A few years ago I attended a slideshow lecture by National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson. He made a statement that was so simple it was genius: “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” Because I shoot adventure sports, I’d pretty much built my career on that quote, but I think most photo enthusiasts underestimate how important his point is.
What’s the easiest way to put yourself in front of an “interesting” subject? You can discover it, or set something up yourself, or you can take a workshop and let someone else do the work of setting up scenarios that offer great subjects and inspire creativity. A prime example of the latter is a workshop I taught earlier this year in Dubai with fellow pro shooter David Tejada for the Mentor Series photo treks. Dubai is a city filled with hundreds of skyscrapers, incredible beauty and an amazing culture, and with careful planning the trek organizers had set up at least one phenomenal photo op for each day. We shot a variety of cityscapes and portraits and finished with a sunrise hot air balloon flight over the desert just south of the city. As you can see from the photos, these opportunities really set up the participants for amazing images.
Reflection. We owe our images of the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi to David Tejada. At his insistence, we added the incredibly beautiful, gleaming white building to our itinerary. We made sure to arrive just after the mosque opened so we would have the best possible light to work with. Surrounding the mosque is a series of pools, and whenever I see water I always look for reflections. While several of our students captured phenomenal images of a part of the mosque reflected in the pools, I chose to go a different route: a fully abstract image that captured only the reflection itself. The picture was originally upside down because of my perspective, but since there are two figures reflected in the image, I turned it 180 degrees so that it makes more sense visually.
Burj Khalifa. Rising 2,716 feet, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and an obvious photo stop. We photographed it from a variety of locations and at different times of day, but I especially like this evening shot of the building and the water and light show that frames it. We arrived early to scout locations, and then we had about ten minutes to shoot once the show commenced. With the extremely wide viewing angle of my 14-24mm lens, I was able to get the entire building and the water show in the frame. Everyone used tripods, and all of us came away with amazing images.
Portrait. In Dubai it’s illegal to photograph people without their permission, so when we wanted to make some portraits we set up a shoot with local models. As a demonstration, I shot this image of Dana Dajani using my 85mm lens, with lighting from an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra. Once I had established the exposure and flash settings, I showed the participants how I arrived at those settings, then let each shoot some images of their own.
Cityscape. David, who had traveled to Dubai several times before the workshop, and the trek organizers set up the photo op that gave us images like this stunning view of the Sheikh Zayed Road from the Level 42 lounge on the 43rd floor of the Four Points Sheraton hotel. Since this was a bar, we had to play it cool, order drinks and then one at a time go over and photograph the cityscape that was laid out below. We all used the same tripod because of the long exposures required—and because we were there at 1 a.m.
Dunes. The grand finale of the workshop was a balloon ride over the desert at sunrise. We got up at 3:45 a.m., drove for about an hour and a half and took off in the balloon 15 minutes before sunrise. Once the light hit the dunes below us there was an incredible image to be made in every direction, anywhere you pointed the camera. This image in particular is a great example of what Jim Richardson was talking about—an amazing location, amazing light and a wild perspective. Interesting stuff indeed.
That’s it for this workshop session. Catch you the next time around.
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