The most noticeable things about working with Hollywood stars is that the stakes are high, shoots come with lengthly pre-meetings, you’re seriously time limited and the entourage on set is enormous. But when it all comes together… when the shoot runs smoothly and the crew is happy… it’s so rewarding and such a cool thing to do. Recently, I experienced just that, shooting the gorgeous Margot Robbie for a big British Airways PR push.
We used the stunning Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort as our base before venturing off into the desert. The Empty Quarter has no shortage of shooting options, yet a recce did prove to be a worthwhile exercise to stake out the best location for capturing the afternoon light yet remaining in close proximity to the resort. All in all, we had a time limit of 1 ½ hours on site. Margot was a complete joy to work with… hard not to be perhaps when in the company of six good looking pilots (her words…)! Dressed in Burberry, she remained effortlessly down to earth with bare feet and a sense of adventure. Here are the final three images that made it to the press along with a few behind the scenes images.
I timed it so we would capture the very best of the afternoon light, making our way into sunset. During the recce, we picked a varied mix of dunes as the ultimate backdrop. I mostly shot using the light available supplemented with a bit of fill in flash to knock off some shadows. To keep the client in the loop with the images I was shooting, I used the CamRanger, which transfers the jpgs from the camera straight to an iPad screen. This is great as the team could stay involved with feedback and approvals and it’s easier for me to absorb images on a larger screen than on a 3” LCD one.
Quick doodle visualising shot list.
Behind the scenes image by Kish
Rehearsals / Behind the scenes image by Kish
It’s always awesome to look back and trail how shooting opportunities land in the calendar. This gig came thanks to another I did in the Empty Quarter back in 2012, when I shot golf legends Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer. Euan, who worked for Abu Dhabi PR at the time, now heads his own agency called MCS Action, so when the Margot Robbie gig came up, he called me up straight away. Thanks for reaching out.
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.
Whilst buzzing along in my Defender today, this question came to mind. “What feeds my creativity?” It’s not a new subject, I know. There’ve been tons of books written on the topic. Nonetheless, here’s what came to my mind.
1. ENERGY. First of all, creativity needs energy and energy comes from sleep and downtime. At least for me, that’s very much the case. On the other hand, if I feel tired and drained, I operate on auto-pilot and the engine for new ideas operates in slow-motion. If there’s anything more non conducive to creativity, it’s falling back into old patterns of thinking or creating images. For me, a complete recharge of the batteries from time to time is super important to keep on delivering amazing work… hence my recent Project Pause. Power-naps are another powerful tool, I’m an early riser where most of my writing gets done early morning before the world wakes up, so to reenergise with a quick 15min head down does the trick for me.
2. FRESH HORIZON. What feeds new ideas aka creativity is seeking new environments. I love travelling, exploring new cities… walking the streets, seeing the people, checking out the billboards and bus ads, chilling at trendy cafes or bars, discovering trendy designer hotels and equally the backpackers districts… Travelling certainly gives you one big, fresh take on things but what when travel isn’t possible? What also works is buying new magazine titles. Personally, I don’t think I’ve actually purchased a single photo mag in the last decade. Rather, I always pick up travel, design, culture, interior design or architecture titles. I’m a big fan of Frame magazine although it’s hard to find in this part of the world. Over the years, I’ve built an impressive collection of books and magazines which I often return to for ideas.
3. WORLD OF ART. I’m a huge fan of visiting art shows, galleries and museums. There’s just so much amazing work out there. I also love looking at how work is presented, packaged and displayed. A really worthwhile visit is the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar which I visited earlier this year. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of historic artefacts but the way they’ve packaged and presented their collection is truly outstanding. So much about art appreciation for me is wondering how others got their ideas, what inspired them and how they sell it. I have a poster in my studio by Andy Warhol with the words, ‘ART IS WHAT YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH’. Love it! On the topic of art shows, I had the privilege recently of presenting a key note address at World Art Dubai.
4. ART DIRECTION. There’s always great value in working with an art director, either in the early creative stages of a project or on site at the actual shoot. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a few and have often found them to be great characters with lots of energy and ideas. With bigger productions, there’s such a large crew which can easily absorb more of my attention than is necessary so having an extra set of (art directors) eyes helps to push the envelope. Often art directors represent the brand and know it inside out so they can easily make instant decisions on the spot… I’m talking simple decisions like sunglasses on or off, socks yes or no. Simple things yes, but trying to discover the best answer at 5am can be a challenge otherwise and getting it wrong could have a negative impact on the whole shoot.
