Sometimes a new great gig comes off the back of a friendly referral. This gig was just one of those. My thanks to Rupert @ Film-Me for saying the nice words.
The client was the stunning new Fairmont Fujairah Beach Resort on the east coast of the UAE and the brief, to build a portfolio of lifestyle images. We shifted shoot dates a number of times before settling on four days this March.
What I like about the final images is their experiential feel. Real people in their element, at an exquisite location. Simplistic, candid composition complete with fine detail. The aim was to create content that is inviting, content that feeds curiosity and authentically conveys the look and feel of the hotel. All right down my alley given my background at hotel school, many years of operational experience, Burj Al Arab posting and of course, shooting for high end luxury brands for the last ten years.
I thoroughly enjoyed the shoot, largely thanks to the enthusiastic and knowledgeable crew who made for a super smooth production. The schedule may have been intense but we had scouted and planned well in advance. The one thing we hadn’t anticipated was rain. Probably only once every couple of years do I find myself seeking shelter under an umbrella in the UAE. Seems like such a European thing to do.
Back to my roots… back to my original studies… back to what brought me to Dubai in the first place, 14 years ago. The world of hospitality.
Thanks to the creative agency, RAPP, I had the opportunity to capture the world of Emirates in-flight catering. I was simply amazed by the operation they run. Pushing 120,000 meals a day? Yes 120,000 meals EVERY DAY! It all needs to run like clockwork so needs a kitchen on steroids (without the steroids obviously).
After a full scouting visit followed by creating a detailed production plan, we spent three days shooting. The brief tagline was ‘Appetite for perfection’ so the images needed to make the food look delish, handcrafted and show scale on a refined level. How to make a production line look appealing? This was easier for the first class meals than those for economy. In the economy class kitchens, everything from the cooking utensils to the bowls where spices are mixed is just huge. In fact, when shooting their spices room, I anticipated a nice shot with a mix of colourful bowls. As it turns out, cooking a 10,000 litre Bolognese sauce doesn’t happen with a teaspoon on chili flakes but rather tubberware boxes full of it!
Emirates pride themselves on their handmade, real egg omelettes and they have a designated crew that flips 20,000 a day. Amazing!
The shoot was a wonderful experience. I’ve been in many kitchens around the world and I love the atmosphere of crafting and teamwork. The Emirates operation stunned me by the sheer scale of everything, the professional approach and how seriously they take hygiene. The staff were all geared up with hair nets, safety shoes and and face masks for the bearded ones…. that included me on shoot day!
A while back, I worked on an editorial piece for Women’s Health. They were running a feature story on super women, Karina Bensemann being one of the super women featured. I know Karina. We’ve collaborated in the past with Lululemon. She’s great company and certainly lives up to what she’s known for.
Wadi Adventure in Al Ain was our base, a super cool watersports park at the base of Jebel Hafeet and a place for champions. I did an awesome shoot here with Joe Clarke, who at that stage was prepping for the Rio Olympics and had his eye firmly fixed on a gold medal at slalom canoeing. I should add that he did indeed return home with a gold.
I shot with both a long Canon telephoto lens and got deep into the action with an Aquatech waterproof housing. Both work, the ‘dry’ long lens version freezes the sharp action nicely and has a bit more control whiles shooting. Than getting into the surf with my waterproofs and a wider lens allow for in your face action, obviously you’re thrown all over the place but allows unusual angels.
Thank you James for shooting and editing an awesome behind the scenes video. It really tells the tale of a fun day out, doing what I love to do. The article itself, written by editor Yi-Hwa Hanna is well worth reading for its inspirational vibe. Must be a nice job seeking out interesting people then picking below the surface and understanding what makes them tick…
It’s always tricky to really work out where new business comes from. Sure, I knock on doors, reach out to brands, feed this blog and send out promos… but I do sometimes question the ROI of these efforts. Short term, some jobs just land on your lap. Right time, right place kinda thing. But long term, these efforts do pay off I think although it can be hard to trace back and figure out what actually led to sealing the deal. So it’s a numbers game, I suppose. A constant effort to throw strong, fresh and consistent work out there.
One day the phone rang, out of the blue. No history with the brand. Just a cool gig and the words, “Found you via the internet…” So online noise is worthwhile, it turns out. Blogs, social media, brand affiliations… they all have a place.
MG is being reintroduced in the Middle East. Originally a quintessentially British brand, it’s now run by the Chinese SAIC Motor Corporation. I’ve worked with them to create a full package of imagery and am stoked with what we wrapped with. The studio shoot is always a dance with lighting, reflections and shadows, constantly moving things around in search of perfection. The outdoor shoot is always great fun and a real team effort. Five locations in one day was a pretty ambitious production but everything was pre-scouted and we worked, as always, to a pretty rigorous schedule.We ended up pushing the dates a bit in the hope of better weather. Turned out to be a great decision.
I shot with the new Hassy 50mp for billboard quality images. Expect to see some cool images on a highway near you soon!
Writing this post feels like a celebration of all that’s happened in the last twelve months.
2016 was a dynamic year. Business was a bit all over the place with some great productions and awesome opportunities in the mix. Travel is one of my greatest passions and the year took me to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egypt, Paris, London, Moscow, the usual Middle East spots and of course, my summer sabbatical through Europe.
I produced two short films. Khareef was a personal project… a story about friendship and windsurfing off a remote island in Oman and Hakawi, a destination film about Luxor. This gig came about through my role as Canon Brand Ambassador in the Middle East. What we created is a gift to the people of Luxor and to Egyptian tourism to help them promote their beautiful destination.
Following my successful Margot Robbie gig for British Airways in Abu Dhabi, BA flew me to Shanghai to shoot David Beckham then to Hong Kong. There, my brief was to recreate an old vintage poster with David Gandy and to shoot Immy Waterhouse and Lizzy Jagger. After this, came a cool ballerina stint in London and shooting on their inaugural flight to Moscow. These were pretty amazing opportunities with red carpet treatment and celebrity protocol all the way. The briefs were creative and what resulted is some magical storytelling imagery.
I love working with sports brands and their inspiring athletes. There’s such beauty in the collaboration… it’s like a dance between athlete and photographer. This year saw some big sports productions including shooting the Middle East launch campaign for Under Armour, expanding Lululemon’s brand ambassador portfolio, a fair bit of magazine work and some more personal work with pro athletes.
I recently produced my BrandReel, which is an energetic 60 second summary of what I’ve done, what I like to do and most importantly, what I want to do more of. As with writing this post, I had to dig through my archives, which resulted in a celebration of what the past has brought.
No year is complete without a Project Pause. I’ve been pretty quiet about last years Hajar Mountains edition… a week I spent in the Hajar Mountains last March, solo, off the grid and disconnected from the digital rat race we live in. The experience was stunning, so valuable and needless to say, a highly recommend endeavour! I’ve built a dedicated page on my website with background info and short videos. Feel free to browse and (hopefully) get inspired…
Of course, no year is complete without some impulsive, spontaneous act of madness so in December, I challenged Guinness World Record queen, Eva Clarke to join me in jumping from a plane to overcome her fear of heights. In return, she challenged me to run with her from Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit to SkyDive Dubai. Neither of us was prepared for 100+ km but we set off anyway, ready to see how it panned out. In the end, we ran and ran and ran (and walked) 108 kilometres in total. Why? Just because we can. We ALL can! Read the full post here. A short video is in the making…
In June, I took time out to review my own personal goals and dive deep into the business. I saw two amazing coaches… Tom Young and Tricia Evans. The challenge was wonderful. To be shaken up gives great clarity on how to move forward. I think my biggest takeaway was identifying my need to do meaningful work, work that moves people and to develop my new tagline; “Helping Brands Tell Powerful Stories.”
