Breaking the rules and thinking outside the box is something a photographer should always consider.
You start your journey with photography capturing everything you see interesting, jumping from one genre to the other until you find your favorite style.
I was passionate about Astronomy since I was a child, and Astrophotography was for me a perfect match, it combined my love for astronomy, my love for nature and landscapes with adventures, travel and camping. This beautiful recipe is just perfect for me.
That strange mix of fear, excitement, serenity and this awe sense of beauty and meditation is something that deserves the long hours of driving and traveling. That feeling you get when you switch off your engine after you reach your destination , and you turn off the head lights, lookup to the sky and be amazed with this endless count of stars , a beauty that could never be put in words.
In such places you can really experience the sound of silence and enjoy it, and the fact that most of such remote locations have no telecommunication network coverage there adds to the serenity of the experience and the peace you have with yourself. It liberates you from all modern life constraints and you are finally back to your real humanity , blending with nature and its beauty. You finally feel home.
I went almost everywhere across the UAE, scouting locations , looking for different landscapes and compositions and I was quite lucky to capture some beautiful shots , but like any other passionate photographer, I couldn’t get enough of that , I have basically consumed all different landscapes with every foreground possibility; mountains, deserts, trees, lakes, roads , cars , etc…..I just wanted more than that , I wanted to do something different.
The United Arab Emirates is a mix of two beautiful contradictions; Shiny glamorous cityscapes and raw untouched nature. Basically, there are three types of landscapes ; yellow reddish deserts with beautiful sand dunes and “Ghaf” trees , or brownish ophiolite mountains known as “Hajar Mountains” surrounding scattered small valleys and rain water ways with green bushes and “Acacia” trees. And finally there is a transitional strip which is a strange mix between mountains and dunes.
And because Cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi are so busy and active , they happened to emit tremendous amounts of artificial lights , and this is limiting the areas with no light pollution
There are no countryside villages where you can shoot such houses and cottages. And even if does exist it won’t be the style that I had in mind.
Blending a foreground from here on a background from there could be a solution but it wasn’t my style and it will never be. And above all where is the fun in that?!
I aimed in this series to create realistic scenes. I also happened to be a collector of antiques and miniatures and I had at that time a small collection.
My next step was to find realistic looking miniatures,either to build it from scratch or to look for somebody who can do it for you.I went to antique shops, visited art workshops in old districts of Dubai,aiming to find what I want, I looked everywhere on the internet and ended up with quite a good collection.
I found some garden miniatures in Amazon ,some antique boats in old Dubai markets. I came across a brilliant artist from St. Louis Missouri who had a small shop on Etsy and I got myself my little dream house.
Selecting the right miniature with the right landscape was a fun thing on its own , an old abandoned fishing boat would suit the yellow reddish color of UAE deserts , and a country house would perfectly fit with Hajar mountains in the eastern region of UAE. So I Put everything I could carry in my SUV and hit the road.
Moving on to the setup , the moment I started, I realized that it is not easy as I thought , there are multiple challenges such as choosing the suitable focal length , the shooting angle and distance from the object , the focus and the settings, and this is what I will explain in the coming part.
In order to mimic the perspective of a real life scenery, you have to position the object you’re shooting either on the same level or a bit higher than your camera. Getting as close as possible form the object using an ultra wide angle fish eye creates this illusion of standing in front of a real life sized object. And to achieve that,I used the 14-24 mm famous Nikon lens and a the 12 mm Rockinon fish eye.
What I am trying to achieve is exactly opposite to the miniature effect that some use for fun to make busy cities look like toys , it is all about focus , the perception of size and distance is the most important thing that will make this object look unmistakably like a real one.
Like shooting macro , shooting multiple shots with different focus and then stacking it together to end up with an all in focus shot is the way to do it.
Start by focusing on the area in front of the object, then apply multiple focuses on the object from end to end , followed by the area behind the object and so on till you reach infinity.
Some one could just put the house far away in the right hyperfocal distance and shoot single shots. Yes everything will be in focus , but the perception of size will not be accurate, It will still look like a small object.
Moving on to choosing your camera settings , It will be typical astrophotography settings , and if the location is too dark , you either have to increase the exposure on the foreground to get details as crisp as possible or a bit of light paint could do the job.
If the object I am shooting is a house or a lighthouse, I use a very dimmed light source and place it inside, this gives a realistic feeling that it is a real house and it is inhabited.
Shooting multiple photos for the sky and then stacking it up in a star stacking software is even adding more value and beauty to the final image.
Doing something different, thinking outside the box and breaking the trend , adding some abstracts and conceptual thoughts to your photography is what will differentiate you from others. You do not want to be that photographer whose only aim is hoard equipment and excel settings.Photography is a form of art after all. It is a blessing and for that I am really grateful to God.
About the Author
Samy Al Olabi is an award-winning Syrian/Egyptian Photographer based in Dubai UAE. Inspired by his love for nature and night skies, he reaches for the stars from the dark corners of Arabia. You can discover more of Samy’s work on his website and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. This article was also published here and shared with permission.