5. CREATIVITY FROM OTHERS. For many years, I’ve had a folder on my desktop named ‘Creativity by Others’, which is filled with inspirational work on a super wide range of subjects including photography, art, interior design, quotes, furniture, art installations and more. When I see something nice, I screen grab/photograph it and chuck it in this folder which, as you can imagine, now contains thousands of things. I guess the folder acts as a good summary of the person I am today, the work I do and the work I want to be doing. I tap into it regularly when working on a new gig or putting together proposals.
6. CREATE YOUR OWN SPACE. Finally, I believe we all need our own personal space to be at our best. With our recent move, I’ve had the opportunity to re-create my studio which is now my think-tank, editing suite, chill out zone and inspiration chamber all in one. Studio//73, check it out… it’s even cooler than you can imagine.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but rather the first thoughts that popped in my mind on this great topic. There a great quote by Ansell Adams that my copy editor Victoria Leckie once sent to me. It goes, “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, music you have heard and the people you have loved.”
One Percent for the Planet is a global initiative where companies donate 1% of their revenue to an environmental cause. As it turned out, back in 2011, I was the first to bring One Percent for the Planet to the Middle East and consequently got EWS-WWF onboard as a regional organisation to send my donation to. As mentioned in previous posts, I’m a big fan of the mountains and the work EWS-WWF is doing in Wadi Wurayah is amazing – turning it into the region’s first National Park and setting a real benchmark in doing so.
All I can wish for is to see fellow entrepreneurs and business owners to consider signing up… but only if they too truly believe in looking after our planet! I would like to see One Percent for Planet grow in the Middle East… together we can make a difference in looking after our world. It’s up to the member to choose where they donate their money. I chose the mountain project for the obvious reasons yet there are dozens of other projects to pick from. If that isn’t enough reason to sign up, it comes with pretty cool marketing and story as well.
I always find it fascinating how business ticks along. Well over two years ago now, I received an email from sports marketing client, Professional Sports Group (PSG), asking whether I had any falcon images. I did as it happened and shared them with the group. It then went quiet for a while, as it sometime does, before a call out of the blue with the question, “Are you interested in doing a book about falcons?”.
Now two years on along with 35,000 raw files, 14 days of shooting, hours of research, three edits and 10,000 words, we’ve finally just launched an amazing book, Falcons of Arabia. Call me biased if you will but I’ve received truly humbling feedback from local Emirati’s on reviewing early copies of the book and during my exhibition at Emirates Palace. Their acknowledgment and enthusiasm has filled me with pride and endorses our approach to shooting the subject.
The book was created for investment managers, Columbia Threadneedle, who will be hand delivering copies to their high end clientele. Nothing like this has ever been done before and I’m sure the book will provide them great recognition and curiosity. From the book, we’ve selected twenty prints which will go on an international exhibition tour. The first stop was Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace. London comes next with other cities to follow.
With Jamie Cunningham, CEO of Professional Sports Group.
I’ve uploaded a summary of my favourite images on my website and I’m super happy with the results. Whilst this was a great gig to work on, it was also a hard subject to shoot. Falcons are wild birds so getting them to do what you want is no easy feat. I’ve learned that raw meat is what makes them tick and a caring, professional falconer becomes your treasured partner. It’s been really interesting to see how these birds all differ, not just in looks but by their behaviour. I hope their individual characters have translated back into the images.
One personal highlight occurred when returning to one of the falcon farms, deep in the desert near Sweihan. The intention to shoot was interrupted by an unexpected late lunch invitation. We sat down on the floor for a lovely traditional Arabic lunch which, as an expat, are rare occasions and always much appreciated. At the same time, I felt conscious of the time, nervously looking outside at the great light which would soon fade. Still, I’m a firm believer that you have to live the moment and enjoy the experience… and all worked well in the end as we captured some stunning images just before sunset.
Finally what a great opportunity to share the stories and book to a global audience on CNN with Becky Anderson. Below is a rough screen grab…worth a watch as the spark is at the end!
I’d like to acknowledge the great team on our side who did a grand job on art direction, research, text writing, calligraphy and in designing a truly unique book. My thanks to you all. This can only lead to more new and exciting projects together.
