert?

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It is a place full of wonders, and obviously sand. But people who think that there is nothing in the desert couldn’t be more wrong. Recently my wonderful relationship with Gulf Photo Plus brought me to an opportunity to teach a class in landscape photography to someone who is not from here and haven’t ever really been to the desert. Of course I was super excited to be able to share my knowledge with someone who is genuinely interested in the subject, plus making a bit of money on the side is always a great idea.

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My student, Brian, was visitng his brother in Abu Dhabi, and was given a gift voucher for anything in GPP, so he decided to exchange it to a private class in landscape photography. Thank you for giving me a chance, Brian, you are a very talented photographer and I am sure you didn’t need half of my directions, but it was fun shooting together with you.

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However, when I woke up the day of the class, there was a bad sand storm even in the city. Bad to the point that when I went out of my building, I had troubles keeping my eyes open, and the outside temperature was at least 8 degrees hotter than it was the day before. Well, that’s gonna be fun, I thought to myself, but you never know how the weather would change in a few hours. I packed flip flops, a cap, water bottle and took a camera that I didn’t care so much to be sanded because that would happen no matter what you do.

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GPP booked us a proper 4×4 desert safari driver, who was very much insisting on selling us any kind of tourist entertainment (camel riding, dune bashing and so on) and couldn’t believe that all we wanted was to take beautiful pictures of the desert. But I have to give him credit, once I asked him to stop the car next to a tree or a bush, he figured that it was indeed what we had interest in and started proposing to take us to other landmarks (rocks).

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When we stepped out of the car first time, the desert was amazingly calm. It was quiet and no piece of sand was moving, but those of you who have been to the desert before can imagine how fast this situation can change. And indeed, in just 10 minutes we saw a big dark cloud coming out of the dunes, and the never-ending shower of sand started pouring on our heads. One other thing is, when you are out there, you don’t notice how hot it is (especially with a bit of wind), and all that sand ends up covering you completely in a thin layer that blends you in with desert even more.

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In terms of photography, desert is a tricky place to shoot. Being an ultra-wide angle shooter, it is especially tricky for me since one needs to find some point of interest in both the foreground and the background to make it work. If you manage to find cool patterned dunes, plus the mountains in the background and the clouds as a bonus – then you are in the money. But… in the UAE you have to be incredibly lucky to have all those elements lining up in front of you. So, if you are shooting the local desert, I would advise to go for mid-range lens, or even try a telephoto and really look for those patterns and geometric alignments. Most of the time you are in the desert, there will be sun (so don’t forget your hat), but in our case the light was actually quite flat because of that cloud. And though it added some interest in the skies that we didn’t even hope for, the sunset was completely non-existent.

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If you are out shooting the sunset in the desert, here is one piece of advice for you – find your angle, set up the tripod and wait for the moment when it is about 20 minutes before the sunset. Take 3 shots focusing on:

  1. front (foreground),
  2. half-way (middleground),
  3. and infinity or close (background).

then wait for the sunset to happen.

I will tell you why you should do it this way: when the sun is still high, the sand looks nice and textured, but it is quite washed out in colour because of the bright sun (that it reflects).  When the sun is not far from setting down, the sky starts turning red and orange, and these colours reflect in the sand making it the most colourful you ever going to have. However, when the sun is setting already, it is now too low to cast any light on the dunes and they turn grayish already (and stay like that throughout the blue hour). So be wise, and plan to blend your image if that’s what you would normally do.

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Being in the desert with Brian, I felt like a scout – running up and down the dunes, hunting for angles for him, telling him to shoot lower, to isolate, to follow the lines… and it was a challenge for myself too. I have never been to this particular location, and the weather was bad, the light was not amazing… but I think we nailed it. I am happy of the fact that I was able to shift my focus and look for patterns and textures instead of endless wide-angled compositions.

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What wasn’t so much fun though, trying to get that sand out of my bag, my hair and my zoom lens… but hey, you can’t have it all!

Thank you for reading and see you soon.

Much love,
Anna

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I didn’t Choose Photography, Photography Chose Me. #GPP17

If ever life stops being epic, oh well, that would be boring, wouldn’t it?

The GPP17 photo week is done, and gone, but not forgotten! So many adventures, so many funny stories, so many inspirational people.

Had a chance to go to Grand Mosque with the master Yoda, mm, I mean Hobby, David Hobby to photograph the blue hour. Doesn’t that just sound like a dream? David Hobby, however, wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t have a plastic diana lens, which he taped to the converter for the Fuji camera. The lens was faaaaar from being sharp, but he also converted images to black and white, and square format right away. Interesting choice for the blue hour class photography, but why not, honestly? Anything, but ordinary. I only had a chance to take one picture for myself of the magical sunset that was happening that night, but I am happy with what I got. I was there to take pictures of David and the students.

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Another awesome moment of that night was that Patrick Hall from Fstoppers team had to come with us to film the class, and he showed up in shorts and had to wear a kandura (the local dress). He honestly looked awesome!

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Next morning I had to teach a class on live performance photography with Sony Middle East. My husband showed up for support and won the heart of my assistant, who later on sent me a bunch of messages emphasizing how much he liked my husband. Okaaaaaay 🙂

Teaching again was fun, I liked enthusiasm of my students, they asked questions and shared their successes in that short amount of time that we had. I honestly struggled to take images with the Sony because I didn’t know the camera so well, because the light was changing every 5 seconds, as well as the white balance and the direction of the performance. But some people managed to create some awesome photos.

The weather was pretty horrible the whole week – it was dusty, stormy, rainy, cold, and sandy. But we still had fun.

We got a chance to try electrical scooters that were fantastic experience to ride around. How long do you think it takes to take an image like this? And under the rain?

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The next day I went to take pictures of the one and only Sara Lando, the beautiful weirdo, who had a class in a mannequin storage room. All the students had 30 minutes and a topic given to them – to photograph the model in a certain mood with the mannequins. That was mindblowingly creative. I loved it.

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Went to Davide Moneteleone’s talk that night, which was again sponsored by Sony so had to shoot with Sony….somehow I feel I am gonna end up with that Sony in my pocket one day. All of the odds.

That night we went out for drinks with the crew and the photogs, and I ended up sitting next to Davide. He is Italian, but lives in Russia, which I don’t understand. But the guy really has a Russian soul. He even looks Russian now. It was interesting to listen to his stories… but on my other hand was his sweetheartedness Zack Arias. I love what Zack does. I feel his pain about seamless backgrounds. I wish he drowned me with his medium format megapixels in the back yard and made us all feel uncomfortable. Next time, ha?

Got to know Rafael Concepcion better and he is a fun man, and that story about massage… khm. One day he employed me into shooting the whole behind the scenes story of him using the surface pro. That was fun. He immediately makes everyone around him laugh.

Had a company dinner in Iranian restaurant which was awesome as I got to know Benjamin Von Wong better as we went hunting for vegetarian food together, and ended up sending selfies to Patrick di Fruscia at the end of the night. I am so grateful to the fact that he ended up on my side of the table because otherwise I  would never had a chance to take BTS photos in his workshop which was honestly mindblowing experience. He is a crazy genius.

298d6908-65c0-4668-b536-d57615cd5a80Spent my Valentine’s Day talking to Ben about environmental issues in Dubai and in planning his next day shoot. It honestly deserves a separate post that I hopefully will be able to produce.

I am so happy to have met my old friends Damien, Tracey, Altamash, get to know my colleagues better and make new friends.

God bless coffee. Thank you GPP for making this all happen.

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To Be Continued…