I love working on authentic local stories. A few years ago we crafted the story around Falcons of Arabia with an exclusive book, a photo exhibition tour and a bunch of talks. In recent months, I’ve shot a whole different beast … the Arab’s beloved camel.
Last summer, I was approached by Aditi Kumar, an upcoming author, to support the photography for her new book ‘Humr An-Na’am – Treasure of the Desert’. We gelled well and over the last few months, we’ve been travelling around the country capturing a wide variety of camel settings. I’ve rarely seen anyone so dedicated and organized as Aditi and it’s been a real pleasure working together. Her father is a vet and has been looking after the camels belonging to the Bin Hamoodah family for over 25 years. As he approaches retirement age, she thought it would be a great opportunity to tell their story and dig into his wealth of knowledge.
The main character in the storyline of the book is Faraj bin Hamoodah, a 70 year old successful entrepreneur, former Bedouin, family man and respected personality from Abu Dhabi. Humr An-Na’am echo’s his vision of what camels have to offer us as humans and how the lifestyle of camel farming, racing and breading can bring us back to the core of living. Faraj bin Hamoodah clearly loves spending time at his farms, away from hectic city life, a place where he finds peace, simplicity and solitude. I am deeply grateful to him for sharing his passion and knowledge.
It’s not every day that a photographer sticks a camera so close to a camel’s face that you can literally see the lens steam up and smell their breath… or lies flat on the ground and has a dozen or so camels standing around you, munching on fresh grass from beneath you. Any outsider would probably think I’ve gone nuts but that’s how I love to roll, always in search of a unique perspective. Over the course of this project, I’ve really gained an appreciation for the camel and the role it plays in Arab culture.
Opportunities like this, working with inspiring individuals like Aditi, creating meaningful and long lasting content are an absolute privilege. It’s her days of research, hours of interviews, four years of writing… that laid the content for an awesome book. A tangible book of great historical and cultural significance.
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.
I’m super stoked to be sharing the our latest book production, ‘Energizing Oman – celebrating 30 years of oil operation’. It was actually delivered to the client a couple of months ago but I’ve only now had the chance to sit down and recap. Below is a quick flick-though to give you an idea of what it’s all about.
From concept to print, the project took nearly two and a half years so it was a real labour of love. On launch, it was presented to Royal Al Said family, the Minister of Oil & Gas Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhi, the Minister of Finance Darwish bin Ismail bin Ali Al Balushi and I was delighted that all the client’s employees received a copy of their own. Oman is a truly special place and distinctly different from other gulf countries. You’ll find Omani’s at work at all different levels within organisations and they hold immense pride over what they do and what Oman has to offer. A large component of ‘Energizing Oman’ was about capturing this pride and conveying the enthusiasm of the local workforce.
Before I started working on this book, I had little knowledge about the oil industry… nothing beyond filling up my own tank at the petrol station but I’ve since spent a lot of time on oil rigs and now have a pretty good understanding of what it take to pull raw oil from the ground. The technology it requires is mind blowing and the precision they operate at when drilling truly amazes me. Oxy brings in alot of technology from the US to do what is best described as follows, “In the Mukhaizna fields, the oil sits deep in the ground like thick peanut butter. In order to get it out, we inject hot steam into the ground to warm up the this peanut butter and make it a more fluid consistency. Only then can it be extracted.”
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed some pretty overwhelming hospitality in Oman. The friendliness of Omani’s characterises the nation as a whole. In 2011, during the Footsteps of Thesiger expedition, we spent weeks travelling through the most remote parts of the country and everywhere we stopped, the expedition team was always received with unconditional hospitality; dates, fresh camel milk, traditional dinners and fireside conversation. My Oxy gigs weren’t any different and before heading back to Dubai on the final day, the team I had worked with for the week prior took me out for a delicious local lunch in a traditional restaurant. I know the cultural drill well now… shoes off, bum on floor, plastic sheet in centre and eating with the right hand. Throw in lovely salads, meats and side dishes along with great conversation and it would be hard not to really value such experiences.
