Outside Ghubaiba station

Photo walk: Learning to use the lenses

Outside Ghubaiba station

I was out and about in Deira and Bur Dubai last weekend for my first photo walk with Helen Shippey, a Dubai based photographer whom I’ve ‘met’ and became friends with in social media. We bumped into each other on our visit to Al Tamimi stables. Lovely person online, lovelier person offline.

Each of the participants of the photo walk had their own goals in joining but mine was to familiarize myself with using the two lenses I have.

The photo walk started at the abra station at the Bur Dubai side and at around 3:30 pm when all the participants gathered, we took the abra (a small motorboat that crosses the creek) to the Deira side.

abras at the creek

This old side of Dubai is a treasure trove of photo opportunities, that’s why I joined this photo walk. I’ve been here so many times and had taken a lot of photos in the past but never when I was alone – just me and my camera. It’s always with family so all my photos are ‘chance’ photos, taken during child chasing breaks.

abra at the creek

I took the two lenses that I bought recently: my Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens and Nikon 35mm prime lens. I was excited to take these babies out and looking forward to the outcome.

Crossing the creek presents a wonderful opportunity to take photos of these small moving motor boats. I attached the bigger wide angle lens and started to click away.

abra at Dubai creek

abra at Dubai creek


I think I have taken lots and lots of photos of abras so I wanted something different. Like, take close up shots of people, for example.There are so many interesting characters in Dubai – from that abra driver who manipulates his motor boat day in and day out, to that Pakistani guy peeking through an old wooden boat that carries cargo between UAE and Iran, to that local girl sitting all by herself, nothing but her eyes seen under that burqa at the courtyard of the old spice market to the very aggressive (and at times annoying) spice and what nots vendors in Deira souk.

However, many do not like their photos taken, so we’re restricted to take photos of scenes and things (but one must be careful not to take photos of locals in the background, especially ladies, without their permissison!).

spice souq

I learned a lot during the two hour photo walk session. One is that I need more practice, especially with using the new lenses. Which appropriate lens to use, under which available (light) circumstances, etc.

And I learned that there are things which shouldn’t be taken with a 10-20mm wide angle lens: buildings up close. The image distortion is dizzying. I know this lens is great for wide landscape to “get the bigger picture” so it’s certainly not for buildings and cramped spaces.

It would work for these.

abras at the creek

abras at the creek

But not for these!

wide lens distortion

Oh God, no.

wide lens distortion

Vertigo, anyone?

wide angle distortion

I am still playing around with the depth of field of the 35mm prime lens and happy with the result but could be wonderful to take a face of a person against a nice backdrop!

depth of field

I also learned that it’s not easy to keep on changing lenses…moments could escape you easily. But I would still insist you get a prime lens.

A big bonus of using prime lenses is that they’re usually ‘faster’. This means they have a larger maximum aperture, which enables quicker shutter speeds. ‘Faster’ lenses aren’t just good for avoiding camera-shake and freezing the action in dull lighting conditions, another big advantage is that you can get a much tighter depth of field, enabling you to isolate the main point of interest in a shot by blurring the background.

Additional read: What is a prime lens and why use one?

I didn’t take too many pictures during the photo walk as much as I expected I would. I am not sure why, maybe because I am too familiar with the place that I got used to it and suddenly, they weren’t that “picture-worthy” enough for me or I was just discouraged with some of the photos taken with my wide angle lens – it’s not a bad lens, it was just not apt for crowded places like the Deira souk, I suppose. I also felt I can’t capture some scenes perfectly using the more restrictive 35mm prime…which brings me to realize I might need a more flexible lens like the Nikon 24-70mm  (someone stop me from this lens obsession!! This is an expensive hobby!!).

The 24-70mm is a versatile lens can be used for many different kinds of photography needs – from wide-angle landscapes and panoramas, to portraits and events. Why didn’t I buy it? IT IS EXPENSIVE!!

Back to the photo walk…

rule of thirds

Helen also talked about composition. Composition is the pleasant arrangement of elements within a frame which give the most powerful ability to attract the eye, and to keep it exploring within the frame for as long as possible. That’s why I didn’t take too many photos because I felt, simply feeling that there is a picture to be made, and just snapping away from wherever I’m standing, is the best way to take bad pictures. I didn’t want to ask myself later “What was I thinking?”

Again, maybe too much familiarity of the place might have put me off into going into a clicking frenzy.  Maybe when I choose to join another photo walk, it would be a place new to me so I can see it with fresh eyes and hopefully find more interesting things to shoot.

I walked with Helen towards the Metro station when the session ended and we stopped to see the sun just setting in the horizon. I was too lazy to take out my SLR and used my iPhone and put “composition” into action. I like how this turned out and glad we stopped by to take this shot. And this is one of the important things she pointed out during the photo walk: to stop and look for beauty wherever you are and then capture it.