I ventured into Project Pause in the hope of making it a valuable experience and when sharing my ideas and objectives, I found that other brands were keen to be part of the story. With their support, it opened doors to record the gig and share what it stands for with a bigger audience. I really hope to kick some butt and shift some mindsets!
On drop off day, I had a film team join for an afternoon of filming but when they left at sunset, the rest of the week was self filmed. My photo gear has been able to do video ever since the Canon 5D Mark 2 got launched in 2008 but strangely enough, I had just never had the desire to flick the switch and shoot video. Thankfully, video pro’s, Alex and Maellyn gave me a quick 10 minute crash course before leaving the desert on how to set my Canon 1Dx to film mode. I also had the newly launched Canon Legria MiniX and a couple of GoPro’s to play with. On the last day I got picked up, Maellyn joined to film the missing takes.
I certainly had enough hardware to film the story and was delighted that there was such enthusiasm for me to document the project as best I could. Keep your eyes peeled for the Project Pause documentary video!
The timing for such a project is never going to be perfect and inevitably, it was really hard to find a week-long window amongst back to back shoots and my latest book project. During the month of March, I think I was only actually home for four days. Project Pause came right after an intense 11 day shoot in Kuwait leaving me with just 48 hours to pack and shop for my week of solitude as well as squeeze in some quality time with the family. In parallel, I’ve been working on an amazing book called ‘Falcons of Arabia’, scheduled to go to print mid April. Willingly cutting myself off like this meant I had to have a great team in place during my absence. My thanks go to all involved for making it work!
One of the brands that instantly embraced Project Pause was VW Middle East and they provided me with a brand new VW Touareg. Driving their latest model, packed with all my toys and desert survival kit was a real joy and undoubtedly the most luxurious thing I had with me. I’m working on a separate behind the scenes video with all the kit I brought along, sharing what gear works and what you may want to pack if you feel the urge to go on a similar adventure.
There’s only one place to do all your outdoor shopping for a trip into the wilderness and that’s Adventure HQ. The guys are super helpful and highly knowledgeable about the products they sell. I’m a big believer in technical clothing to keep me dry when exercising and warm and comfy in the evening. Marmot fits the bill perfectly and is my preferred garment of choice.
One thing I was keen to start during my week was the writing of my own book ‘1975 – connecting the dots.’ Eventually, I hope to see it as a printed book, filled with stories and images. Each story feeds to the person I am today, why I do what I love and how I choose to live my life. It was inspired by a blog post I once wrote in May 2013 after browsing two amazing photo books in the Yas Hotel lobby. I’m delighted to have made a good start with notes, anecdotes and the makings of a general outline. The book is very much about how opportunities have landed in my path, some expected and others far from it. I guess I’m keen to find out from where they originated from.
The big question, of course, is when is the right time in your career to scribble down your story? Never, I guess… so the best time is NOW. Don’t wait for someone to write your memoir knowing that you’ll never get the chance to read it. Read the 2013 post and you’ll find out how.
An unexpected highlight of my week was when my wife and two little boys joined the pick-up team on day seven. Total surprise! The kids where ecstatic about dune bashing and our family dinner in The Empty Quarter will be etched in my memory for a long time to come. My big thanks to Kiki for manning the fort in my absence and taking on the long journey to collect me.
To wrap up this post, I would love to leave you with two questions. 1) What would be your version of Project Pause? 2) Within the next six months, when could you spare a week to explore in solitude? From experience, I can tell you how great it feels not having the urge to pick up my iPhone and check my status, email or other stuff.
In pursuit of my Project Pause, on the 21st of March 2015, I drove into The Empty Quarter for a week of total solitude. The Empty Quarter, for those not in the know, is the second largest sand desert in the world, equal to France, Belgium and Holland combined. The desert landscape is truly fascinating. Think endless views of sand dunes and salt flats without a single soul in sight. Pure emptiness! It’s also home to the highest sand dunes in the world, rising to over 300 metres high.
The Empty Quarter certainly made for an inspiring place to call home for a week and grab some quality down time, particularly after six months of being crazy busy. With the aim of being completely off the grid and self-sufficient, I set up camp with enough water, food, shelter and powerful reading to survive. That’s it. No wifi, mobile phone, email or any sort of connectivity. Project Pause was all about stepping away from the intense rat race we live and work in, to do away with to-do lists and let the days take shape as they naturally unfolded.
