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Stunning stills

Five of the UAE's best photographers share their top shots with M. Sen

  • A moment from the great wildebeest migration in Serengeti, Tanzania. The photograph has won Sankha Kar maximumImage Credit: Supplied
  • A straight shot of Dubai creek taken from Dubai Chamber of Commerce building by Sankha Kar captured this beautImage Credit: Sankha Kar / Supplied
  • Sankha Kar, Gulf News photographerImage Credit: Supplied
  • Blogger Jeff Vergara was commissioned for a portraiture session with a client in a non-studioenvironment andImage Credit: Jeff Vergara / Supplied
  • Hind Mezaina got this brilliant picture while workers were immersed in their job, making a traditional dhowImage Credit: Hind Mezaina / Supplied
  • Dubai-born Hind Mezaina, 39, is one of the UAE’snew media stars and is best known for her widelyread blog,Image Credit: Supplied
  • British national Paul Thuysbaert, 49, has lived in Dubai for 20 years and has held several photo exhibitions, Image Credit: Supplied
  • Paul Thuysbaert captures people in context of their own stories. He found Noorah Sultan who grew up and went tImage Credit: Supplied
  • Dutchman Wijnand van Till shot to photo fame lastyear, when newspapers across the UAE put one ofhis photogImage Credit: Wijnand van Till/Supplied
  • The boat was captured while holidaying in a remoteMozambique beachImage Credit: Wijnand van Till / Supplied
  • Dutchman Wijnand van Till shot to photo fame lastyear, when newspapers across the UAE put one ofhis photogImage Credit: Supplied
  • Touched by their devotion and spirituality, Hermoine Macura clicked this picture of Chaldean Christian nuns asImage Credit: Hermoine Macura/Supplied
  • Hermoine Macura, News anchor, Dubai OneImage Credit: Supplied
  • Image Credit: Hind Mezaina / Supplied
  • The Burj Khalifa taken from one of the residential towers in Downtown Dubai. Tech specs: Focal length 10mm (fiImage Credit: Dutchman Wijnand van Till/Supplied
  • Image Credit: Wijnand van Till / Supplied
GN Focus

In an attempt to learn about the technicalities behind the perfect shot, GN Focus interviewed a cross section of lensmen, from amateurs to professionals, from artists to commercial types.


Forty-year-old Gulf News lensman Sankha Kar has been in Dubai 11 years.

He says he was destined to dabble in art. "I grew up watching my father creating a surreal world on the canvas. I decided to pick up the camera instead," the Indian national says. "Photojournalism is not a job to me — it's an addiction."

Kar moved to Dubai because he wanted to explore a different culture and working environment. "It was a challenge at the start, but the multicultural atmosphere of Dubai made my acclimatisation quite easy," he says.

Over the years, he has worked both in hard news and in features, where fashion and sport have drawn his interest. "As a photojournalist associated with the so-called hard news environment all along, It took a few months to change the mindset though. I shifted my focus to the land and people of the UAE, which is a big melting pot of cultures. For the professional photographer, it's been a wonderful opportunity to capture the colour and mood of more than 100 nationalities — apart from the rich Emirati culture. The pace of Dubai's growth over the last decade, the world-class sporting events round the year — all provide the variety of subjects that we can aspire for."

The UAE itself has provided plenty of inspiration for his work, from the rugged splendour of the desert to the myriad of architecture.

In recent years, Kar has taken a great fancy on wildlife photography, visiting Africa for the last four years.

"It's such a vast world that I think I am still learning," he says humbly — despite the fact that his work has won several awards in countries as far afield as the UK, Serbia, India and Vietnam — besides, of course, here in the UAE.

THE PHOTO - Wildebeest migration

The subject: "A moment from the great wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, Tanzania. The photograph has won maximum accolades in recent times."

Tech specs: Canon EOS350, 1/2000, f6.7, ISO 400

The appeal: "The force and the lighting."

The planning: "There was no time to plan — it all happened on the spur of the moment. The drama created by the light made me take the shot."

What he'd change about it: Nothing

What does the image says about him: "It shows where my passion lies." >

THE BLOGGER - Jeff Vergara

Filipino Jeff Vergara has lived in the UAE for seven years. During that time he has earned a fair share of attention with his blog,, which is his way of recording life outside his graphic design job.

