Camel helps photographers capture images in the desert
Nature photographers sometimes have to struggle with difficult circumstances to create their images. They can cope with extreme weather conditions and demanding terrain.
In Saudi Arabia, photographers recently had the extra help of a four-legged assistant to get to where they couldn’t. They enlisted the help of a camel named Sarha to wander in areas that were difficult to access or inhabit. They equipped her with a solar-powered camera and let her roam remote places daily for a week. Every night, she would return home to base camp, checking on her comfort and safety.
With Sarha’s help, 11 photographers from around the world took photos from a distance for a campaign showcasing the beauty of the land. The images were compiled in a campaign created by creative agency Wunderman Thompson for 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 throughout her week-long job as a photographer‘s assistant and the images she helped photographers to be created miles away.
You can see the final images online or on Instagram @unveilsaudi.
Treehugger: What was the impetus of the project? Did you start out knowing that you wanted to photograph areas of Saudi Arabia that no one had ever been to before, then figured out how to do it?
Rayyan Aoun: This project is part of “Unveil Saudi”, a larger initiative we launched for stc; a long-term platform that demonstrates the power of stc’s network coverage by unveiling content about the country. In this year’s project, we used Sarha the Camel and decided to take it a step further and unveil the unseen wonders of Saudi Arabia. This project allowed us to put the stc network to the ultimate test.
How did you decide to use a camel for this project? What research did you do to choose Sarha?
We’ve heard a lot and researched a lot about the country’s most remote deserts and how difficult it is for humans to get there by simple means. We looked at who lives there and can easily get to such places, and it was obvious to us that it was the camel. In Saudi Arabia, the camel is an icon, historically labeled as the desert ship, and is still revered for its looks and grace.
After extensive research on camel breeds, we selected a specific type called “Rahala” in Arabic, which is a strong breed known and well suited for traveling and covering long distances in the desert. This breed also has greater endurance to extreme weather conditions. In addition, the camel chosen was a female, as this sex is known to be the best wanderer. We carefully picked him from a camel farm and picked a healthy, young and active one, and named him: Sarha.
How was her rig designed? Why was it important to protect both the safety of the equipment and that of the camel? What considerations did you have to keep in mind?
We partnered with our teams from different parts of the world (Saudi Arabia, United States, Costa Rica) and a local production house to design the technology behind the project and the drilling system. The platform was custom made and designed to fit Sarha’s measurements. The saddle had extra layers of cushioning to make sure the rig sat comfortably on its hump. We have tried as much as possible to minimize the number of equipment (laptop, camera with CamRanger, solar panels, tracking device and hotspot router from stc). The laptop computer used is military grade and withstands extreme weather conditions.
How did individual photographers get involved? How did they take pictures?
We invited photographers from all over the world to take the idea of remote shooting even further. We were looking for a variety of styles of photography, to have a richer library in the end, and we mainly went to photographers who are explorers by nature and love landscape and nature photography.
We also engaged with local photographers from different parts of Saudi Arabia. We have given each photographer a time slot, in which he / she can access the editing system through a dedicated control center that we have developed for Sarha. From there, they were able to fully control the drilling system on Sarha’s hump and use all camera settings from their home office. Finally, we gave them the freedom to edit the photos as they wanted according to their vision.
How did you monitor Sarha’s well-being? How did you follow her?
At base camp, we made sure Sarha was properly checked, treated, fed and hydrated for her mission. We were always connected with him via a live video feed 24/7, to follow his journey. We had a tracking device to locate her easily and a drone always ready to find her.
Did she go where she naturally wandered? What were the most interesting places she went where she allowed photographers to take pictures?
The breed of camel, a female “Rahhala”, is known for its ability to roam the desert during the day and return home at night. We let Sarha roam free in nature and take us through her eyes to these places. The most interesting region was the Arna Mountains, a very rich landscape with very unique terrain.
What were the reactions of the photographers? What were some of the favorite images?
Ben Jacks said: “I felt like one of the first astronauts to enter Mars – it’s just amazing.”
Anthony Lamb said: “It was a great experience and something that I had never done before.”
Najib Mrad said: “I am delighted, because this will be the first time that a camera lens has come this close, and I am one of those lenses.”
Ahmad Almalki said: “As a photographer, I never imagined I could take pictures in such places because you know they are very difficult to reach.
Each photographer unveiled a piece of land which was amazing. You didn’t expect to see such richness in the desert, especially when you look at the photos of Anthony Lamb and Najib Mrad.
How long has she wandered? Where did the trip end?
She wandered for seven days. His journey started in Hail and ended in the Al-Ula area.
What happened to Sarha after her role as photo assistant ended? Did she have a medical examination before and after?
Upon completion of the mission, the camel underwent a thorough medical examination and a big gift for its successful trip. We took Sarha home to the camel farm we borrowed her from. We are constantly monitoring Sarha and making sure she is in good shape for the next voyage of discovery to new lands.