Egypt's hot, hazy magic

posted on 27th of october, 2008

There's no doubt Egypt is a magical place. It's not conventionally pretty or especially quaint or even coyly photogenic. No, this is Africa, with everything that the Dark Continent entails. Dust, deprivation, hardship lie all around you, spread out like a modern day biblical prophesy. From the moment you get off the air-conditioned plane, to cries of 'Baksheesh' and blistering, temple-crushing heat, you know you're well out of your comfort zone. But that is precisely what makes the land, its people and its culture so captivating.

Last year I ventured into the sprawling, insane megatropolis of Cairo, That was an eye-opening experience, even for me, born and bred in Africa. All around me, horses and donkeys fought for roadspace with a gazillion honking taxis and the odd camel interspersed with scenes I'd only ever imagined in the Bible.

This year I decided on a Nile cruise. I wasn't sure of exactly what to expect, but expecting the worst nonetheless, I was amazed at the genteel, laidback city of Luxor. It is, in fact, so geared for the tourist that I initially thought its aloof ambience far less authentic than the cacophony of Cairo. But don't be deceived - Luxor barely conceals a world of history, mystery and culture that challenges Cairo's dominance.

Let's be clear: for a microstock photographer such as myself, photos of anywhere outside Cairo are unlikely to be prodigious earners or even generate much interest. Most microstock sites tell the story: if you search the term 'Egypt' by descending downloads or popularity, you'll see more pyramids, Sphinxes and dive shots than you can shake an obelisk at.

Luxor, and its associated sights seen on an average Nile cruise, are not moneyspinners but in the real world they kick ass nonetheless. The seven-night Nile cruise took us from Luxor (Thebes) to Edfu, Kom Ombo, then onto Aswan with its High Dam and felucca-studded Nubian islands.

Although I took a whopping 7.000+ images (the digital age has its advantages!) I feel it may not have been my best photographic holiday, even if it was a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.

There are reasons for this: when you're on a tour, opportunities for flexible photography are (sometimes severely) limited. In October, the heat in Luxor can be brutal (it hovered around 43 degrees Celsius on one particular day) so photos need to be taken very early and/or very late.

The heat and pollution creates haze, which can take the edge off your photos, and the dust (Egypt is, afterall, predominantly a desert country) has created endless post-processing headaches (the Clone tool is a great painkiller but not always effective).

My two favourite photos are very different but in their own way sum up my Egyptian holiday quite succintly. The first is one of two local boys fishing on the Nile at sunset (pictured above).

Behind them rise two minarets from the West Bank. I'm waiting impatiently to see if it is approved - inspectors are notoriously strict when it comes to people shots, as they have every right to be, but every so often one slips through that makes the effort of submitting them worthwhile.

The second shot was one of the very last I took, on the final morning. It is of shisha pipes at a bazaar in Luxor. I find these to be photogenic subjects. They don't move, they're usually gold or silver, giving them an Aladdin's Cave feel, they glitter in the sun, and they are symbolic of the Egyptian lifestyle.

Last year I took some hurried shots of shisha pipes at Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Cairo, and one of them turned out to be my best-selling Cairo photo on another stock site. This year I took more time, using a friend's loaned Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS lens to isolate a golden shisha in a forest of silver ones. I thought it worked well, and I'm eager to see if it sells.

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Photo credits: Davidgarry.

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