Finally, a huge thanks to all of YOU for staying tuned to my Blog, Facebook and Instagram. A big thanks also to all my clients and the crew of independent creative professionals I get to share my adventures with. Last but not least, to my rockstar wife Kiki, for giving me the freedom and go ahead to continue this magical journey…
I look forward to spending an awesome 2017 together!
There’s something remarkable about working with field biologists. Their passion and excitement are contagious. Their appreciation for the smallest gritty crawlers makes me wonder what beautiful fauna I fail to notice everyday.
Recently, I found myself at a very special place… the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been appointed to create the first National Park in the region, named Wadi Wurayah National Park, on the east coast of the UAE.
129 square kilometres of rugged mountain land has been closed to the public since 2009. The area is most valued for its wetlands and the opportunities it presents for documenting and conserving natural resources. For now… and for generations to come.
For three days, I pretty much got carte blanche to roam around the park… to create imagery for a book project I’m involved in. With my innate love for the mountains anyway, its pure rock, fresh mountain air, breathtaking views and sheer expanse, to have access to such exclusive areas was a real privilege. And they call this work?!
With few roads let alone hiking trails in place, exploring entailed roaming with a pack on my back to find the best vantage points. To wonder and to find. I spent some time with Alex on a ‘Bear Hunt’… of course, without either the hunting or the bear element! Actually, the wildlife is pretty scant. The biggest animal we spotted was 6cm big, a toad. Obviously animals don’t turn up to order but rather show up on their own accord… and generally when you’re least prepared! Anyway, with the help of of the local team I enjoyed an eye opening experience and banked a few great shots.
One shot I was keen to get was the release of a toad, shot half above and half below the water. Knowing the wetlands plays a big role in the story, I had to include a strong water shot so I took my Aquatech waterproof camera housing. I found a pool with the right water depth and timed it so we w’d be there during the three hours of the day when the pool catches a bit of sunlight and the backdrop would look dramatic. Part of the WWF learning program is counting toads so it’s a common practice which happens in real time. I did a quick dry run to check the camera settings and framing, followed by the a painfully long 45 minutes trying to find one (Murphy’s Law), but eventually we struck lucky and caught a sequence of 24 frames. The below is one of my favourites…
As a photographer and storyteller, Wadi Wurayah National Park has endless beauty and content. As a scientist and biologist, it must be heaven to map the park and for WWF, it’s a proud showcase of the valuable work they do. I’m so grateful to the Fujairah Government for taking the lead in preserving their land and building a platform around sustainable access.
Once the park is officially opened, I’ll be taking my two boys there, to hike the trails, spot the dragon flies and observe the Arabian Tahr… and most importantly, to teach them the value of looking after our resources. It’s a stunning place.
David Labouchere is a real character. Founder of his own gym, Optimal Fitness, he’s also a well established triathlete and Lululemon ambassador.
Thanks to Lululemon, we had the opportunity to spend some time together, building a portfolio of brand imagery. It was a simple shoot. Just David on his monster tri bike at the crack of dawn, his normal work-out hour anyway, followed by some fast paced running shots breaking some real sweat. Sweet.
Eva Clarke and I have competed in races together a few times now. She’s upfront and I get to hang around somewhere in the middle. We recently shot the Under Armour Middle East launch campaign together.
Eva has an inspiring accolade of sports achievements under her belt but when checking out her Facebook page pre the UA shoot, I found a page rich with inspiring stories and achievements but pretty weak on strong visuals. I reached out to her and we spent a couple of hours in the gym building a bank of images to help Eva tell her story.
I had no real game plan when we started. Normally, I have quite a clear idea on deliverables and creative direction but on this occasion it was athlete led. I wanted Eva to inspire me so we just played around a lot. My motto is always to shoot ‘real people in real places’. Eva is certainly real and she commands the gym, it’s her place. We collaborated well with ideas feeding ideas… add some strobes and a camera and we got some pretty cool frames…
To celebrate their 60 year anniversary, I went assignment for Toyota and Al Futtaim Motors. How do you tell a 60-year long story? What mark have they made? Sure, you just need to glimpse at the highway to see their presence on the road but my brief was way better. I was to drive to the East Coast and capture the look and feel of Fujairah’s life as a fishing village.
At sunrise on the beach, we discovered a load of old Land Cruisers, most of them older than I am. They’d certainly put in a few decades of hard work on the beach. Fishing in Fujeirah involves a fishing boat, a Land Cruiser, a huge net in between and a crew of hardworking guys. One side of the net is attached to the boat and the other side to the Land Cruiser, to haul in the net. The catch is then loaded into the back of the car and sent to the local fish market. Ready for diner time…
It’s the daily routine that fascinates me. The simplicity got me hooked. We spoke to one guy who’s been fishing there for 28 years. If the car breaks down, he said, they just weld it together!
The catch attracted a small crowd looking for fresher than fresh fish. I loved the atmosphere of people coming and going, digging through the nets to source their dinner. In this quaint fishing village, so set back in time, there was complete harmony in this mini economy at 7am in the morning. There’s much to learn from that.
I always mean to write this post during a big race, when the thoughts are most fresh in my mind, but somehow I never get round to it and then on return home, reality kicks in and the routine takes over. So I went back to a voice memo I recorded during the 50k Urban Ultra Race.
Why is (long distance) running such a key part of my life? Why am I doing this? The hours on your feet, top to toe pain, negative self talk, dizzy sun rises and complete exhaustion. Why?
It’s hard to pin point what it comes down to but I’ll give it a try. For me, it’s about being out on nature’s trails because… well, because I love it. Because I can. Because this is what I do. These three words; LOVE, CAN & DO kinda sum it up for me. It’s about putting momentum towards the stuff I love, which works for running but also other passions in life. It’s important to walk your talk, even if it’s a long walk. It’s also about sharing the field with like-minded, driven and ambitious people. We’re all here, from all walks of life, for the experience. Being out there, running together and embracing your surrounds is all that counts.
Earlier this year, I ran the Salomon Wadi Bih 72k solo and below is the brief race recap…
It’s 4.30am as the start gun goes off and we’re pounding through the sleepy town of Dibba. Once we pass the empty dam on the edge of the village, the race continues in a pitch black wadi (dry riverbed) filled with nothing but the meditative spotlights of fellow runners’ headlamps. After years of being on the other side of the lens and shooting the this Desert Relay, I thought it was time to sign up to run solo and give it my best bash.
Needless to say, it was tough. We basically ran through the wadi for 30 or so kilometres followed by a 1,000m mountain climb towards the turnaround point at 36km. The route returns back down the same way to finish at the Golden Tulip Hotel on the beach. The first part was amazing, running at night amongst these big rock faces and witnessing a new dawn. I even quite enjoyed the big mountain climb as a good, strong hike proved a welcome relief from trail running. I checked off the first half of the race in a little under four hours which I was pretty pleased with and I passed the 50km marker in reasonable shape, but the remainder, I recall, went downhill (no pun intended).
My nutrition was ok but my legs were screaming and the hallucinations, that all us runners can associate with, began with me seeing no other than Elvis stepping out of a 4×4 and strutting his stuff. These crazy thoughts at least brought me some much needed distraction. It’s fascinating during a long race, to observe how the brain behaves, the mad mind games it plays. And then there’s the constant inner voice telling you to stop, to give up, to reserve your body and mind for the hectic work and home life that lies beyond the race. It’s insane.
Of course, all “good” things come to an end… as does the finish arch eventually appear in the far distance followed by great applause and a well-deserved medal. Bingo. “What next?” I immediately ask myself. We’re a strange bunch, that you cannot argue!