So with another awesome book product in the portfolio, all I can say is a big thank you. Thank you to Oxy Oman for the opportunity and teamwork in creating a stunning book together. And thank you to Gilbert Ruegg, Isam Al Zadjali, Moza Al Behlany, Mohammed Al Sarmi, Tim Ansel, Louise Adamson and Pascale de Jong for their invaluable support.
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 went for a run the other day and starting thinking about my ‘2014 Recap’ post. I’ve done one for the last five years; 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. It’s a lot of work putting it together and I asked myself, ‘who actually reads it all?’ Obviously you… so far!’ So why send it out?
I continued running and let the highlights of the last twelve months come front of mind. Damn it’s been a great year! A lot of ‘a-ha’ moments which I think had sorted of faded from my memory. Then it struck me, in the fast pace we operate in, it’s always all about the now, the constant barrage of briefs, editing, digital distractions and what have you. The nows are closely followed by the what’s next… the next gig, next rebrand, next blog update, next new business and the next new year.
It struck me that I rarely sit down to absorb and be proud of what we’ve accomplished.
So I guess this post is more for me rather than for you the reader. Sorry! But, don’t switch off quite yet as success is always better shared.
Here’s a snapshot of how my 2014 panned out
I launched my own retail book with my publisher Motivate in April. It’s always a proud moment to see my ‘Dubai Aerial Tour’ in all the book stores around town. If you’ve not already seen it check out the behind the scenes video.
I’ve now formally taken on the role as Canon Ambassador for the Middle East region. A new challenge which feeds my passion for sharing and teaching. My content has gone up on their Facebook page with #WOUTERINFOCUS as the tagline and I’ve already enjoyed a few speaking engagements. In December, we produced a really cool Canon case study video as a summary of my work.
I needed a new roof over my head so I converted an abandoned 20ft container into a vintage lodge as our studio and creative space. I’m a big believer in creating a working environment that works, fits your style and is full of energy to fuel creativity. Swing by and check it out…
On a more private note but a pretty a big one… nope, trust me.. the two energetic boys we have are enough! My wife Kiki has left the corporate field herself and has a heart set on creating a voice within the team & relationship coaching world. She is great at what she does and I wish her all the best in chasing her dreams.
Together with the crew at Wonderful Machine, we’ve been through a big audit of my business, which proved to be an eye opening and valuable excise. Over the course of the last nine months, we’ve rethought what we’re doing, re-photo edited, rebranded and got a fresh online presence. Let me know what you think of it…
Our webstore ArtOnTheMove.me is working well but needs more TLC to increase sales. The Middle East remains fairly new to buying goods online, let alone printed art but the feedback has been promising so I do believe we’re on the right track. I’m potentially looking at some kind of partnership with someone who can take the lead on the e-commerce business. Open for discussion!
The moment I walked out of the helicopter, I knew it would have to lead to a photo exhibition. And so it did. Over the summer we worked on putting the DXB/AIR roadshow together. Three months at three amazing locations! Check out the video to see what it was all about. The big backlit images brought the stories together along with the exhibition art installation, created from recycled wood. For me, it was as much about sharing the aerial work in big prints as it was about the actual art installations.
No books went to press in 2014 but we’ve been doing all the ground work for two new releases in February and May 2015. More to come! It’s always so rewarding to see the artwork pdf be transformed into a physical book. In parallel, we’ve produced an entertaining video about producing books … The Rough guide to Bookmaking.
A final note to all the amazing clients who keep us engaged throughout the year. THANK YOU! We’re very fortunate to receive a really nice mix of gigs. It is variety that rocks our boat and working with amazing people is the icing on the cake. We really do appreciate all your support.
As mentioned above, I have no idea how many followers actually make it to the bottom of this post, but if you did, awesome! You’ve joined the 2014 celebration.
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…)