"To me photography is not a job for me but a passion. It evokes emotion in a split second," he says. "When I was a kid, I used to write journals because I tend to forget what I do, where I have been, etc. Eventually, I started writing again about my adventures when I arrived in the desert." Over time, the blog, which has been nominated for and won various awards, has both led to photography assignments for him and inspired others, he says. The 33 year old hopes to soon be able to pursue a full-time career in photography.

THE PHOTO - Construction site

The subject: "I was commissioned for a portraiture session with a client in a non-studio environment and in this case, a construction site of a bridge."

Tech specs: Nikon D70s, 40mm, f4.5, 1/320sec, ISO 200

The appeal: "I like the idea of different persons sitting together and having a good time. I also like the colour and contrast of my main subject stand out against the actual background."

The planning: "It was really quick and unplanned. The labourers in the frame were accidental."

Hindrances: "We live in a land of multicultural expats, so there were language barriers."

Why it works: "The client loved it and for me, it's more than enough."

What it says about the photographer: "That I'm spontaneous."

THE ARTIST - Hind Mezaina

Dubai-born Hind Mezaina, 39, is one of the UAE's new media stars and is best known for her widely read blog, The Culturist. Likewise, her photography, largely created with low-fi analogue cameras such as the LC-A, Diana+, Holga and the Polaroid, stems from a mission to document the world we live in. "I've always been interested in photography. I don't have a specific reason. For as long as I remember, I've loved photography. I'm a visual person and like to photograph anything that captures my attention," she says. The Ambassador of the Lomographic Society of Dubai, Mezaina has exhibited her work in several group exhibitions both in and outside the UAE. Her most recent show, at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, was part of a continuing series on abandoned shopping carts across the city.

THE PHOTO - Dhow painters

The subject: "It's from a series called Made in Dubai, a series documenting dhow building and was taken in 2006. Today, the same spot is not as active as it was when I was there a few years ago, with less boats and builders."

Tech specs: "Shot with the Lomo LC-A using slide film that was cross processed, that's why the colours look very saturated."

The appeal: "I appreciate handmade products and to see something on this scale made me appreciate the dhows and the builders even more."

The planning: "I liked that they didn't know I was there and I wanted to capture the moment where they were focused on their work. It didn't take long to set up, I was walking by and saw the three of them and photographed it. Looking at their size compared to the size of the dhow, I couldn't resist taking this shot."

Why it works: "The scale is what stands out for me. Man and object, especially a ‘traditional' object such as a dhow."

What it says about the photographer: "It probably shows how I am more comfortable photographing people when they aren't aware I'm there, when they aren't posing for the camera."

THE BRAND MAN - Paul Thuysbaert

British national Paul Thuysbaert, 49, has lived in Dubai for 20 years and his clients include a variety of big-name companies and government institutions. Making it as a photographer here can be easy, he says, with the wide scope of requirements from events to corporate work. "There is enough work to go all around. But specialised quality photographers with experience are a rarer breed. And so are the quality commissions," he says. He has held several exhibitions, won numerous awards and has had four books published, including Telling Tales, An Oral History of Dubai; and his most recent, Children of the Sun Volume 1 & 2, which describe the day-to-day life of children growing upin the Gulf in poetry and photographs.

THE PHOTO - Emirati woman

The subject: "This portrait is from Telling Tales — An Oral History of Dubai. Co-authored by Julia Wheeler, it is a series of interviews with a broad range of Emiratis, all hailing from a different Dubai to the one we know today. My task was to capture these people in context of their own stories. Noorah Sultan grew up and went to school along the Bur Dubai Creek in Shindagha. It seemed fitting that her oral narration of life should be captured photographically in one of the few remaining icons of her days."

Tech specs: Hasselblad HD1, 35mm, f5.6 250th ISO 50

The appeal: "The photo's timeless quality."

The planning: "You need permission to photograph anywhere in Dubai so the paperwork had to be done in advance."

Why it works: "Even though there are no clues to its destination this image is highly indigenous with the indicative wind tower in the background and the ubiquitous abaya, hijab and niqab of this region."

Alternatives: "I did try a version with the perspective corrected, so the buildings behind Noorah were vertically straight, but in the end I preferred the imposing lean-to of the wind towers. If I had followed the golden ratio rule of thirds I think this may have dissipated her focal position and role in the photo."