I can honestly tell you that it was a most amazing experience. I managed to read great books without instantly falling asleep. I enjoyed every sunset, counted shooting stars at night, went for long runs, got hooked to Fat Biking and most importantly, the experience calmed me down. I came out feeling more relaxed and mellow than I’ve felt for a long time. Granted, it wasn’t until day five that I started to really feel at peace both in body and in mind.
Does feeling recharged and ready to combat life to the full again mean that I’m ready to return to the rat race with a vengeance or that I’ve had a change of mindset and am now capable of re-entering the rat race but taking things at a slightly slower pace? I’m not quit sure yet. You see, I live and work at a high pace and I can’t decide whether that alone is a good or a bad thing. All else considered, I have my own brand, I do what I love and it feels pretty awesome, most of the time anyway. I certainly don’t think I could slave away for a big multinational company, one who cares more about you reaching your target than about you on a personal level so I guess in that sense, I’m definitely in the right space. I’ve been so blessed over the years with an incredible mix of clients and a great diversity of work. But if I could slow down a little, it would be to spend more quality time with my wife and kids. I’ve been promising my kids I’d build them a pirate bed for months now and still haven’t started. It’s a fine balancing act many of us face, I know.
Was my entire week one of happiness? I would say yes. Back in the civilised world, any hardship quickly disappears from memory. I do recall days two and three being particularly hard as I had to sit through a crazy sandstorm. My Marmot tents held up really well but when stranded in a hot tent for hours or days at end, covered in sand and with gear constantly being thrown about, I did have to dig deep to find the enjoyment factor. Leaving the tent to the great outdoors was akin to having someone constantly throwing sand in your face. Not nice!
But storms come and go and this too eventually passed. By day four, I could finally set up my canopy to create a nice shaded space to assemble my Fatboy hammock. The remainder of my week was quite simply, paradise.
Stay tuned for more Project Pause stories… The Empty Quarter – Part 2
I’m so glad we got this one together. Svetlana and I had spoken about it a number of times but trying to align her busy race schedule with my hectic shooting itinerary proved a challenge. A matching day finally arose and we certainly made great use of the opportunity. Here’s part one of a day spent with a professional triathlete.
Prior to the shoot, I put together a moodboard with images I liked. Some very triathlon driven and others more arty and fashion oriented. For over a decade I’ve been collecting images, art pieces, ad’s and illustrations so when stepping into a portfolio shoot like this, I find it helpful to go through my… (more…)
It’s been cooking for months behind the scenes so I’m super stoked to be starting a new year with the sharing of my new brand. Much has changed… an entire website rebuild alongside a new logo, blog and newsletter. We’ve also thrown some animated video into the mix.
When I see WE, I’m 100% referring to this being a team effort. The foundation for change was laid out by the crew at Wonderful Machine. They undertook a full brand audit which resulted in a super valuable report with professional, industry specific views and recommendations. I seriously recommend tapping into their knowledge. Following the report came the rebrand starting with a new word mark and a box of graphic identity tools. I LOVE my new logo. I knew that the new site and blog would have to be a custom build project using a photo template as a base. Internet in this part of the world is slow so we had to be smart as to how it would look and load. Whilst this was going on, Sean at Wonderful Machine assisted with an extensive photo edit, trying to make good sense of thousands of images. He set the base for my portfolio categories and content. The team Wonderful Machine made the below video which recaps on their thinking.
I found an awesome website template at APhotoFolio. They seriously know their stuff and build great websites for creatives. They have a super easy to use backend system for the editing and uploading of new content. Their template was the base from where we added our custom built text pages. Philip Meissner, a web designer familiar with APhotoFolio web jargon did an awesome job in pulling custom work off. Phil also turned the hand sketches of the new blog design into a working platform, still using wordpress. New to the blog will be the introduction of external content and other sources of inspiration. Melissa, from the Wonderful Machine design team, kept a watchful eye to ensure a consistent look & feel, redesigned our mail chimp newsletter and did a grand job in pulling the team together.
One element that needed a stronger online presence is why and how we produce award winning books. Book production is a key element to our business and that needed stronger recognitions. I wanted to step away from jpgs of stacks of produced books, but instead talk about the role of books, what they can mean to your business and our philosophy of making them. I found some inspiration in David McWilliams animation video, on how to tell stories. My text queen Tori edited the copy to create a nice flowing story, which got a voice over by Chris Radley. For the visual animation, I sat down with artist Matt Ryder and videographer Karl Edwards to bring it all together. Sure, the web video might be a tad long, but if someone is really interested, they’ll find the full six minutes both entertaining and valuable.