The following day I shot the relay race, working on capturing some beauty shots for sponsor, Salomon. Surprisingly, I had a pretty swift recovery from my own race. My legs were sore yes, but my joints had held up pretty well, which is always my biggest concern. Knowing the course and the experience that fellow athletes are going through certainly helps to create strong imagery. Knowing where to shoot, where the landscape is best, is often the hard part but luckily I’d seen it all the day before.
My thanks to John Young and the entire Wadi Bih team for putting on an amazing race. Anyone considering an epic mountain running experience, stay tuned to their webpage. Next year’s race marks their 25 year anniversary so it will no doubt be a special one.
With a bit of pre-summer breathing space in the shooting calendar, I’ve been able to catch up on personal work and hangout with some mad athletes. I love the surfers lifestyle and have enjoyed getting on a board myself in the past, mainly in Oz. I dusted off my Aquatech waterproof housing then called Karina to go have some fun. Soon after, we found ourselves on sunset beach to hit the morning waves and take advantage of the last big swell of the season.
Karina is a total badass. She called the day before to ask if we we should still shoot as she had a black eye from a recent surf crash… “Hell yeah,” I responded. “More RAW!” And the following morning, in an attempt to avoid hitting me with her new board, she cut her nose. More blood and I did appreciate her efforts in keeping me out of the firing zone! It didn’t slow her down. She lives life full stop without slowing down.
I also brought my super long telephoto lens but stayed put with the waterproofs. In the water. In the waves. In where the action is. It’s certainly harder to shoot this way… waves are variable, the subject moves, I move, waves break just when the composition is right… it’s hard to really grasp what you’re shooting. But when the shoot comes together, it just looks so much more authentic. A long lens shot would have helped tackle some of the variables but on the downside, could then create a distance between the viewer and athlete. And I love wide angle ‘in your face action’.
Granted my portfolio may not be overly strong on shooting high end fashion models, but hey… life throws us all serendipitous opportunities from time to time. Work with David Gandy already had me in Hong Kong (link) so extending my time with Lizzy Jagger and Immy Waterhouse made perfect sense.
Success is all in the research, detail and pre production. The key was to create Hong Kong related content with stunning models yet with a different look & feel to David Gandy’s images. During my research, I came across well-known established names like Mario Testino, David Roemer and Peter Lindbergh. All have the habit of stripping down clothes, whilst my shoot was all about the uniforms as both girls were to wear stunning old British Airways uniforms from the BA Heritage Museum.
With the iconic Hong Kong Island as our backdrop, I found a perfect location on the Kowloon observation deck and as the weather cleared, we shot a bank of great images.
I recently worked alongside a couple of big TV productions, shooting the stills whilst the TV crew did their thing. There’s something great about big TV gigs. They run like clockwork, are so well orchestrated, have huge crews and days are spent shooting what will result in an, albeit awesome, 90 second commercial. It’s a condensed pot of energy, like an oiled machine at full steam, running on a super tight deadline.
This post contains my tips for photographers when working alongside a big TV production.
– Determine who’s boss. You or the film director? Who’s calling the shots? Exactly… the answer is not the photographer! I start here because you need to know your place. Producing TV content is an expensive gig where time is always short, stakes are always high and stress levels are ever present. There’s rarely time dedicated to shooting stills so you have to just work around what’s happening. It’s probably more reportage style photography but space can be made to work on staged hero shots… keep reading.
– Create your own story. Work on your shortlist of hero images that fit your style and brief. It may be tempted to go with the TV flow but thats not your story, take a moment to plan wisely.
– It’s super important to connect with the FD (Flim Directors), AFD (his/her assistant) and DOP (Director of Photography/person behind camera). Do a bit of prior research about their background to feed the conversation and build trust from the start. These guys need be comfortable with you roaming around.
– I find it super important that the client introduces me to the FD & DOP and explains the importance of the stills (PR usage, hero shots and general reportage) and he/she requests we work together. Generally, my client is also their client so we’re on the same team. Post this introduction, it’s over to you to make it work.
– Next up, stay out of the frame and don’t make a noise. If you follow these rules, you’re on to a winner… and it’s probably wise not to direct the talent/actors/actresses as this will piss out of the FD.
– The noise of the shutter is your worst enemy. The sound guy (recognisable with a big boom stick and headphones) will pick up on anything, even your internal camera focussing beep so switch this beep off and select single frame and quite mode (Canon has the ’S’ option). What works for me is knowing where the sound guy stands then making a concerted effort to stay away from him. Working with a long telephoto lenses also helps to keep a bit of distance from the set action. I use my 400mm lens a lot. If you’re serious about doing lots of work on TV sets, it’s wise to invest in soundproof housing; Aquatech Blimp kits are be a brand to look at.
– Know what lens the DOP is shooting with, whether a wide lens or a longer lens. Staying out of the frame is crucial, which means having a handy stache of hiding places (behind cars, on top of cliffs etc)
– Work independently i.e. have your own car, gear, power, drinks, food, coffee etc. This particularly applies when sets are a car ride apart. You need your own wheels to move quickly between them and not be dependant on a spare seat in a crew truck or worse still, discover there’s no space for you at all…
– Think like the film director. What is he trying to get out of the shot? That helps you to understand how the actors/actress move around, where the DOP will stand/roam and most importantly how to stay out of the way. I generally find it super interesting to understand their thought process and how they build their story.
– On multiple film days, try to get in on day one. Production days are long and from day one, the team blends like a family, ego’s are determined, the funny guys tell their jokes, breakfast/lunch/dinner is shared and there’s a real feeling of ‘we’re in it together’. It’s tough to join that family at a later stage.
– Look after them. I don’t mean running around being a coffee boy, but simple things like handing your sunscreen to a frying red faced DOP or a bottle of cold water on a roasting hot day. These work wonders. The best hugs I’ve ever had came after taking cold beers and pizza to the film crew during the Footsteps of Thesiger expedition. The crew had been filming in the remote desert for a couple of weeks and my having to return to Dubai for a couple of days gave me the perfect chance to treat them.
– Try to get your shots during the dress rehearsals so you can leave the main shoot free… or use a wide lens during dress rehearsals and a super telephoto lens (bigger distance from set) during the main shoot.
– In the heat of the moment, only shoot when your know your image will be truly amazing. By ‘heat of the moment’, I mean when they’re running behind schedule, the sun is setting, crew are shouting at each other and tensions are generally pretty frayed. There’s no point agitating others without very good reason.
If you’ve gelled well with the team, they’ll value your input and do yourself a lot of favours. I’ve even gone as far as requesting a few extra takes just for stills and being able to direct talent so it both worked for stills and film.
Much of the above is common sense and hope it helps.
Shooting trade and industry blows my mind. Over the years, I’ve been on multiple oil rigs, power plants and desalination installations and I’m always fascinated by their sheer scale and design… so many pipes, valves and de-compressors, all of which play an important role and then these super smart engineers make it all happen. It’s like taking a huge orchestra and making it play in perfect harmony.
Recently, I found myself, plus team, on a boat dock, where tucker boats are built from scratch and bigger boats repaired. We’ve been shooting aerial footage (motion & stills) and commercial imagery for the company catalogue.
I could have easily spent a week on site, curious to observe the finer details of boat building and unearth some good stories. Massive steel plates are cut and welded to create dozens and dozens of small puzzle pieces which are eventually transformed to a boat’s outer shell. The shell is then dressed, cabled and painted before becoming a beautiful floating object. Once the engine and a few more moving parts have been added, the finished result is ready to start it’s very own journey. It’s a nice ending, really…
Mark and I go back a dozen or so years. I still worked as an experiential marketing manager for Land Rover when he first came knocking on our door. He had a passion for rally driving, which we supported and had also branded his pimped up Land Rover Defender.
