Shooting out of my comfort zone is one of my biggest challenges. I recently had the opportunity to shoot at the National Algerian Centre in London at The Concord Cafe Carlton Centre during the festival of Ramadan.
They had a free dinner throughout the whole festival and needed photos of the event. That sounds simple enough and should be within the skill set of any photographer or anyone who aspires to be one.
I guess it is always easier to shoot people who speak a similar language to you and who share a common culture because it is easier to gain their rapport, and you are at one because of your shared language and culture.
I was very unfamiliar with the culture and Islam and the cultural differences and what was permitted or not. However, it was needless to worry. I was received with warmth and hospitality and my requests were well taken care of. I was granted access to all areas like the kitchen, food preparation areas, the main dining room and backrooms.
Once I got into my groove I felt at home and comfortable which I think is essential to capture images that do justice to the brief.
I must admit that some of the challenges to shooting was working with low light and mixed light. These are never a photographer’s best friend but it is needless to say that we persevere no matter what to get the job done.
As photographers, we never admit defeat. We face the challenge head on and win because of our creative mind that always finds ways of working around challenges and obstacles.
I think sometimes as photographers we get into a groove and whenever we encounter low light or mixed lighting situations, we fashion our own light through the use of flashguns/ speedlites or strobes.
However, in this scenario it was not possible to use speedlites as it would have been too distracting. Therefore, I had to rely on setting my custom white balance manually and using wide apertures and a high ISO speed to let in more light and keep my shutter speed quite high to get crisp images without the blur or camera shake.
Because we all know, as photographers, that extremely low shutter speeds; especially, if they are too slow to handhold, are the cause of blurry, out of focus, images.
I also shot in RAW format which allowed me to easily adjust the white balance of any images that I didn’t feel had the right colours but that wasn’t really an issue for me because everything worked out for me pretty well.
I must say that working without speedlites was initially daunting for me as I am used to having them as a backup in low light situations. And they have helped me in situations where it would have been nearly impossible to shoot without them.
However, this event taught me a lot about working with the ambient light and that sometimes it doesn’t matter what accessories you have or don’t. When really matters is that the photographer and camera work together to make the best out of the situation they find themselves in.
I think that sometimes we underrate ambient light whether it is natural or man made or a mixture of both. They can produce some great images because you have to understand the light and work with it as it is. Ambient light is a good ingredient to capture natural looking images.
That is the key to photography. If we remember that photography simply means painting with light then it makes sense to understand light and to be able to work with whatever light you have at your disposal.
I also found the evening to be quite enlightening. My knowledge of Islam is quite limited as is my knowledge of my North African cousins from Algeria and that region. So spending some time watching them preparing their dishes, mingling and talking, cooking and having their prayers was insightful.
It made me realise the beauty of community and their unity and shared purpose and mutual respect. It made me confront how much of that is missing in my own Southern African community in the UK.
We don’t have our own centres where we can congregate as a community. We rarely have any events like this where we meet and have a shared sense of unity and purpose and display a similar pride in our own culture and our own way.
It was inspiring to see how the centre was run mostly by volunteers who were hands on in every aspect from food preparation, cooking, offloading deliveries, waiting, setting the tables, etc.
It is good to see that thriving community spirit and people working together as one to make their events a success. It is also important to note that the event was open to anyone who wanted to come and that is pretty cool showing how this community is open to integration and embracing others openly.
I think this is the humane spirit that is lacking in many parts of the world. And if this humane spirit was wide spread, this world would be a better place. There would be less wars, misunderstandings and hatred. World peace would be a reality.
Shooting out of my own comfort zone allowed me to reflect on so much more than photography. Photography brought me to that juncture but working away from my comfort zone allowed me to see way beyond the image and realise that we can learn so much more when we look beyond the surface and embrace things that we perceive as different.
Yes, we share a lot of similarities. We are human, We love. We laugh. We enjoy good company and banter and food. But we also have our differences that distinguish us from others, but those distinguishing differences can teach us more about what we lack than anything else.
They can show us aspects of our lives that need to be nurtured and require fulfilment but we can only see that by seeing it through the lives of people who we are unfamiliar with.
I set out to shoot out of my comfort zone and I ended up with an insight that went beyond my initial goals to capture an event in photography. I learned more about life and the diversity of human nature, community and spirituality.
My word to you is get out of your comfort zone. It will enrich you in many more ways than you expect. It is tough because we are accustomed to operating in safety zones but those safety nets we have built around us can become like a ship in the harbour whose bottom is beginning to rot.
Ultimately, true growth as a photographer on any other calling lies in going out of our comfort zones and embarking on a journey where others fear to go and taking the journey less travelled if I may borrow the phrase from the title of a well known and read book by those who seek to grow.