Beyond the famous attractions of Sinai, Egypt, you’ll find a wilderness full of wonder, natural beauty, fascinating creatures, harsh weather conditions, and photo opportunities that abound.
When I first started photographing in Sinai, I just wanted to take beautiful photographs of all that nature provided in the area.
Soon enough, I had a collection of wonderful photographs. But now what? I began asking myself, “What is it about the Sinai and its wildlife that intrigues me so much? What is it that I want to tell others about the area?” The answers were very important, because my future images would need to portray the difference between passively waiting for natural scenes to appear versus actively seeking subjects that were part of a broader project – my vision of a book.
I began to look at the photographs as chapters or pages that needed to tell a story. From there, I began asking myself, “What was missing?” That question allowed me to start pre-planning photographs in my mind. I now would look for certain compositions or elements when making photographs. Mental pre-planning did not always work out, but when it did, the photographs were magical.
I would like to share some of the fundamental elements that were important for the development of my style and vision of the Sinai wilderness. I hope they help you in your personal photo quest.
Most of the photographs were taken in locations which required hiking. Over a span of ten years my camera equipment evolved from heavy film cameras, to early DSLRs, to finally, micro four-thirds and point and shoot cameras. Mobility was just as an important as the quality of the images when I considered the equipment to be used, as some of these photographs were taken during 99 mile (160 km) backpacking trips and on difficult terrain.
So know your capabilities and how mobile you want to be when planning any long distance photo adventures.
Wide-angle macros combine two elements of photography, portraits and landscapes. The close-up and dramatic photographs of a chosen subject are visually intimate portraits, while the wide-angle landscapes capture a defining feature of a vast and open environment.
Wildlife, reptiles, flowers, weeds, or any subject of interest works well with wide-angle macros. These photographs give context by showing the relationship between the subject and its habitat.
I found that point and shoot cameras are especially effective tools for wide-angle macros because the minimum focusing distance at wide-angle focal lengths is usually a few centimeters.
The Gift of Storms and Weather
Storms are special, temporary moments that increase the possibility of capturing emotion within any location.
Desert storms in the Sinai provide a strong visual contrast of barren deserts and water. Although deserts are dry, their whole ecology revolves around precipitation, which in the desert is often violent. When it rains, it often results in flash floods, an exfoliating and geologic scrub. After the floods is when the desert blooms with life and you’ll find little waterholes tucked away in deep ravines.
NOTE: Flash floods can be very dangerous, so know your surroundings and have a means of getting to higher ground.
Fog adds an element of mystery to any environment, while snow in a desert that’s renowned for its high temperatures seems paradoxical.
My favorite storms are sand storms. It is during this time that moving sand, thousands of grains moving in unison, resembles the blurred motion of water.
Breaking the Rules – Incorporating Lens Flare
As photographers we chase the ephemeral warm light and devote so much of our attention to utilizing different lighting, such as backlighting or sidelighting, while trying to keep the sun and resultant flare out of the photograph.
Flare usually ruins a photograph because the white or multicolored blotches are very distracting. However, intentionally used flare streaks or highlights can bring attention to elements in a photograph, while incorporating the most dominant element of the environment.
Less expensive lenses and point and shoot cameras are more vulnerable to flare and therefore are better tools to intentionally incorporate flare into photographs.
Time = Luck
Every photographer needs a little luck. I have found that when photographing wildlife or landscapes, the likelihood of experiencing luck is related to the amount of time spent, in my case, the desert. The more time I spend in the desert, the more likely I am to experience a storm, see a rare animal, or witness unusual lighting conditions. The photographs of the long eared owl, spiny mouse, fat sand rat, or fennec fox are all transient, once in a lifetime moments that I was lucky enough to photograph.
The more time you spend in one area, chances are, you too will experience what others will never see.
Look for the wonder, the beauty and photo opportunities that are available to you and go on your own quest to tell the story through your images.
By Omar Attum
Article and photos: © 2016 Omar Attum. All rights reserved.