To me, Mark was a pure example of following your passion and doing what you love. At one stage he left his comfortable, stable corporate job to start his own car garage, Saluki Motors, which he turned into a go-to brand. Now he uses his rally knowledge for training and 4×4 experiences. A great showcase of following and evolving your passion.
I was in Oman when Mark got in touch again and I immediately knew it would be for something good. A brief chat and he’d caught my attention with his unique combination of former Miss Poland, Marcelina and his motorbikes.
Soon after, I found myself in the desert with Marcelina Zawadzka and Marek Dabrowski, a Dakar Rally driver from Team Orlen. Our gig was short and sweet. Marek and Marcelina’s brief was to rampage the Polaris buggy through the dunes. They were to go hard and fast, rev the engine and get some crazy sand flying. I got them to follow the crest up the dune straight into the sun then quickly dialled down on exposure and hit the shutter. Now covered in sand, I knew I’d banked the shot. Afterwards, Marcelina stood in for a few portraits. It’s always a joy working with pro models.
Many thanks to Mark for the inspiration, the crew at Saluki Motors for keeping us out of trouble and our Polish friends for a great afternoon. Till the next.
Back for more launch content. The Under Armour campaign was based on a series of two images. One beach image with an iconic landmark setting, which we shot with Goes Grant on the Palm Jumeirah and for the second, I needed a location with a strong athletic feel so chose the Zayed Sports Stadium. The national sports stadium has all the grandeur we needed for a world-class sports brand. Years ago, I shot the Presidents Cup in a packed stadium for a FIFA Bid Book, which was a very cool experience. Later this month, I’ll be taking my boys there and a bunch of other dads with theirs to watch the UAE football finals.
Again, I shot with my PhaseOne medium format. Granted it’s not a sports camera (with just one frame per second) so I needed to work it harder, but when you capture ‘that’ shot, the end result has mind blowing detail.
This time, we were collaborating with legend Eva Clarke, seven times Guinness world record holder and top notch athlete. We had a wrap in a short and sweet two hours. Check out the behind the scenes video to grasp the energy of the shoot.
Thanks to the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and Zayed Sports Stadium for opening their doors.
During my younger years, I worked as an outdoor instructor around Europe, enjoying life’s great adventures, travel and camaraderie. One of my favourites was mountain biking in the Belgium forest with over-energetic school kids… hitting the hills, trails, mud pools and river crossings. After a day on the bikes, we’d be exhausted, filthy, aching and thoroughly beat. I’m left with wonderful memories!
Following the great Adventure HQ catalogue shoot, we got together to shoot a new Ozzy bike brand called ‘Fluid’, prior to their launch in the region. As always, the preproduction is the most important element of any shoot… knowing what, where and when to shoot, scouting to find locations that match the brand and give a strong selection of backdrops. One of my scouting trips found me at the Hatta Mountain Bike Trail Centre, which completely blew my mind.
Awesome technical trails surrounded by glorious mountains. I hadn’t even known it existed. I rocked up at sunrise but I wasn’t having much luck. My bike had a flat tire and I found my spare also had a puncture. After scouring around for my repair kit, I found that the patches were dried out and no good. But alas, I had my trail running gear and my two feet so off I went! I don’t want to be seen to be promoting running on mtb tracks but it was my only means of getting the job done.
Back in Hatta for the actual photoshoot, we all set out on bikes to get to our chosen locations. My style is very much real people in real locations and we worked with some very talented bikers, which brought back great memories.
Anyone who owns (or rents) a mountain bike should go and visit the place. The trails are marked based on different skill levels and it’ll be a guaranteed great work out.
Just before the summer I shot the Middle East launch campaign for Under Armour, in conjunction with their official launch in the region. Thanks to agency BWM+ and along with their CD Greg we worked on one super strong image showcasing local athlete, Grant Goes, posing in a push up hold. I love working with real time athletes. True RAW power. They move effortlessly and fluidly, with authentic and perfect form.
Below behind the scenes video is the shoot in 90 seconds…
I shot using a killer PhaseOne medium format camera, allowing for huge end production printouts. It’s not always easy to shoot sports at one frame per second, but once you get the image right, the fine detail is amazing. Endless sharpness and tons of data to pull details back into the image. There is so much good to say about medium format.
Thanks to Fairmont The Palm hotel for hosting us. The view from their beach is a stunner. Gotta get back there soon to chill and go sundowner.
Red Bull UK called to build a portfolio for young and upcoming Joe Clarke, who was training at Wadi Adventure in Al Ain. Joe is a complete joy to work with, very accommodating and knows his sport as a slalom canoeist inside out. I had certain shots in mind and Joe would just appear in exactly the right place, again & again. We’d then review the shots and head back into the water to refine them, making them tighter and better. Collaboration is the game plan here.
Halfway through the morning, he mentioned that he’d made it into the Rio Olympics. Awesome. I’m so excited for him. The Olympics has to be considered the pinnacle of a sporting career… the opportunity to compete with the world’s best and show them what you’ve got. I can only imagine how focussed he’ll be now, as he gears up for the games.
Towards the end, I pulled out my Aquatech waterproof housing and jumped in the water with him… shortly followed by some lifeguards chasing me in with a helmet and a life vest as they’d escaped me. Whoops! I chose to shoot in the white water section rather than the calmer end basin. Slalom is about rapids and fast moving water so an underwater shot should be bursting with bubbles and energy. There’s nothing to hold on to and the bottom is slippery, so everything moves like crazy; the camera, the canoe, the athlete and myself. It’s like jumping in a tumble dryer and trying to get a straight focussed shot. Eventually, with a bit of trial and error, we nailed one super strong frame.
To wrap, I was keen to get one strong portrait. Raw background, studio lit and Joe in his racing gear, dripping wet with a determined look. To stay ‘wet’ he could either jump back into the cold water or hit the warm shower…which one would you choose?
Wishing Joe an amazing Olympics. He’s in it for the gold… so take it home!
My love for running really took off when I moved to Dubai in 2002. It all started with my first half marathon in Abu Dhabi. Marathons and triathlons followed then eventually I discovered that my true passion lay in long distance trail running. There are so many reasons to love trail running. I love exploring new places. Nothing beats heading off in a random direction and just discovering where the path takes you. Trail running also unites interesting people and amazing places. On longer solo runs, I get to munch on business topics; my keynote at World Art Dubai came together during the 30k night rebel race. There’s alot to be said for using solitude to feed your creativity.
These are my top most memorable runs over the years:
> My best run last summer was with my friend Ilonka, who runs a mountain lodge in the France Alps. We both love alpine runs and got up early one morning to hit the mountains. I don’t own any cold weather running gear and can remember it was a bitterly cold start in just shorts and a light fleece at 5am. Still dark, we used our head torches to wind through the forest trails, past little mountain village Narreyroux and on to Col du Bal. Running on the high ridges with spectacular views and fresh mountain air is when I’m in my element. These are truly magical moments.
> A run filled with anxiety and excitement… or perhaps more an escape run! I fled my parents house back in 2003 to run free. It was my wedding day and the house was full of family and friends… it felt like chaos and I just needed to get out there on my own. I enjoyed an amazing run through the forest and remember feeling so free.
> Day seven of the Gobi March, a 250k self supported running race in remote China. Day seven marked the final stretch to the finish line and I can remember running the entire way, despite the blisters, aching limbs and immense fatigue. Running through the Flaming Mountains and ending at a Buddhist village made for an incredible setting. It was pretty much all downhill at that point. Crossing that finishing line came with such immense relief and pride before receiving the biggest medal ever. I felt on top of the world.
