Astronomy has long been a passion for Samy Al Olabi, a Syrian/Egyptian photographer based in Dubai. The starry sky mesmerized him as a child and, as an adult, he has expressed his fascination through the field of astrophotography. “It combined my love for astronomy, my love for nature and landscapes with adventures, travel, and camping,” he explains. “This beautiful recipe is just perfect for me.” His interests inspired him to explore the terrain of the United Arab Emirates, which he describes as “a mix of two beautiful contradictions.” The country boasts bustling cityscapes (such as Dubai) as well as untouched nature featuring reddish desserts, mountains, and small valleys with bushes and Acacia trees.
The mix of landscapes presented a challenge for Olabi, specifically in the type of images he wanted to produce—pictures showcasing the beauty of the stars in the sky. Cities emit light pollution that makes it impossible to capture the Milky Way. But in desolate areas, there are no villages to photograph houses and cottages in the foreground. So, how could Olabi get the kind of enchanting shots that he wanted? He determined that the best way to create realistic scenes in-camera was to produce them using antiques and miniatures. Scouring vintage shops in Dubai as well as the internet at large, Olabi found exactly what he was looking for. He then set out on a road trip to find the perfect real-life landscapes to display them, calling his project The Land of Nowhere.
When viewing Olabi’s photographs from this series, the buildings and boat look as though they are much larger than their actual diminutive stature. This is thanks to some careful camera work by the photographer. “In order to mimic the perspective of a real-life scenery, you have to position the object you’re shooting either on the same level or a bit higher than your camera,” he explains. “Getting as close as possible form the object using an ultra-wide-angle fisheye creates this illusion of standing in front of a real life-sized object.”
The entire experience speaks to a larger lesson that all photographers should keep in mind; don’t be afraid to think differently. “You do not want to be that photographer whose only aim is to hoard equipment and excel settings,” Olabi says. “Photography is a form of art after all.”