*photo taken with an iPhone 5, filter added via Instagram app*

It was quite a tiring day, but fun nevertheless. Helen is very warm and welcoming and open to all questions about photography. You can connect with her through Twitter and Instagram or follow the Shippey Photography Facebook page for updates about future photo walks.

All photos taken using Nikon D5300 unless otherwise stated.

in defense of the “selfie”

selfie Photo credit

…or why all selfies are not created equal.

I am a huge fan of selfies. But I don’t have a mental disorder, I’d like to believe. I love selfies. In fact, I encourage everyone to take a selfie, whether alone or not. Well, technically, it isn’t a “selfie” anymore when you’re with people other than yourself. But, who cares? These people obviously don’t.


If you’re a mom, use that power in your hand called the smartphone and take a selfie of yourself and most especially, with your precious children. Moms, it’s time to put yourself back into the picture. I’ll whisper you a secret: with a selfie, you won’t even need to be conscious of your mid-section. Ha!

And your kids will be pleased to see you in the pics when they grow up. True, the selfie phenomena and the selfie takers have received a bad rap lately. Some say it’s a psychological or mental disorder. I wouldn’t be surprised if medical professionals come up with a new term to describe the obsession to take a selfie.

But really, is a selfie all that bad? I disagree.

THE ADVANTAGES OF TAKING A SELFIE (yes, there are advantages!)

1. It provides documentation for your..uhm, face.

Do you think your skin will stay taut and firm forever? Wouldn’t you love to have something to look back and see how youthful it looked once upon a time? Ask any grandma or grandpa their old pics and they are mighty proud to show you some. Too bad there are only a few as photographs were expensive back in the day!

2. It makes you more photogenic.

There’s no denying that practice makes perfect. When you take a selfie, you know your good angle. We all have a good and bad angle. A lot of selfies means you have mastered how to look good in front of a camera. I would say that is a worthy investment.

3. It makes you track your (fitness) project.

A picture says a thousand words, the scale is just you and gravity working against you. So forget the scale – it’s just a number that doesn’t account muscle mass, water retention, etc. Take a pic to track your progress. The pic always never lie. A selfie should be part of your NSV (non-scale victory).


1. Because it is convenient – you don’t need to ask strangers to take your photos. Especially when you work on those awkward poses. Why do awkward poses? Only the selfie taker knows and if it rocks their boat, why not?

ice cream selfie

Photo credit

2. Because I can look better in the pics if I am the one taking my own pics – I don’t know the reason for this but it’s just how it is!

3. You don’t have to apologize for not smiling for the camera – capture those emotional moments!

emotional selfie

Photo credit

And also, sometimes, only YOU can understand why you really need to take a photo of yourself.

pool selfie

Photo credit

4. THIS >> Because almost always, THERE IS NO ONE TO TAKE A PHOTO OF ME (and the kids) – see?

You shouldn’t judge immediately. There are people who love to see their photos but there’s no one to take photos of them so taking a selfie is the only way to make memories! 🙂

5. It makes you live in the moment and puts you in the picture (literally)

nature selfie

Photo credit

Sure thousands of nature photo is great but it’s always good to put yourself in the picture too and if you have no tripod? Selfie away!

While I’m all about taking selfies, I don’t think there is a need to publish them all the time, across all your social media accounts. I have more than 1,000 photos on my phone and half of them are selfies (myself or with the kids). I do post a little here and there, consciously and sparingly because my friends, family, blog readers or Twitter followers know there’s no difference in my face today and yesterday.

With all that said, mind you, I hate selfies, too. Wait, what? Many post selfies online for Facebook ‘Likes’ or recognition. While that is ok once in a while, like all else, overdoing something is annoying. The duck face selfie is the most irritating.

Repeat: daily posting a selfie is annoying.

But then here’s my thing, I am all for boosting a friend’s confidence so if a Facebook Like is enough to make someone happy, I’ll click ‘Like’ on that selfie Facebook status post. Because, what if the person really needs that boost? (Just not the duck face and not every single day, ok?)

So go ahead, take a selfie, just don’t bombard my timeline with everyday selfie pics and we’ll still be friends. (Otherwise, there are a lot of settings to avoid emotional damage from selfie posters.)

Last, last, lastly, life is short, take a selfie!

Bring on the travel blogging!

ipad photography

When I was in Thailand in 2011 and in Turkey in 2013 for a blogger’s trip, I regretted not being able to share my photos online as soon as I wanted to. My phone had no internet connection in Thailand so I had to wait to get back to the hotel to update and while I had internet connection while in Turkey, my phone always died on me. (Why did I not think about bringing a power bank or portable charger?) We were lent an iPad with 3G connection during the tour but let’s all admit it, the photo quality of the iPad leaves a lot to be desired!