> A memorable run to be that remains in the pipeline will be a dash with one my boys, either in a competition or just a run down the street. Having seen other dads during that proud moment of first running with their sons, I can’t wait to do so with my own.
> Living in Dubai means living pretty much in the desert. In just a 30min drive, you can hit spectacular dunes which make for perfect training ground. Running in soft sand builds character, turns a run into a serious workout and requires a decent sense of navigation. Followed by setting up camp with the family, these runs can turn into a really fun weekend. I remember one run not far from Bab al Shams, when off I started, with a loaded pack at the usual crazy hour and there, beautifully lit by the early morning sun, was a stunning white Arabian Oryx. It was perhaps only 100m away, staring intensely at me… probably wondering what on earth I was doing… for what seemed an age. I stood still, staring back at him and then he just dashed off. And so did I.
There’s never a dull moment in an adventurers life, particularly when it comes to UAE hero Adrian Hayes… over the last ten years, I’ve followed Adrian’s extreme expeditions and had the pleasure of capturing some of them. I’ve seen him at his best and and at his worst… I’ll never forget his flying start on his Footsteps of Thesiger expedition, when the camels turned into rodeo bulls and threw Adrian and his expedition team members off their backs and onto a rocky wadi bed. The next stop was the local hospital rather than the desert! Time with Adrian during both Footsteps of Thesiger and the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge has left me with some wonderful memories. We even did an adventure race together once but unfortunately my bike frame snapped just five kilometres into the race so we were forced to complete the full Arabian Quest course on foot… needless to say we were last in, but at least we didn’t give up!
Adrian is a hard man to pin down as beyond his great adventures, he has a crazy busy schedule with speaking engagements and corporate coaching in Europe, the US and here in the Middle East. I love spending time with him though… it’s always inspiring to pick the brain of a full time adventurer, where he stands now and how he turns future fantasy’s into reality. So I jumped at the opportunity to organise a shoot when a simple yet great idea sprung to mind.
We both share a friend and client, Dewald, who distributes amazing outdoor brands like Marmot and Patagonia. Together, I felt we could build a super strong portfolio of images around Adrian’s training regime and desert jaunts, in preparation for tackling high altitude peaks in the Himalayas or hair-raising polar crossings. Marmot could throw in some amazing new gear… without which Adrian would probably have rocked up in a tatty Ironman Finishers Shirt dating back to 2005 (!)… and Marmot, in return, would get great visual assets and stories for social and editorial use. Win-win for all!
So organised it was and we set off, suited and booted, on a energetic day shooting, hitting the desert in time for the morning sunrise. We headed for Fossil Rock first of all, followed by RAK’s mountains in the afternoon. Needless to say, we had lots of fun and got cracking shots along the way.
What’s my take on Adrian’s life as a full time adventurer? It’s restless, thrilling, vibrant, passionate and his living on the edge is an inspiration. As a worldwide, record-breaking adventurer, the world is certainly a crazy one. Where to go next? What to climb? What to cross? Who’s not done what? You constantly need to be thinking of something harder, higher and more extreme than what’s already been accomplished. How do you maintain your unique voice in a pretty crowded space?
Perhaps this instills in you some crazy thoughts and ideas?
What a great opportunity it is to fly around the world shooting celebs for big brands. In this case, travelling to Shanghai to shoot David Beckham for a PR activation was pretty cool to say the least. Why Shanghai? No major reason. it just happened that travel plans and availability found us meeting there, in a fancy room in a luxury hotel. Air travel makes the world a very small place indeed.
The brief was comprehensive; one strong shot with Becks with BA crew/fans on a branded backdrop. Not staged or frozen… rather a fluid flow of energy. Charismatic and authentic. Time frame? Ha! Five minutes tops. It had to be quick, captivating and simple.
What I’ve learned over time is that researching your subject is key. Think career, hobbies, video’s, TV interviews, social media. Together, it all helps to get a good understanding of who you’re working with. Aside all that though, celebs are also human so being able to hold a good conversation from the start sets you off on the right path. It’s often a short and intense session. The higher the status and the bigger the entourage equals the less time you get and the higher the stakes to deliver the goods.
In order to work fast, I had set up three different shots which were rehearsed in detail beforehand with the crew and a Beckham stand-in. The set was lit with two Softbox Octa’s connected to two Pro-8a’s with air remote, so there were no unnecessary cables and no shortage of fast flash. I stripped down my gear completely using just one Canon body, a fast CF card and two lenses. The less extra gear to worry about, the more you can just focus on just managing the energy on set. One of the pilots, Mark, who worked on our Margot Robbie and Orlando Bloom shoots was also part of the team. He’s outgoing and charismatic making for a lively conversation with Beckham. Admittedly, I did have a few quirky questions to hand (see research) in case the conversation died. Beyond that, it was just a case of moving through each planned shot flawlessly.
I shot 104 frames in well under five minutes. The client handed over five edited images of which two got final approvals by Beckham’s team. So yes, it all worked out as planned. Seamless, fast and resulting in the delivery of two cracking PR shots.
Thanks to Canon Middle East, I had the great pleasure of spending a day with ten media creatives from a range of publications and blogs. We were hosting a full day program centred around the theme of Urban Exploration. The video below is a great summary of the energy of the day.
Urban Exploration means different things to different people. We spoke about this at length during the class room session, particularly in terms of access and location. My definition is this… urban relates to the urban environment and culture and exploration relates to the intention of discovery and being open minded about the outcome. Together, Urban Exploration means hitting the streets in a rich and dynamic place to randomly wonder and tell stories with photographs.
Exploring is all about spending time on the street, either on foot or on a bike. Strap on a backpack and hit the road. I’m a big fan of fstop gear bags for three reasons; they’re super comfy, they’re not immediately recognisable as photo gear bags (thereby allowing you to blend into a crowd) and they provide easy access to kit. Trying to stay unnoticed is key. Depending on where you are in the world, that could mean looking like a local or a tourist. Ditch the tripod, travel light and keep your camera in your pack (lens mounted) until you really need it. Walking around with your camera around your neck would be a definite no no and simply draw attention to yourself.
Beat sunrise and shoot well beyond midnight. Remember the unexpected stories come from the out-of-the-ordinary. Every city bustles with energy 24hrs a day. Think bakeries, fish markets, bus stations, entertainment areas, ports… they all run around the clock and each one tells a story regardless of the time of day. If travel time is an issue, just book a room in a cool neighbourhood. I booked a heritage hotel along the Dubai Creek once to fully immerse myself in three days of exploring Deira and Bur Dubai. A truly amazing experience.
Heba showing off her latest collection of Canon gear…
With regards to access, my advice is to be bold. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission. From experience, I know that if you ask the question re whether its ok to enter somewhere to take a photograph, you’ll spend ages waiting for someone to respond, which eventually turns out to be “Problem Sir, not allowed. No photo”. This particularly applies in this part of the world. So just find a way, walk with confidence like you know where you’re going and keep moving forward.
At some point, we hit the grey area of trespassing and going somewhere (truly) off limits. My point of view is that there are certainly things that would be damn stupid to enter. I’m talking military camps, Skeikh Mohammed’s private palaces, the safe of the central bank, the ladies section of mosques etc. These are absolute no no’s. And then there are other places where I guess you’re not suppose to tread but, if you get caught, a bit of sweet talk might be all you need to get away with it. Think container complexes at the harbour, old ruins, building rooftops and abandoned warehouses. Accessing these would just amount to a little harmless mischief. Both lists can go on and will differ for everyone. It all depends on your own comfort level. For me, it’s important that I’m not doing anyone harm, not damaging anything and not doing anything super illegal. Common sense really.