THE EXECUTIVE - Wijnand van Till

Dutchman Wijnand van Till shot to photo fame last year, when newspapers across the UAE put one of his photographs on their front pages. That image, of Dubai's high-rise towers poking through a blanket of clouds, won a National Geographic photo competition in The Netherlands and has become one of the most iconic images of the nation.

Van Till took his memorable photograph on an Emirates plane returning from Lagos. "It was an exceptional moment: we were flying over Dubai when suddenly the clouds over the city started to open above the Shaikh Zayed Road," he says. "It was the moment a lot of people were hoping to capture; the world's tallest tower captured from high in the sky, put into perspective by surrounding clouds. I'm afraid I'll never get this opportunity again. I did not plan to take it: it's almost impossible to plan these kinds of photos, which makes it a very lucky shot. Everything was perfect: spectacular view, clean windows, no reflection and so on."

The photo, already published in several magazines and newspapers, was not taken with a big expensive DSLR, but with a point-and-shoot Canon camera (Ixus 960, 1/400s, 24mm, f/5, ISO 80). Nor did it require a lot of post-editing, just a little recovery of contrast.

Van Till, now 34, moved to the UAE three years ago with a management consultancy firm that advises telecoms operators across the Middle East. The job affords him plenty of opportunity to travel, he says, which allows him to take a lot of photographs. "Although I'm not yet a professional photographer, I'm spending more and more time at photography," he tells GN Focus. "What makes the Middle East so interesting is that there is so much architecture and many diverse cultures to see within the reach of just a short flight."

He says he isn't sure if he's going to become a full-time photographer. "Maybe this or next year I'll publish my best photos if I can find the time to select them, and write down the captions and background information." For now, he's happy to take pictures where he can and post them on his website, "Photography means sharing to me. Capturing these moments means that I can share these moments with my family and friends," he says.

THE PHOTO - Boat against the sun

The subject: "This photo was taken in Mozambique last year, while we were there on holidays somewhere on a very remote beach. This boat was just leaving after having delivered some food."

Tech specs: "The image that you see is actually a blend of separate photos taken with a Nikon D300s, processed using the High Dynamic Range technique. Focal length 18mm, aperture F/13, ISO 800; with different shutter speeds and exposure compensations."

The appeal: "The light in this photo is spectacular."

The planning: "When I saw the boat crossing the line between the sun and me, I realised what opportunity this would give."

Things he'd like to change: "Next time, I won't zoom in as much as I did now, to show a bit moreof the beautiful environment."

THE CELEBRITY - Hermoine Macura

News anchor Hermoine Macura is a recognisable face across the emirates, but little is known of her secret passion for photography. The Australian Dubai One star, 31, has been taking pictures from a very young age and went on to study it at university. "I began to take it more seriously when I realised that there is so much power in images," she says.

A collection of seven years' worth of pictures from around the region makes it into her new book, Faces of the Middle East, a project that she says goes beyond the national and political boundaries to bring together the people of the region through photographs. "I have been told it is too utopian. However, my greatest desire is to see peace in the region. I hope this project helps to create dialogue and open people's minds to understanding each other better," she says.

This Wednesday, a selection of these images goes on display at Corp Executive Hotel Apartments in Al Barsha. "The exhibitions offer visitors a walk through the richness and diversity found in the region. Examining the common thread of humanity, I wanted to offer people another non-political view of the people that call this region home," Macura says.

The show runs until June 28.

THE PHOTO - Chaldean nuns

The subject: "This is an image of two Chaldean nuns at a convent adjoining an orphanage near Malula, Syria. They had just finished prayer and were waiting for the elevator which is built into the church structure which is like a fortress."

Tech specs: D90 Nikon

The appeal: "I went to Malula in Syria to find the 6,000 or so Chaldean Christians, who trace their origins back to the time of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul. They still speak Aramaic, which is the language Jesus spoke during his time on earth. Many of the nuns and monks have dedicated their lives to purity, prayer and raising orphans."

The planning: "It was very spontaneous. I was travelling across Syria for about week when I decided to go find the caves the Christians used to hide in when they were facing persecution under Nero's Roman Empire. Today, Muslims and Christians live together side by side, in peace. I bumped into these two nuns after prayer which was so spontaneous for me. They often don't permit images however when I explained the purpose of my book, they agreed to be photographed. Their devotion and love for God overwhelmed me and moved me to tears."

(With inputs from Keith J. Fernandez)