One of the bloggers had a point and shoot camera that was WiFi ready and she was sharing away her photos on social media in (almost) real time.  The photo quality was better than that of an iPad photo and she’s sharing her experience with her followers and blog readers like she has taken them with her on the trip.


I need to get one of those!

nikon 5300

But I am not that fond of the WiFi-ready camera brand available that time in the market. I wanted something more. I know I am not alone in my secret desire. Right outside, the universe and Nikon heard my secret wish by launching the Nikon D5300: an SLR camera that ticks all the right boxes for the creative enthusiast photographer and boasts some impressive specifications, has both Wi-Fi and GPS built in, so users can geotag images, send pictures to a smartphone/tablet and even wirelessly control the camera from a smart device via the free Nikon WMU app was born.

* The Wi-Fi feature means you can transfer photos to a smartphone or tablet and upload to social media without waiting until you get home.

With this camera, travel blogging (or simply travel) will never be the same again as the user can share photos on the go and right there and then.

Nikon held a contest for a chance to win the new camera a couple of weeks ago. All that’s needed to be done was to go to their I Heart Nikon exhibit at Dubai Mall, take a photo of the “Nikon Heart” and submit. Creative pics will win a new Nikon D5300. This is the “Nikon Heart” with different sizes of screens fused together to form a heart. It makes a 360 degree slow turn. (This is not what I submitted as contest entry)

Nikon heart

The new Nikon D5300 cameras were up for everyone to sample at the Dubai Mall booth (near the Waterfall) where anyone can take a photo and then that photo will show on the ‘heart’ screen and you get to print it out and keep for yourself as well. It was a popular spot when we were there with everyone excited to try out the new camera with cool features and of course, to see their photos on the big screen.

Nikon heart

The above photo is us, by the way, when it was our turn on the biggest screen at the center of the heart.

Nikon heart

We took another photo. Because we’re shameless like that.

Nikon heart

What a great campaign initiative to create a buzz over a new product. Way to go, Nikon!

Back to the contest – to be honest, the rules were simple. Too simple actually that it became difficult (LOL) – how on earth can one get creative with a very simple subject? But I had fun taking photos of the Nikon heart and had thought of many creative things to do with it. There are so many perspectives, angles, effects that made the Nikon heart a very interesting subject, as simple as it is.

I finalized my entries, sent and whispered, “Universe, you know I want this. Do your thing!”

Luckily, one of my entries got lucky and I won the new Nikon D5300 camera!! I was so excited this morning that I kept on bumping into things, being clumsy and just falling here and there.

Huge thanks to Nikon Middle East & Africa for the contest and the wonderful prize! ‘Like’ Nikon ME on Facebook  or follow Nikon ME on Twitter for fab photography tips and tricks and future promotions!

This really made my day and I look forward to the weekend so I’ll leave for now, off to study how to use my new camera! (Expect a review of the camera plus my experiences with it in the future posts!)

Top Photo Credit

How to teach a toddler to smile for the camera?

There are 3,000 photos on my iPhone. With Ben smiling in it? Maybe 0.001%.

Benjamin is a happy baby but when you see his pictures, you wouldn’t think he is. He looks at the camera in that pensive kind of way. He stares at it and the idiot who always make funny stunts and high pitched voice desperate to make him smile.

Most of the time, the smiles come from the people around me. I know I look silly trying so hard.

It’s HARD to get a good picture of toddlers, and you can’t expect the perfect eye-contact and a cherubic smile every time you try. Some days it just doesn’t happen. The “some days” somehow became everyday.

I have given up on trying to make him smile for the camera.

But last night, I attempted again and … it happened.

He stared, eased up, looked at my face and copied it. Bless.

Here are some great suggestions on how to get your toddler to smile for the camera. I will definitely use some soon!

Oh and just to show how it is very easy to make him laugh – only takes a finger and I’m not even tickling him!

(Just ignore my random talking. Ok, thanks, bye!)

another year sneaks up on me

My birthday is coming next weekend.

Gah, I know, it’s been a year already since my last birthday. Does it need to be this fast? But although I will be gaining another year, I have made a promise to myself to look at the positive things more: enjoy life, appreciate what’s beautiful in this world and most importantly, be a better me to become a better mom.

Nothing to look forward to on my day. Same old schedule, go to work since it’s a Saturday, the first day of my work week. That’s it – oh, possibly a bucket of Kentucky to share with some female office mates during lunch (they love chicken). At night, we’ll have a low-key celebration at home, probably have a cake because someone is itching to blow the candles.

Bloggy-wise, I’m celebrating my birthday by featuring beautiful works of 5 different artists, each of them having a unique talent of their own. I want to say more but you’ll just have to come back and check them out! What’s so nice is that they have generously sponsored to give away prints of their fabulous artwork/prints to Sandier Pastures readers so stay tuned!

Enjoy your Sunday, everyone (while I work)!