During one unbearably hot and sandy day in the Sahara desert in Mauritania we helped a father and son bring some water to their family’s settlement.
I initially saw the father and son with a group of people and donkeys, transporting water containers through a small sand storm. This kind of scene was the epic shot I'd been wanting to make for a while. But, things rarely turn out as planned and there are funny twists and turns in almost every journey.
When the father noticed my car, he saw an opportunity to hitch a ride. It turned out that the donkeys belonged to his friend. Suddenly he had a chance to transport the water faster, without having to go back to return the donkeys. I got out of the car to ask for a photo – he asked for a ride.
I agreed, but thought that everyone might keep walking just a little longer and I'd get the image I wanted. To my surprise and disappointment the man immediately began unloading his water containers and ran after one donkey to collect his son (he was riding it).
I had my camera in hand, ready for the shot, but, my dream idea was gone. Evaporated. I didn’t pack the camera away though, and I didn’t jump back into the car. I just stood there, partly because I was so disappointed, but mostly because I was desperately hoping that something else might materialise. Then, I saw the father and son appear out of a sand cloud. I wouldn’t get the shot I wanted initially, but what I had unfolding in front of me was a pretty powerful scene too.
Main reasons I think it works
Primarily, it’s all about the moment. The combination of the father with his son sort of battling the rough elements - the blowing sand, which is actually visible. There's also the reaction of the two towards the elements and the interaction between them – the father holding his boy by the hand.
In relation to the image the moment goes beyond the action and interaction. It's also about the combination of light and the blowing sand. It drains the scene of colour and this dramatically adds to the atmosphere. The fact that this veil of sand blocks out much of the surroundings makes the circumstances appear more epic and gets rid of potentially distracting elements.
Most important tip
Don’t give up on a potentially interesting scene. I was ready to. It was ridiculously hot. The sand was blowing into my eyes and ears. I was frustrated that my opportunity for the image I initially had in mind vanished. But, very importantly, I stuck it out. I didn't give up. Experience taught me that something else worth photographing might happen. I've learned that this actually occurs more often than we might expect.
There's a particularly high chance of a decent photo still materialising when the important elements that might be crucial to an image are in place. In this case these were the blowing sand and the desert backdrop. I only needed someone to walk through and I'd have a fairly solid image.
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