In summary, I think it all looks AMAZING. Fresh, relevant and a true reflection of what we do so a big shout out to everyone involved. Many thanks for sharing your magic.
Damn it was awesome … two months filled with loving family, energy, amazing friends, a green horizon, inspiration, trail runs and awesome conversations. It’s always a bold move to leave the business ticking over in idle mode for a while, moving at a slow pace and without the need to constantly download CF cards or haul heavy kit around. Clearly clients’ needs are still served to the max and communications are ongoing, but that all happens from a mountain lodge with grand views, a city train or under a tree with little birds singing.
It’s amazing to see our little boys grow and witness the characters they’re becoming. We had them trekking high up in the Alps and value the views. We raced them downhill, enjoying total freedom and accepting the bruises that came along the way. Our eldest must have caught at least hundred grass hoppers, of which unfortunately half got accidentally squeezed or dissembled. We visited amazing markets where (more…)
We’re super stoked to announce our next photo exhibition with DXB/AIR kicking off on Sunday 11th October. When I finished up shooting out the helicopter for my book ‘Dubai Aerial Tour’, I knew then that the content I’d amassed would lead to a grand exhibition. And here it is!
What’s on show? Thirty of my own favourite aerial images, all shot from a helicopter… yes, the real McCoy! The result is a cool mix of tight abstract landscape details, hidden treats, unique and creative uses of lenses and an awesome variation of colour, form and texture covering all corners of Dubai.
We launch the exhibition at the super chic office and leisure destination, The Boulevard, Jumeirah Emirates Towers, where our big black columns will be on display bang in the middle of the atrium. What a prestigious location to start our two and a half months road show. On the 1st of November we shift the installation to the much-loved arabesque Souk Madinat Jumeirah, where our display will remain until UAE National Day. Finally, we close our tour at the biggest Audi showroom in the world… where else but the Al Nabooda dealership on Sheikh Zayed Road.
A massive shout out to our sponsors without whose generous support, energy and trust, none of this would have been possible. Jacqueline at Jumeirah was the first to embrace the exhibition by opening the doors to Emirates Towers and Souk Madinat. Without a home, there simply is no exhibition so my sincere thanks for giving us a stunning roof over our heads. As a Canon brand ambassador, I knew I could count on the support of the Canon Middle East team, my trusted partner in large format printing gear, photography equipment, social media and PR. I’ve worked with Ali al Naboodah and Inken Wessels for eight years and I’m deeply grateful for the support they have shown. Integral to the entire gig was of course, the helicopter, without which there would be no aerial images. Andy Nettleton and the team at Heli Dubai have been truly amazing. During the many hours flight time, Captain Andy was my trusted partner and I loved working with him.
Over the course of the coming months there will be a series of activations with exclusive tours, workshops, helicopter access, retail opportunities and viewings. For those still looking for the perfect Christmas gift, stay tuned to my blog for ideas. If you’re eager to get your hands on a treasured keepsake right now, grab yourself a copy of the best selling book ‘Dubai Aerial Tour’. It’s widely available throughout the UAE and by purchase online here.
Each image tell a story… I think of them as conversation prints. Presentation, as a result, is just as important as the images themselves. I wanted to avoid the obvious route of frames on easels. That’s not what my brand stands for or how I live and work.
For this exhibition, I wanted to create more of an art installation so I designed the final concept on RAW with massive freestanding columns and scruffy old wood, once upon a time, scaffolding planks from the Dubai’s construction boom. The planks alone hold a remarkable story and sit perfectly alongside our philosophy. Why chop down more trees if you don’t need to? So we transformed rustic planks into columns and finished with a super shiny, sleek and sexy black gloss. The lit-up prints fall deep inside the box, like those old TV units.
A big thanks to the team at Le Chamarel joinery for handling my constant flow changes and last minute amendments with total patience. They’ve done an outstanding job putting it all together.
The prints were all produced in-house on our Canon iPF8400 and produced on Canon backlit film. New to backlit prints, it was helpful to be able to continuously run sample prints, place them on the LED panels and make adjustments whenever necessary. The quality speaks for itself and I remain delighted to work with such pro gear.
I do hope you make it down to absorb the images in real life, share them with friends and help spread the word.
