How to Learn Photography with Camels, Cliffs, and Capes
There we were, scaling up the side of a cliff with our camera bags trying to convince us we were headed in the wrong direction and our tripods repetitively slapping the outside of our thighs as if to say, “Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.” As my foot faltered for the next iron rung of what was almost a ladder embedded into the rock wall, I heard my voice trying to persuade the group how much fun this photography lesson was while my conscience replayed my solemnly sworn oath to my friend when I roped her into this adventure: I promise there will be no major hiking or crawling up the sides of mountains. I licked my parched lips, regretting the water bottle I had left in the car in favor of my tripod. The rousing lyrics I had begun to belt out in order to boost morale suddenly dropped out of the air like the rocks I immediately felt in the pit of my stomach. I had given the keys of my car to a complete stranger who claimed that he would drive around and meet us at the top.
A month earlier, as I mentioned, I was rallying a group of girlfriends to take a photography tour with me. We were all photographers living overseas. I needed to build a stock photography library for some of our projects there before I started a long term assignment (of which I was not in any way looking forward to). I became inspired to have some fun first. It didn’t take long to find such a tour – which advertised itself to be a photography workshop and a tour all-in-one! Perfect! I just had to convince these four other ladies that they wanted to come with me and help split the cost. And I did! With conditions: No hiking and we don’t have to get up early.
Apparently we were not dedicated photographers because our tour guide/instructor scoffed at our ideal start time and pushed it up a bit… to three in the morning… He hopped in the car on the arranged day (um… he hopped in the driver’s seat), and our adventure commenced. The only direction I gave him was a specific region in the country I needed to photograph. He took it from there. Between yawns I tried to pry more information from him, but it turns out when you don’t have a plan there isn’t much information to share.
“We’ll drive until the sun comes up,” is all he said,
“But where will we be?” we all wondered.
“We’ll find out when we get there,” he replied, slightly annoyed that we were turning out to be less dedicated to our craft than I had inferred. And then he said to no one in particular, “I’m an excellent driver.”
For the record, we stopped before the sun even hinted at rising. Our bodies groaned as we peeled ourselves out of the warm cocoon of the car into the frigid night air. I suppose technically it was morning… The guide cracked open a thermos and let the familiar aroma of coffee thaw our hesitations. After all, we had no idea where we were or what we were going to photograph, and it was still pitch black and hours before we wanted to be awake.
But then the sun rose. When I moved overseas I thought I would never find the brown rocky landscape beautiful, but when the rosy rays of dawn’s early light washed over this landscape I couldn’t help but be stunned.
We all stood there with gaping mouths (and maybe a few of us had actually fallen asleep standing up), but not for long. Our first lesson began:
- Move. Turn. Kneel. Pause. Repeat. Basically, explore and discover, but don’t stay in the same spot for long.
- Monitor your ISO settings. A rising sun changes the amount of light you’re working with rapidly. It’s like high impact aerobics for your camera.
- Don’t ever think you’ve run out of images to photograph.
Number three was true, but we did run out of steam. Eventually we piled back in the car, our guide behind the wheel again saying to no one in particular, “I’m an excellent driver.”
“Wait!” someone in the back hollered. “Camels!”
Immediately we all lifted our cameras and started taking pictures (I’m ashamed to admit it) through the front windshield. I thought, ‘I’m the only real photographer in this bunch. I know better than to take pictures through a bug-splattered windshield.’ So I rolled down my window and stuck my camera outside, taking blind shots.
Boy, did we hear it from our instructor. “You are photographers, not tourists! Get out of the car and walk to your subject. Get the photograph you really want!” Bummer. I wasn’t a real photographer after all! Incredulously we ventured out of the car. It was quite unbelievable that we could enter into a scene to capture something that was quite foreign to us.
Speaking of a scene that was quite foreign – we were making one! As dawn gave way to morning it dawned on us that we had ended up in the village of a nomadic tribe, and they were waking up and gathering to look at us – with all our camera gear, our modern vehicle, and speaking words that made no sense to them. Emboldened and inspired to be a real photographer, I pantomimed a request to take a young man’s photo. He agreed! One thing led to another and soon we were given a grand tour of the village and invited in to have breakfast with them.
Breakfast was the moment that I felt like a photographer – a National Geographic photographer! Our hostess was in a heavily embroidered dress indicative of her tribe, squatting on the dirt floor of her shanty with an open fire crackling nearby. She was grinning from ear to ear at the unexpected surprise of having such distinguished company first thing in the morning. She adeptly passed the bread dough from hand to hand, creating thin stretchy circles that she would momentarily bake over the fire and share with us. Our guide chatted with her in her own language, which caused her to beam and brag even more. She was the grand matron over this little tribe – and she was thrilled for us to ooh and aah over every bit of this dirt packed, crusty eyed, matted hair kingdom – for it was bejeweled in her eyes.