Jessie standing in as model for magic hour demo shot
To get the max out of your time, do your homework first to see what the area has on offer. A simple google search will have tons of images. Coffee table books are a great source of inspiration as are searches on a good image bank like Getty Images or Arabian Eye. Get a detailed map to plan a rough route. I find the ‘sun scout’ app super helpful to see how the sun travels at precise times of the day. So have a wishlist but don’t get too hung up on it. Be open to change. Take a left turn when you planned a right, just because the light looks better or you feel there might be a good story at the other end of the street. Follow your intuition. Listen to your gut. I’ve discovered the best places on random explorations. Remember what Tolkien said. ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost.’ Don’t be disappointed if your wishlist isn’t met. Instead, celebrate the lucky and unexpected encounters. Embrace the unseen.
Urban Exploring is only partly about taking photographs. It’s also about meeting interesting people and having unexpected conversations. It’s about having roadside food, whether a schwarma from a roadside vendor or some tea in a crowded joint. It’s about the mindset of choice and freedom and not chasing someone elses wishlist. It’s about the adventurer and explorer that lives in all of us. It’s quality ME time and that’s so valuable. Leave your phone at home… don’t be disturbed by ringing, buzzing or vibrating.
Finally, it’s about getting out there. Don’t be an armchair dreamer. Get out, do it and experience it. Explore first, brag later.
A big shout-out and appreciation to Canon Middle East for the opportunity to spend the day with such an amazing crowd. There is something super rewarding about sharing passion and trade with those keen to learn. Also many thanks to SanDisk and f stop gear for spicing up the media kit with valuable products. The crew at Clarke and Romero did a fab job in putting the behind the scenes video together.
The crew at Red Bull took me down to Big Red, an enormous, iconic and pretty daunting sand dune between Dubai and the Hatta mountain range. With a reputation for being able to separate the novice 4×4 drivers from the real dunes bashers, those who make it to the top are considered real heroes!
On this occasion, we didn’t aim for the top but set our focus on a skatepark custom built for newly recruited Red Bull ambassador, Jan Hoffman. It’s tough being a skater in Dubai, with frantic roads and hoards of security guards blocking access to abandoned industrial sites. So what to do and where to go? This reportage is about thinking outside the box and going that extra mile.
I came across Big Red years ago whilst competing in a desert running race. I recall around 2am, 20km or so into the race, expecting a desolate dune… little did we expect a huge crowd of local boys cruising the sand and showing off with tricks on their quad bikes. This dune certainly holds its own when it comes to action and adventure.
What a special day with a super limited edition McLaren 650s Spider Al Sahara 79. With its unique paint finish, which includes the addition of 24 carat gold particles and a special interior finish, this car will only be driven by a very select few.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience first hand the Spider’s 300km/hr top speed as the car arrived on a flatbed truck with the instruction, “For static photography only, no driving”. I even arrived on a recovery truck… I know from previous shoots however, that it will kick some serious ass. For this shoot, we worked on interior close ups, full body shots with clean backdrops and a few more frames late afternoon out in the desert.
Behind the scenes images by Kish
During my occasional photography workshops, my advice when it comes to shooting well is to make sure you get yourself in front of something you find interesting. In this case, putting a serious car fanatic in front of an awesome set of wheels had to be a recipe for success…
How to summarise a stunning year in one word? … Blessed.
It is a true blessing to work with so many amazing clients seeking to go that extra mile, athletes who are at the top of their game and so many interesting, inspiring and courageous people. Yip, 2015 has been a pretty awesome year and I’m very grateful for all that’s happened.
The last five or so years, I’ve written a recap post reflecting back on the twelve months behind me and every year I make the same observation about the speed of our lives. Consumed by the digital rat race, we play a constant juggling game between family, work and play. So much happens that unless I sit down and recap, I forget about all the great opportunities that have landed on my plate… and I forget, I realise, to often appreciate it all and say ‘Thank You!’
This year, I decided to keep my post short and sweet by sharing my six lessons from 2015. They’re in no particular order…
Nothing happens in isolation.
Simply nothing happens in isolation. Nothing. An idea might come from a quiet place but only grows once it’s out in the open. I built my own Studio//73 with the help of others. I work with creative talent to build greater books and deliver amazing shoots. As a brand ambassador and influencer, it’s about sharing the buzz about our industry. My behind the scenes videos is about giving back. We attract what we put out in the world and great ideas are worth spreading.
Be open to new things.
In 2015, we finally wrapped up the Falcons of Arabia book project… something we’ve worked on for 2 ½ years. Sure, we’ve produced over a dozen books but the sport of Falconry was new to me. Why it landed on my plate, I still don’t know, but I grabbed the opportunity. New topics require a great deal of research, study and learning… and in the process you evolve personally and connect with an entirely new crowd. This project meant immersing myself into the Emirati world of Falconry which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m grateful for this opportunity and for being raised in a culture where exploring new things was always encouraged. And thankfully, I still have all ten fingers!
Turn thinking into doing.
In March, I spent a week solo in The Empty Quarter, which is the second biggest desert in the world. An entire week ‘off the grid’… self sufficient and without any digital connection, it was a week of pure quality time in nature away from the digital rat race that consumes us. I named it ‘Project Pause – The Empty Quarter’. I thought about it for twelve months or so but once I’d made the commitment to just go, there was a complete shift in my mind. Suddenly, I found myself saying, “In March, I’m going on…” and as luck would have it, brands, friends and clients all picked up on it and wanted to support. Wow. With a bit of cash, my thinking was to produce a cool film about the experience, with the aim of inspiring others to find a Project Pause of their own. And so it happened…
Be patient. Good things will happen, when you least expect.
A gig that pushed the boundaries in 2015 was shooting two big Hollywood stars. Two weeks prior, I got a call… “Are you available on the 5th of November. Please say yes”. Euan and I had worked on a gig in 2012, shooting the world’s biggest golf players in the world’s biggest bunker. This time he pitched a similar idea to do a shoot of Margot Robbie in the same stunning desert landscape. We did just that and the results were amazing. One led to another and the next day, I found myself on the Hyatt hotel’s rooftop helipad shooting Orlando Bloom. Clearly the story isn’t quite this short as there was all the pre-production to think about, but the message is there. Creating great work leads to new work. Yes it might take time, but when it does, it rocks! This story is just one of a few. In March, I flew to Kuwait for ten days to shoot some amazing fast cars. This opportunity came out of the blue, but it also sort of didn’t…
Create from who you are… and do what you love.
As many of you know, I’m a big outdoor and adventure guy. For that reason I tend to attract like-minded lifestyle brands as clients. Attracting them is one thing but turning their briefs into real, RAW imagery is where the real challenge comes in. I put it simple, you have to work with real people in real places. With Adventure HQ, we went on a five day photo gig, touring the best locations and shooting the best possible content. Yes we got fried, dehydrated and sleep deprived but hell did we capture the real stuff. For Lululemon, it was all about creating the unstaged moments with their pro ambassadors. Creating the unstaged isn’t easy but if you can bring passion and positive energy to the shoot, it’s certainly do-able. My love for the great outdoors has been with me since childhood but turning it into a source of business has required patience and the constant seeking of opportunities.
Learn to let go.
I normally start a gig with a clear vision in my head, knowing what imagery I want to get out of the shoot. Most of the time this works but not always. When you find yourself swimming upstream, there really is great value in letting go and leaving the shoot to chance. Just letting it flow. I’m not saying to settle on anything less but to allow something different to pan out. Just let things happens as they are meant to be. I’m a big believer in this and it works. Try it.