I’m super stoked to break the news! This has been in the pipeline for a while, with a relationship that trails back to my first exhibited work in 2008. Canon was a great support of my ArtOnTheMove.me exhibition and I’ve done a few trade show presentations and workshops for fellow photographers.
But now, I suppose it’s just a bit more official! I’ve taken on the exciting role of Canon Brand Ambassador for the Middle East region. Amongst a mix of deliverables, I’ll be feeding their social media channels with fresh content, throwing out crazy photography ideas, mishaps, large format printing experiences, creative injections and brain twisters… basically sharing what I do on a… (more…)
Freedom Pizza (formally known as NKD) is a brand to watch out for. It’s an Canadian franchise brand introduced to the region by Ian Ohan, a driven entrepreneur overflowing with energy and ideas. Love spending time with him! He brings so much to the scene, is always on a positive energy high. You see this carry through in how they run their business and in all their activities.
Over the coming weeks, NKD will be giving away a chaffy Charger, together with presenters at Dubai92 and the Autodrome… a chance to burn some rubber through branded pizza boxes. Before you know it, there are multiple players with multiple messages. With a brief that read… (more…)
My very first experience with The North Face goes back to a purchase some 25+ years ago and over the years, I’ve trashed their packs, duffles, tents, tops, base layers and shoes at exciting places all over the world. They’re an awesome outdoor brand just crying out to be played with.
So when the phone rang and Craig, their Middle East brand guy, asked if I wanted to do some trail running work with them, it was a no brainer. Their logo is on my ‘brands I would love to work for’ board so needless to say, I was eager to grab this opportunity. I did some work with The North Face brand ambassador, Dean Karnazes in ’08 and ’09 with some extreme running in Chile and China and my… (more…)
It is a little over a year ago that I signed up to 1% for the Planet. The idea was to give back some of our revenue to support causes dedicated to preserving the natural environment. 1% for the Planet is a brilliant initiative and one that lies close to my heart. It’s nature after all, that fuels my creativity, enables me to reflect and brings me peace and clarity. In fact, most of my creative time is spent in the mountains as I’ve written about often in the past.
I chose to dedicate last years donation to Wadi Wurayah National Park and am doing so again, this year. Sitting on the east coast of the UAE, the park is a unique project in this part of the world, managed by Emirates Wildlife Society in association with… (more…)
When it comes to beautiful landscapes, Oman never fails to deliver. And similarly, when it comes to beauty on wheels, nor does the Bentley GT. We had three days to create a set of regional images for Bentley’s latest model, the 521 bhp Bentley GT V8 S, three days to work magic with this stunning car.
I’ve been commissioned by Bentley a number of times and it’s always proved to be sheer, exhilarating visual excitement. As it panned out, it was a pretty high performance gig, involving a fancy hotel, stunning road and these luxury wheels. I could get used to this… (more…)
I’ve just watched Lone Survivor on a flight to Amsterdam, an epic American war film, directed by Peter Berg. It was amazing. Based on a true story, the movie is simultaneously action packed, thrilling and touching.
On the list of my 5CALLS is the desire to produce a book about the armed forces… to shed a light on their work, to collate and expose the work they do, to put these role models on a pedestal where they can be given the applause they deserve. Perhaps this goes back to my wanting to be in the army as a kid, I don’t know.. (more…)
This book is about sharing visual stories of Dubai and celebrating the city from an aerial view. Dubai is truly unique, home to a distinctive heritage, culture and modernity and capturing these images proved to be a wonderful gig.
I believe that coffee table books are all about striking the right balance. On the photography side, you want to find harmony from different angles and this means careful consideration of lens choices, patterns and textures, isolating a subject or going for a mass of complexity and chaos. This was the first time I had used a fish-eye lens in my aerial work, which results in this crazy distorted… (more…)
I posted a few images from our falcon project on Facebook a while back. Work on this project continues full steam ahead and a couple of days ago, the client exhibited some of my first works for a selected group of VIP’s at Abu Dhabi’s Park Hyatt.
This project is still very much a work in progress. Getting into the ‘inner circle’ has proven to be a bigger task than the actual shooting and we’ve had all hands on deck just to secure access and permissions. The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority is helping to open doors, which has got me into some private falcon stables as far out as (more…)
In the years that lead up to my starting my own business, being involved in different training workshops featured quite heavily in my life. I wrote various courses for Accor Academy and my time at the Land Rover / Jaguar regional office in Dubai had a 30% focus on training. ‘Dipped in Green’, in particular, developed into a memorable three days brand experience. To date, I still meet participants who refer to it with fond memories. At the end of last year, I also held a Canon photography workshop, and if all goes to plan, we’ll see more of them soon.