That experience would have been enough. We could have gone home satisfied after that, but we had booked our guide for the full day and he had another photography workshop to complete. So we moved on.
“I’m an excellent driver,” he said… again…
We arrived to the site where I began this story. It all looked so innocent – a babbling brook lazily winding through the valley with towering cliffs on either side. Lush vegetation abounded. The wondrous part was that this was smack dab in the middle of the desert! A real life oasis! Move over, Ben Hur! Let the photographers through!
It was now broad daylight with nary a cloud in sight. Our second lesson was how to take beautiful photographs when the “amateurs” would otherwise wait for the “golden hour”. For this lesson we needed our tripods and… wait for it.. a cape! Seriously! But it was for the camera. Maybe I should make business cards for my camera. While my title is “Smile Expert” my camera’s title would be “Super Camera” – with a superhero symbol!!!
We took a five minute easy walk next to the brook to set up for the workshop – even with our camera bags, tripods, and the cape. I started overcompensating, going on and on about how easy the physical requirements of the day had been so far in an effort to assuage my guilt for so outrageously violating one of the two conditions my friends had given me before agreeing to this photography tour. As my camera was set on its tripod and costumed with its cape our sense of humor was restored and lesson two began:
- Composure is everything. Look for unique ways to frame your image and tell a story. We focused primarily on colors, reflections, and leading lines.
- Movement is beautiful. What tricks can we use to capture movement – even in broad daylight?
Thus the cape… Because it was blindingly bright outside, our instructor draped a cape over the back of the camera and beckoned us to join him under it so we could all see the display screen on the back of the camera. He rattled on and on about composure and movement and introduced us to the usefulness of density filters. He explained what all the tiny numbers on our lenses meant. He taught us how to shoot in manual with the density filters in broad daylight to capture beautiful colors and movement in unexpected places.
“Oh, ” we said. “Ah…” we thoughtfully responded. “Yes,” we agreed. “We see,” we lied.
He went on to teach us how to… um… something that he seemed passionate about… I am so sorry, but I couldn’t pay attention to the lesson. I literally couldn’t see anything on the screen, which wouldn’t have mattered if I did because all I could picture was what it must have looked like to see all five of us bending over at our waists to get our heads and shoulders under Super Camera’s cape. Five of us! At once! With our behinds sticking out for people to see as they walked through this amazing site! School groups were visiting that day. Can you imagine the teacher pointing out the different sights for students to pay attention to? Flora… fauna… and… forget about it! I asked my friends later to explain what I had missed in the lesson, and they admitted that they also could not see a thing on the camera display and instead couldn’t avoid the mental image of what we must of looked like from behind!
After we emerged from the cape we got to wander around and practice what we had just learned, which was very effective! I now have my own set of density filters (they’re like sunglasses for my camera)! We passed the aforementioned school groups (and hoped they didn’t recognize us), and did some light hiking to see more of this amazing place.
Our guide let us take our time before suggesting we move on to the next location.
“You girls keep going to the end. I’ll go get the car and meet you at the end. Don’t worry. I’m an excellent driver!”
“The end? Isn’t this the end?” We had reached a beautiful overlook and could see the brook carving its way through the canyon while still appreciating the sheer height of the cliffs as they towered on all sides of us. The only way out was surely to go back the way we came in.
“No, it’s there,” he answered. And then he did something really strange with his finger. He pointed it up – to the top of the cliff. I just stared a him as he walked away with my car key. I’m pretty sure at least one of my friends just glared at me. I had violated the only remaining condition of her participation.
At least it was rock climbing for beginners. There were steel rungs driven into the rock and occasional ledges to shimmy along until we reached the next set of rungs. It could have been less cumbersome, though, had we not had all of our camera gear!
We tried to keep our parched spirits lifted. We tried singing. We tried joking. We tried not to fall. We tried not to worry. And eventually we arrived at the top, where there was – indeed – a parking lot – just not our guide with my car… So we waited.
“He is an excellent driver,” someone offered. We laughed and kept waiting. Eventually he showed up and whisked us away to more sites with more lessons… and we saw more camels!
The day grew late and eventually it was time to journey home. The responsibility of driving was relinquished to me. The sun set, our guide slept, and the four hour drive whittled away to nothing as my friends and I relived the events of the day. And every once in a while I would say to no one in particular, “I’m an excellent driver.”
- Posted by hellobabs
- On September 22, 2017
- 0 Comment