There’s more to taking great photographs than just buying an expensive camera. Heather Duncan takes a masterclass with renowned sharpshooter Salim al Harthy
There’s a flash of light followed by the soft whirl of a shutter clicking, and another moment in time is captured perfectly.
The man behind the lens is Salim al Harthy. Already well known in Oman, his fame is spreading overseas. By day, he is the powerful and ambitious chief executive of a large petroleum engineering company (Gulf Drilling – MB Petroleum), but away from the office his joy lies in photography and travelling.
His quest to capture a “masterpiece” has taken his keen eye for detail around the world to historic and beautiful cities such as Paris, Prague and Istanbul.
Travelling allowed him to see many beautiful and interesting things, but his regular point-and-shoot camera couldn’t do them justice.
It wasn’t just his equipment letting him down, but also his knowledge, so he vowed to become better and set out on a journey of discovery.
A passion for photography has since become a love affair.
It all sounds very impressive for a professional photographer, but what sets Salim apart is that he is entirely self-taught. He transformed himself from a complete novice into a household name and award-winning photographer. Over the years, he worked tirelessly to educate himself, learn new skills and hone them until he had it down to a fine art.
As an artist, Salim will always see beauty in his quest to find something magnificent. With more than 10,000 followers on Facebook alone – not including Instagram, his blog or YouTube followers – this guy is special and everyone wants a piece of him. I got my chance at one of his recent masterclasses.
After the extravagant purchase of a Canon DSLR camera, I had to learn how to make the most of it. I was aiming to move on from snap-happy and sloppy attempts at photography using my smartphone – I wanted to be able to perfectly capture the magical moments in life, such as the impending first steps of my baby son, Spencer.
The instruction manual and controls of a DSLR can be very intimidating. I needed human instruction, which is where Salim came in. How better to learn than from an expert?
His photography classes are aimed at novice and intermediate photographers. I just wanted to feel more confident with a camera and was excited to learn how to switch from auto to manual mode and make the most of its full potential.
I learned how to use the camera’s many different functions and I now know what jargon such as pixels, shutter speed, white balance and composition means.
“The important thing is not the camera, but the person behind it – your camera only counts for around 20 per cent of your final photograph, the other 80 per cent is how you use it,” Salim told us.
His advice is not to rush out and buy the most expensive or newest kit, as often it is the photographer who needs to be updated, not the equipment.
Each class has a maximum of 10 students and is held in Salim’s home in Muscat, giving proceedings a more personal, relaxed touch.
We introduced ourselves, explained which cameras we owned and why we wanted to improve our photography skills.
As Salim stood before me and outlined the basics of photography, I was drawn to his positive energy – it is obvious this is his passion. He used his own pictures as examples of how to combine different factors to make a great photograph. With his students captivated, he disclosed his tricks of the trade.
Theory done, it was time to put our new-found skills into practice. Our assignment was to walk around Salim’s home and find an object to photograph. I headed out to a quiet spot in the garden and snapped away. Unhappy with my initial shots, I worked out that my photo was underexposed, but that this could be remedied.
After just a morning’s work, I felt more confident and knowledgeable. When we re-grouped, I produced what I thought was a pretty awesome photo, only to be trumped by a classmate.
Salim’s home is decorated with his favourite pictures, taken around the world and I was inspired upon seeing such magnificent pictures. He captures the moment, the colours and the movement in one single photograph. They all tell a story and draw you in.
Salim has been running classes for three years and has imparted his wisdom to thousands of students.
“I can give you the licence to drive and show you how, but to become a Formula 1 driver is up to you,” he says.
We talked about how to see the art behind photography through angles. It’s not a case of just pointing a camera and expecting it to turn out picture perfect.
“You don’t take the photograph, you make it,” says Salim.
By knowing where your light source comes from, the angles, how to avoid noise in your photo and, most of all, using your imagination, you can create magic. To stand out from the rest, you also need a unique subject and a way of seeing things that grab attention.
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst,” Salim told us. “Everyone will develop their own style.”
With that, I grabbed my camera and headed out again, inspired to capture the perfect photo.
* Fancy taking up photography? See the latest cool cameras on the market in Y-Fi.
Salim’s top 5 tips for beginners:
- Don’t buy the most expensive equipment right away. Only 20 per cent of what you shoot is down to the camera, so hone your skills first to discover what kit you actually need.
- Invest in a good, stable tripod to avoid shake in your photos.
- Research good places for great photography – Google locations and look at the work of other photographers who have shot there.
- Start with the basics – by learning good composition and exposure your shots will immediately improve.
- Practice! Photography is an art that must be perfected.
Interesting Camera Facts
- The first digital camera was invented in 1975 by Kodak. It weighed 3.6 kilograms and had 0.01 megapixels.
- The word camera derives from the Latin word “camera obscura”, which translates to “dark chamber”.
- DSLR means Digital Single Lens Reflex .
- “Chimping” is when you take a picture and look at it straight away with “ooohhhs” and “ahhhs”.
- It is estimated that the world’s population has taken more than 3.8 trillion photographs – I wonder how many of them are selfies?
- The most expensive camera ever sold was a rare 1923 Leica camera, which went for $2.8 million at auction in Vienna.
- The late Diana, Princess of Wales, was the most photographed person in the world.