So there you have it. My lessons from my humble observations working as a photographer, a producer, a storyteller and an aspiring filmmaker. Our futures lie in our own hands and are transformed by the actions we take day in, day out and by the people that influence our lives. 2016 will bring amazing opportunities so make sure you’re ready to grab them with both hands.
What do you pack for a week of solitude in the desert?
I’m referring to my recent Project Pause. For those not in the know, Project Pause refers to a week I spent in the Empty Quarter this last March. I lived for seven days, off the grid (no wifi, no email, no phone, no social media) and fully self-sufficient in the second biggest desert in the world. The idea evolved around wishing to spend some quality time in nature away from the digital rat race we live in. I felt curious to discover what the experience would give me. With the support of a few great brands I’ve now got an awesome short film (30min) to hopefully shift a few minds. Check out the 90 second trailer at the bottom of this post.
Back to the packing question. For me, it didn’t seem like a big task to prep and pack for such a long gig but I’ve had so many questions so here’s the lowdown. Do note this post title features the word ‘essential’. Could I have done with less? Absolutely. But I wasn’t on a Bear Grylls survival expedition. If you read my previous posts here and here, you’ll see there was more to my adventure.
Below edit has the full walk thru video I took in camp the day I left. Just to talk thru all the gear and toys I brought along. It’s a basic edit but feeds the gear freaks out there…
Think duct tape, cable ties, knives, my Petzl head torch, a Black Diamond LED lamp, bike repair kit, small rope, mini first aid, snow shovel and my Suunto Ambition 3 GPS, as with all my solo desert running, I knew navigation would be a big thing for me. I ventured deep into the desert yet kept a pretty good sense of where I’d come from and where I was headed. My Suunto, which had the campsite location safely stored, provided the navigational back up I needed and gave me the confidence to explore more and go deeper into the dunes. I’m a bit of a coffee addict too so never go far without my Handpresso. There’s no need to forgo real Latte’s when on a desert adventure!
I was truly amazed how well my Yeti Coolbox functioned in the heat of the desert. I still had ice on day five and coolish drinks on day eight when I drove out. The secret is to pack it smartly, with all the last-to-use items at the bottom and to minimise the time the lid is open.
With the sand storms throwing my plans around a bit, I didn’t get my Fatboy hammock out till the morning of day four. But once I did, it was amazing. Imagine a tropical white beach with two palm trees holding up a comfy hammock. Lying in it, I had that totally chilled feeling of not having to do anything other than absorb the moment and relax. Bliss!
We simply can’t survive without water. I took 80 liters of drinking water with me, intended to last seven days plus extra emergency days. I also took a full jerry can of tap water for cooking, washing the dishes and mini showers. I had to be pretty sparing by the end so in hindsight I would have brought a second jerry can.
I took the luxury of taking two tents, the first being my big-ass base camp tent (Marmot Capstone 6), which I used as HQ tent and the second (Marmot Limelite 2) which served solely as a sleeping tent. I kept this one closed to keep out creepy crawlies and on warmer nights, I removed the fly and just slept beneath the mesh.
TECH GARMENTS + FUEL
Marmot is, hands down, my brand of choice when it comes to time out in the wilderness. Their technical gear kept me nice and dry even when highly active and their down vest, which I love, kept me warm and comfy during the cooler evenings. Nobody performs without fuel and I stocked up heavily on GU hydration tablets, gels and recovery shakes. For longer runs, in particular, I use gels to keep up my energy levels. I wore Salomon trail running shoes, same as I wear for all my races. They’ve never let me down.
A buddy of mine worked for Primus and every year when he came to stay at our place, he brought a new fancy piece of Primus kit. We’ve now got a pretty nice selection! For Project Pause, I cooked on their Easy Fuel and went through four gas cylinders. My tea was kept nice and warm in Stanley thermos flasks.
SHADE AND SEAT
My plan was to set up camp with a big canopy to seek shade during the day and create a sense of cosiness in the evening. Stupidly, I tried setting up the OZtrail Festival 15 in the sandstorm. Bad idea! Even if I’d managed to assemble it, it would have taken off like a parachute so it wasn’t until day four that it came into good use. The size and ease of putting it up is great but I’d love a few big sand pegs to make it more wind robust. Add to this a comfy OZtrail camping chair and all would be great!
I knew I wasn’t going to be caught out on super cold nights (which we have experienced before in Dec/Jan) so a lightweight down sleeping bag would suffice. I love the Marmot Helium, which makes for the perfect light duvet on warmer nights and when fully zipped up, keeps you snug during the colder, early morning hours.
Many asked what I ate during Project Pause. I took two crates of food. I love healthy, nutritious and fresh foods but for a week like this in the desert, you do need to be smart about what you bring. I took only hard fruit that would last well outside the coolbox… apples, pineapples, oranges and banana’s mainly. I also brought fresh veggies with short cooking times (to save gas) such as broccoli and other veg that doesn’t require cooking at all like avocado’s, cucumbers, carrots and peppers. I do think it’s important on trips like this, to keep your fresh produce intake as high as possible. Keeps you healthy and energised.
I had a crate full of dry foods like pasta, rice, crackers, dried fruits, mixed nuts, tinned fish, breakfast cereal and jam… foods I could survive on for weeks if I had to without having to worry about storage temperatures or expiry dates. Rather than bringing lots of herbs, I cooked with ingredients that are full of flavour like canned fish, cured meats, salami and pre-flavoured couscous. I also took some quick and tasty expedition meals.
Beyond a good tent and a warm sleeping bag, one item often neglected is a good sleeping mat. I’ve been sleeping on Thermarest mats for decades. Admittedly, they’re a bit of an investment but they last well and have great padding. A good night sleep leads to a great day in the outdoors!
SURLY MOONLANDER FATBIKE
My first experience on a Surly Fatbike surpassed all expectations. It seemed a little like ski mountaineering in the Alps when you spend hours getting to the top, which is an awesome workout alone, then experience the real joy of skiing down on virgin snow. Fatbiking in The Empty Quarter was no different… firstly, the challenge of cycling to the top of a huge sand dune and then the actual blasting down the dune. Hours of fun, exercise and exhilaration!
A first aid kit is one of those things you hope not to need and thankfully mine stayed untouched. My first aid kit is pretty well stocked with even an expedition first aid manual to answer any questions. Bear in mind that SIRI doesn’t work in the wilderness so you can’t google it even if not on a digital detox. I did have with me a Thuraya satellite phone (my thanks to Xtra link for their support) and I had Dr. Mike, a specialist desert doctor on standby, just in case…
I never go far without a camera by my side. For Project Pause, I took my Canon 1D X with a few lenses; 15mm, 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200. For the (self) filming I used the same Canon 1D X, their new Canon Legia Mini X and GoPro’s Hero 3+ and Hero 4. To keep life simple, I used the biggest SanDisk Extreme Pro cards (128GB and 64GB) so I didn’t have to spend too much time downloading. These cards are super reliable for storing files as well.
ADVENTURE PHOTO PACK
Nice and snug on my back, I had the fstop Satori EXP in blue with ICU’s to store camera kit. When hitting the world’s biggest dunes, you need a pack that sits comfortably and gives easy access to plenty of gear. I used the fstop mountain series with ICU’s to store my camera kit. What I love about the fstop packs is the gear access from the back pouch so you don’t have to place the sweaty backrest onto the sand to get anything out.
17. SOLAR CHARGING BATTERY PACK
I could simply not have done without the Goal Zero Yeti 500 and the boulder Solar Panels. I didn’t have much to recharge (camera batteries, sat phone, go pro’s, music) but the fact that I could be fully self sufficient and have my own power supply was awesome.
So here you have it. If inspired to stock up on some kit yourself, visit Adventure HQ, for pretty much all the stuff you need.
