Wildlife photographers sometimes have to face difficult circumstances to create their images. You can cope with extreme weather conditions and demanding terrain.
In Saudi Arabia, photographers recently had extra help from a four-legged assistant to get where they couldn't. They enlisted the help of a camel named Sarha to hike through areas that are not easily accessible or habitable. They fitted her with a solar-powered camera and let her wander around some remote locations every day for a week. She returned home to base camp every night and checked her comfort and safety.
With Sarha's help, 11 photographers from around the world took remote photos for a campaign showcasing the country's beauty. The images were compiled in a campaign by the creative agency Wunderman Thompson for the Saudi Telecom Company (STC), a telecommunications company based in Saudi Arabia.
Rayyan Aoun, Executive Creative Director at Wunderman Thompson Saudi Arabia, spoke to Treehugger about how Sarha was treated during her week as a photography assistant and about the images she helped photographers from so many miles away.
You can see the final pictures online or on Instagram @unveilsaudi.
Treehugger: What was the impetus for the project? Did you originally want to photograph areas in Saudi Arabia that no one has been to and then find out how to do it?
Rayyan Aoun: This project is part of “Unveil Saudi”, a larger initiative that we started for stc; a long-term platform that demonstrates the power of stc's network coverage by revealing content about the country. In this year's project, we used Sarha, the camel, and decided to go further and reveal the invisible wonders of Saudi Arabia. This project enabled us to put the stc network to the ultimate test.
Najib Murad |
How did you decide to use a camel for this project? What research did you do to select Sarha?
We have heard and researched a lot about the most remote deserts in the country and how difficult it is for people to get there by simple means. We looked at who lives there and can easily get to such places, and it was clear to us that it was the camel. In Saudi Arabia, an icon historically referred to as the ship of the desert, the camel is always revered for its looks and grace.
After extensive research on camel breeds, we selected a specific type called “Rahala” in Arabic, a strong breed that is well known and well suited for travel and long distances in the desert. This breed also has greater endurance to extreme weather conditions. In addition, the chosen camel was a female, as this sex is known as the better wanderer. We carefully selected it from a camel farm and selected one that is healthy, young and active and it is called: Sarha.
How was your rig designed? How important was it to protect the safety of both the equipment and the camel? What considerations did you have to bear in mind?
We have teamed up with our teams from different parts of the world (Saudi Arabia, USA, Costa Rica) and with a local production house to develop the technology behind the project and the rig system. The rig was bespoke and designed to fit Sarha's measurements. The saddle had extra layers of cushioning to ensure the rig sat comfortably on its hump. We tried to keep the number of devices as low as possible (laptop, camera with the CamRanger, solar panels, a tracker device and the hotspot router from stc). The laptop used is a military grade laptop that can withstand the extreme weather conditions.
How did individual photographers get involved? How did you take photos?
We invited photographers from different parts of the world to develop the idea of remote shooting even further. We were looking for a variety of styles of photography to end up with a richer library, mainly looking for photographers who are naturally explorers and interested in landscape and nature photography.
We have also worked with local photographers from different parts of Saudi Arabia. We have given every photographer a time window in which he / she can access the rig system via a separate control center that we developed for Sarha. From there, they could completely control the rig system via Sarha's hump and use all camera settings from their home desk. Finally, we gave them the freedom to retouch the photos to their liking.
Wunderman Thompson / STC
How did you monitor Sarha's welfare? How did you chase her
At base camp, we made sure that Sarha was properly examined, treated, fed and hydrated in preparation for his mission. We were connected to him 24/7 via live video stream to monitor his trip. We had a tracker device to easily locate them and a drone always ready to find them.
Did she just go where she would naturally wander? Where were some of the more interesting places that she allowed photographers to take photos?
The race of camels, a female “Rahhala”, is known for their ability to wander through the desert during the day and return home at night. We let Sarha roam freely in nature and lead us to these places through her eyes. The most interesting region was the Arna Mountains, a very rich landscape with a very unique terrain.
Najib Murad |
How were the reactions from the photographers? What were some of the favorite pictures?
Ben Jacks said, “I felt like one of the first astronauts when I set foot on Mars – it's just amazing.”
Anthony Lamb said, “It was a great experience and something I've never done before.”
Najib Mrad said, “I'm excited because it will be the first time a camera lens has come this close, and I am one of those lenses.”
Ahmad Almalki said: “As a photographer, I could never have imagined that I could take photos in places like this, because you know that they are very difficult to reach.”
Each photographer revealed a piece of land that was amazing. We did not expect such wealth in the desert, especially when we look at the photos of Anthony Lamb and Najib Mrad.
Wunderman Thompson / STC
How long has she hiked? Where did the trip end?
She hiked for seven days. Their journey started in hail and ended in the Al-Ula region.
What happened to Sarha when her role as a photo assistant was completed? Was she medically examined before and after?
Upon completion of the mission, the camel received a thorough medical examination and praise for its successful journey. We took Sarha home to the camel farm we borrowed her from. We are constantly checking for Sarha and making sure that she is fit for the next voyage of discovery to new countries.