So when Motoring Middle East called to see if I was interested in running a car specific photography workshop, I jumped at the idea. I’m always keen to share and help others take it to the next level… and when it comes to car photography, I’m sure I have a few… (more…)
Putting together the official 2009-2013 UAE Ministry Achievement book in only three months brought with it great challenge in terms of turnaround time. Commissioned by the UAE Federal Government of Cabinet Affairs, we’ve produced a solid 250 page hardcover book about the UAE government’s achievements over the last four years.
It has a fresh and modern looking design, with copy entirely in Arabic so we’ve had a bilingual team who have worked around the clock to bring all the artwork together.
The result is a beautiful looking book which was presented by his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Maktoum at the cabinets meeting last… (more…)
The fifth event saw me back shooting for the fifth time. Always a fantastic gig to work on. I just love the atmosphere when you have a huge combination of athletes, some newbies to the sport, some going hard for a new PB and some pro’s racing insanely fast to grab that podium finish. The finish line ends up having no shortage of huge sweaty hugs and tears… 2,400 personal and powerful stories within a few short hours.
From a photography point of view, the mission is avoid shooting the same old content year on year. Going through this year’s imagery, I’m pleased to see that I managed a few new monster shots, pushing on creativity and… (more…)
Heading into the Hajar Mountains from the coastal town of Dibba never fails to bring back fond memories. I’ve been heading out to this area for over twelve years and it never fails to impress. Past trips have included endless camping adventures on the higher ridges, my introduction to trad climbing, a top three finish in the inaugural Jebel Qiwhi run, landing the winners trophy at the Arabian Quest, lot’s of long mountains runs, wadi floods (not recommended!) and last but not least, the witnessing of a super special wedding proposal by my best mate silhouetted against the moon. So when the phone rings and I’m asked if keen to cover the annual Wadi Bih run, my answer is always a resounding yes!
Those who follow my blog will have read about the race before. It’s a 72k run through a dry river bed, up the mountain and back, completed solo or as a relay team of five. In previous years, Nike were key sponsors of the race and my brief was guideline heavy. This year, the brief was very open. I was simply to create a bank of images that connect with the race. For me, this meant roaming around the wadi and just shooting where the light was at it’s best. I really couldn’t have asked for it better! The race actually takes place in (more…)
I recently wrapped up a series of talks at the Sign & Graphics trade show in Dubai. It was great fun with lots of energy and a tip-top crowd.
My talks was predominantly geared towards photographers and printing professionals… sharing real life experiences from the diverse productions and shoots we work on covering photography and (large format) printing. In a nutshell, my story ran as follows (more…)
A big slice of my 2013 pie was car work. I’d say a good third of my photography work is automotive related. I came to this realization when I visited the Dubai Motorshow last November and took this one picture. All the luxury brands came together and it dawned on me that I had recently worked for all of them. I hope to continue this trend and further extend our relationship over the years to come. It’s all about putting the Middle East on the map with… (more…)
It’s always fascinating to see where new business comes from. Matt, a client who I did a lot of work with at the Abu Dhabi Tourism office, recently moved to the UK to work for a sports marketing agency. I’ve since gained the title of the desert photography expert at the office, which resulted in the epic opportunity to shoot golf legends Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer in the world’s largest dunes. (worth a read).
Matt rang me recently to ask if I was keen to do some destination work with Lewis Hamilton and Blackberry in the desert. ‘Hell yeah‘ was my reply, not because he’s a celebrity but just because he’s a very cool guy! I worked with him briefly two years ago on a shoot for McLaren and despite his status, he remains refreshingly down to earth….
Why do Maserati shoots always turn out to be sandier than hoped? We recently went out to shoot some local imagery for a number of regional car publications. The focus was very viagra jelly uk much on beauty driving shots in the UAE with a diverse mix of backdrops.
You may remember my last Maserati shoot, when we found ourselves in the midst of a giant sandstorm near Bab Al Shams? Well, this time we were out towards the East Coast when we got hit with a total overdose of low flying sand. In all honesty though, it made the shot. We live in a desert after all so why ever not?