Now check out the trailer and see where adventures can take you…
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions for a project pause of your own. Get out there!
That million-dollar question… how long will it take to shoot? Rock climbing, mountain biking, skate boarding, road cycling, kayaking, surf skiing, camping, trail running, yoga, fat biking, diving, fishing, BBQ… and the shoot list didn’t end there. I looked at the client and replied with “10 days”. They looked back, grinned and responded with “how about three days?” I laughed… and then we settled on five.
Five days… and I still don’t know how we fitted it all in. Days were jam-packed with crew call times at 3 or 4am making for 16hrs day. Pre-production was key, with extensive location scouting and setting up the shots at the best outdoor locations in both the UAE and Musandam in Oman. We pretty much crafted a minute by minute production schedule, making the best of the sweet early morning and afternoon light. I can’t remember how many brands were represented with hundreds of items and dozens of athletes / talent. But most importantly we all an amazing time in the great outdoors.
Why do I love shooting adventure sports? Because we’re all in it for memories, all keen to create stories. And stories are so powerful. It’s a great opportunity to work with amazing athletes and adventurers. And its a grand excuse to head out into the mountains, live it to the max and enjoy the great outdoors. For me, it’s pretty much second nature but for some of the crew it meant first-time camping or getting high up in the mountains. Seeing their enormous grins during those long days was super rewarding.
I created a mood board with images I’ve shot in the past or collected from adventure brands for years, just as a reference to dig into when stuck on site or to explain individual concepts to the team. In an ideal world, you’d shoot a real and raw adventure over a ten day expedition where gear, people and clothing naturally gets worn in and roughened up. Instead, in this shoot we sped up time by rolling in the sand and using other dirty tricks. At the end of the day, the images had to look genuine, unstaged, real and inspiring. I know that’s what we delivered.
Have a look at my main site where you’ll find the full image gallery and seriously check out the behind the scenes video on the top of this post, which besides the production side of things also shows the adventures YOU can have in our region. We do live in an amazing playground with unlimited access.
A big shout out to the crew at Absolute Adventure for keeping us out of trouble and being our partner in ground support. Anyone who gets inspired and is keen to venture off should contact these guys. They’ll take you outdoors, look after you and give you an amazing adventure experience.
I’ve got a few amazing brands that support me with the work I do. Many thanks to Goal Zero for keeping us powered up, fstop gear for their fab pack to haul our gear around the mountains, Aquatec for keeping my camera bombproof dry in the ocean, SanDisk for their fast and uber reliable CF cards and Western Digital for safely storing 100’s of GB’s of data on their HD’s. These are amazing brands to rely on when digging it deep in far away places.
Finally, thanks to everyone for bringing their energy and making it all happen! When tempted to buy some new outdoor toys and gadgets. Check out the Adventure HQ stores around the UAE… and when you’re there, pick up the new catalogue. I heard it looks really nice…
I’m often asked about my digital slash pixel workflow. What happens after pressing the shutter? What’s the process from moving files to the final archiving?
I’ll be brutally honest here. There’s the plan in a perfect world and then there’s reality, when even the best intentions don’t quite pan out as you hope. I often just get caught out in the moment, find myself with a fuller HD (Hard Drive) than expected, following back to back gigs and not enough time to back up properly. Video takes up a vast amount of storage, old laptops let you down, the memory fails as you forget which HD you hastily used for an intermediate edit… the list goes on and on.
But in a perfect world, when things go according to plan, it looks something like this:
I shoot with SanDisk Extreme Pro cards. With big and reliable CompactFlash (CF) cards, I can generally get away with just one or two card changes. Needless to say, the less card changes the better as changing them just isn’t practical in the heat of the moment. And then of course, you put the full card down somewhere… and wonder where that somewhere was afterwards. Ideally, I hand them over to an assistant. I did once lose a card with valuable content and guess where I found it?
Moving on, I always reformat a fresh card when I load in into my camera. I never store files on CF cards. When it comes to dumping cards (aka transferring data from CF cards onto HD), I’m a bit anal about how it’s done.
I move from left to right. The stack of cards sitting to the left of my laptop need to be transferred whilst those on the right are done. When dragging files on my computer, I always work from the left window to the right too. It’s consistent. It’s clear. A little nerdy perhaps but we all have our own systems, right?
I always copy the memory card to an external Hard Drive before bringing it into Capture or Lightroom. Ideally, a HD with a fast Thunderbolt wire. SPEED IS EVERYTHING at times like this. Throughout the day, I’ll back up everything to a second HD. Two HD’s, same content, stored separately when I’m on the move. Normally one terabyte (TB) of storage (laptop powered) will do, but on bigger expeditions I’ll take more HD’s rather than bigger HD’s that need external power.
When back in the studio, I transfer the full job to my Mothership – a huge kick-ass hard drive because SIZE MATTERS. I use the MyCloud by Western Digital to store all my work. I’ve set it to Raid1 so it duplicates all data within the unit. Basically, it backs-up internally on different internal drives. All my editing and retouching work is done using the Mothership. One Place. One Fast Machine. I’m sure it’s a pretty safe place to keep all my files too but just in case the man from Mars comes to sweep my studio, I also store all my work in another two places.
The work I keep hold of are all the files I’ve handed over to clients, the working TIFF’s and a big selection of RAW files. It all adds up to around 1.5-2 TB per year. I keep a pelicase full of HD’s at my place and a second identical set at a friends place. As you can imagine, these aren’t always 100% updated but the aim is to keep it as accurate as possible.
In the real digital world, there are always risks when it comes to file safety. I’ve had CF cards crash, HD breakdowns and even full shoots containing hundreds of RAW files go corrupt so what works for me is to have a tried and tested, simple workflow and a strong backup system. And I stick to it, even when clients are breathing down my neck pushing for a quicker turnaround in order to hit deadlines. I truly believe it’s better to stick to your own workflow even if it requires a little more work. I’m just not prepared to risk missing or disorganized files.
I probably have close to 40 HD’s, in all different shapes and sizes. By choice and by chance, most of these are Western Digital. The ones I personally stay away from are LaCie (despite their sexy orange design) and Drobo. They work for others but have let me down at times when I really needed them.
This stuff isn’t rocket science and there are, of course, plenty of other ways to do things. Any photographer or videographer just needs to find out what works for them, refine it and then stick to it. Keep it simple. Store it safely.
My first gig following my summer exodus saw me get straight back into the creative work I so love to do.
Lululemon is a brand I’ve fallen in love with. Originally a yoga fashion brand from Canada, it’s now expanded into an athletic apparel company. With their first store soon to open in the Middle East, there was a need for regional stories and images so Lululemon’s brand team connected with like minded people in the local community and created a Middle East team of ambassadors.
Over five sessions, I got to photograph these awesome individuals. Each one was genuinely a pleasure to work with and at the pinnacle of their sport. I always love working with professional athletes. They understand their sport better than anyone else and they always look amazing. A strong collaboration with the photographer always translates into strong visuals. Lululemon has pretty clear (photography) brand guidelines which, as luck would have it, works perfectly with how I like to shoot as well; un-staged, naturally lit, authentic impactful imagery.
In this post you’ll find Yogi Melissa, Spinning Nour and Barre Karlee. All the images were shot either on the beach or at the studio they teach in. We mostly shot with the light available but with Nour I had to bring in a little flash, just to have a bit more control in the dark spinning studio.My understanding of the term ‘elasticity’ was redefined during these shoots.
It was fascinating to see how Melissa and Karlee would literally fold themselves in two and have perfect poise in all manner of poses. It must be like playing hide and seek yourself, as your head pops out from all different parts of the body.