Thursday, September 17, 2015


Here we are, a week after a rigorous trip to Oman last week, and still waiting for the upcoming (real) vacation by the end of September. I have to say though, despite the rigorous nature for this trip it was a 50-50 adventure; I had fun despite "some" circumstances that might upset lot of people in such trips. The trip was a photography trip in the first place, but Oman is such a beautiful place that 4 days are merely enough for a single place to "document" - least to say.
We used to go out in early mornings (usually 8 a.m.) and come back to our "dwellings" after dusk, and sometimes spending more than 3 hours on the roads traveling from one city or village to another. In this rush it was hard to document the activities we were doing by writing or typing, and I barely had time to even upload the pictures I've taken during the day to my laptop (did that in the last night in Muscat only). Just to give an imagination about the rush we were in, we did in fact start doing photography at the night of our arrival in Muscat, the capital city of the Sultanate of Oman. It was a minor activity to "grease" our eyes a bit - yet I did come up with some shots that might be favorable for the group's activities later on!

Mohammed AlAmeen mosque. Muscat, Oman.
Rokinon 8mm fisheye, f/8, 1/4s, ISO400.

The architecture of Mohammed AlAmeen mosque was quite favorable but because of the tired body and mind it was hard to focus in doing much there. Yet, I did try my best and found my Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens quite favorable for such place. I had to do some body-stretching though, as in Zenith, where I laid down on my back pointing my head to one of the entrances of the mosque and resting the camera on my chest. Three bracketed shots were taken in this position, but since I was breathing (surprisingly!), the first and last exposures were hazy and shaken and had no choice but to pick the lowest exposure (at -2EV) to edit in RAW format, which made up Zenith. Considerable work was involved here to enhance the exposure and sharpness and reducing the noise, but I doubt that it would be a good view in a large print.
The main gain in the trip goes to those who are interested in portraiture and documenting the rural life of Oman (unfortunately, international contests are always emphasizing these elements which leaves me empty-handed). Some members did indeed bring studio flashes and monolights, dragging them wherever we go; and the apogee of such activity was in Bayt Al-Safah: the home town of our guide which was an active center for the surrounding villages along many aspects of day-to-day life in the past. In that location specifically I didn't touch my camera and I really enjoyed myself in the rural life style and the traditional music which I love.
The Race
Rokinon 8mm fisheye, f/3.5,
8m10s, ISO400.
Compared to other members in the group, I would be probably at the end of the list in number of photographs taken, specially that I was concentrating on panoramas more than anything else (but I did take single shots yet I don't think they add much to my arsenal but a mere documentation). Probably the thing that I feel sorry the most for is the fact that I didn't do much night shots despite the dedication from the group to do a milkyway-shot from the top of the mountains on our second night in Oman. The wind was somewhat cruel with our summer clothing and no jackets (which caused me some severe pains in the wrists in the following days). Even though I'm accustomed to such atmosphere but being on the top of the mountain was quite a dangerous venture and yet somewhat annoying because the job was done by a group and not a single person, me. As you can see in The Race, which was a star-trail shot rather than milkyway-shot, there is a trace of car lights which passed through the frame just seconds before the exposure ended. I guess it is just my luck and it is supposed to be so. Probably it does add some dynamic touch to the overall look of the image. I've raised the ISO here to 400 instead of settling with 100 to shorten the time (it should have taken around 32 minutes with ISO100); spending so much time in that wind and with other members lighting their torches on and off to see their ways would be just a vain. After completing this shot (and the only good one I suppose), I've went down back to the hotel (on feet as the hotel was on the top of the mountain itself) with some members leaving the others there trying to find their luck. It was an amazing night, and in the morning the sun light exposed many aspect of the breath-taking terrain surrounding the area: we were on the top of a mountain, where we could see other mountains below us. Definitely this place needs more than just one-night stay. Unfortunately, that morning and because of the pain in my hands, I didn't risk doing anything; it was a time to rest.

Ya'aribah's Halo
Al-Ya'aribah Mosque, Nizwa. Oman.

Panorama-wise now. I was reluctant to do a panorama wherever I go; this is mainly because of the time limitation imposed on the group's activities overall. For this reason, I had to inspect in a whim and make quick decisions about whether or not a panorama should be done here or there. Well, this made me forget some points and precautions (typical even in normal conditions), but the great challenge with panoramas taken from Oman is not the architecture and the looks, but the surroundings and the people roaming the place.
As we were going around typically tourists attractions, it was inevitable to do panoramas with people roaming the place. At the time of typing this, I did not inspect all panoramas but so far so good with those done with the stitching already. The greatest challenge though is to see the yielding results of stitching Sultan Qabus mosque's panorama; the mosque is said to have the largest chandelier in the world and it is a tourists attraction, while taking photos is allowed only from 8 to 11 a.m.; I'm quite positive right now that there will be a great deal of Photoshop work and skills needed in that specific panorama, and I'm relying on the HDR ghost-removal techniques to reduce (not completely remove) some of the movements in the place. The HDR technique did some nice job in other busy places before!

Solar Jabreen
Jabreen fort and castle. Bahla, Oman.

Problematic as much as it is fascinating, those panoramas taken outdoors did have the glaring sun disk in them. Fascinating for the fact that exposures are done easily (in brackets), and also increasing the depth of field does not impose an immediate lag in the shutter speed after all; the sun light is rough! On the other hand, it is problematic because the sun disk does not provide a pleasant addition to the scene with just a glaring white spot in the sky. For this reason, I've found myself doing the tone-mapping for these HDR panoramas using Photoshop to control the tones curve freely - this way I could create the annular shapes for the sun as can be seen in Ya'aribah's Halo and Solar Jabreen. This work did extended in fact with some few other panoramas after these two even though there is no sun disk visible in the scene but because of the harsh contrast between the sky and the other elements in the scene. One thing I wish I did (but couldn't) is an infrared panorama like the one done in Ireland under a diffused sunlight (but here we got a strong sun light which should shorten the time of exposures). The time limit did not allow me to achieve this dream. My infrared panorama from Ireland did have quite a voiced support from some of the audience in the latest expo.

The Waterfront (IR)

QTVRs are early to talk about but they are doable. Despite the fact that I've taken shots for the nadir point under my feet with the intent to clone the tripod and other elements to make them adequate to be merged into panoramas, I've actually just cropped the bottom areas of these panoramas to remove the tripod without adding a nadir point. When it comes to making a QTVR later on, I'll be adding a label with the name and location for that QTVR. The only backlash here is when other projections are needed where the nadir point might be in the front instead at the bottom, which calls for heavy skills in cloning as usual. Hopefully I'll be posting more panoramas in the coming days just before my second travel to Malta on September 27th.


I do feel like a running horse right now; all work and no play. Work with my photos that is. We have a sorting meeting coming up next week and thus I must prepare as much as possible before coming Sunday. Meanwhile, I do feel like doing nothing. In fact, once my feet stepped on the soil of the homeland, I wished to go back to Oman; not to take photos, but to live - as simple as that. I think it is time to change the people around me, yet it is such a hard task to do nor visible in the near horizon. All I can do is just travel as much as I can, as long as my financial situation allows to. If one has a home that doesn't feel like home, and workplace that bears no respect, where one should be going next?

3D Fort
Bayt AlRideedah, Nizwa. Oman.
Click to Enlarge

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