24 October 2017Last updated

Features | People

Mohsin Abrar: the landscape photographer

Globetrotting shutterbug Mohsin Abrar, 34, talks about his passion for breathtaking imagery, the joy of capturing exuberant cultures and travelling 24 hours to click pictures that weren’t all that great

By Colin Drury
28 Mar 2016 | 01:54 pm
  • Source:Supplied Image 1 of 3
  • Mohsin’s favourite pictures so far are The Girl and the Bicycle shot in the Netherlands, and Between Land and Sea, taken from a helicopter in Dubai.

    Source:Supplied Image 2 of 3
  • Between Land and Sea.

    Source:Supplied Image 3 of 3

What got you into photography?

It was relatively late in life, actually. I was working in marketing in Mumbai when, six years ago, I got a professional opportunity in Dubai. I was 28, living in a new city where I didn’t know many people, and wanted to explore the place on weekends while doing something productive and creative. Taking photos as I went seemed like an ideal hobby. So I bought a camera and trained myself. It’s all taken off from there.

What was the first place you clicked?

Well, when people think of great photos in Dubai they think of cityscapes – because it has such an eye-opening, magnificent skyline. But to start with, I wanted to capture human moments and little stories that happen every day. So I went down to the Dubai Creek and Deira Fish Market. It just struck me as this vibrant, colourful area where there would be picture opportunities around every corner if you kept your eyes and mind open. I submitted one of those pictures to Gulf News and it got published, which gave me a lot of hope.

How did you go about it?

To start with, I would go out whenever I wasn’t working. My friends called me the Weekend Warrior because that’s all I did every weekend. I started going further afield to get more and more experience.

For instance, I’d read that the paddy fields of Vietnam turn an amazing golden yellow during autumn, so I booked a flight to Hanoi on a Thursday night, then caught a train to rural Sa Pa to spend a few hours shooting. I returned on Saturday night and was at work on Sunday morning. I travelled 12 hours each way and spent about Dh4,000. Funny thing is that the pictures I got weren’t even that great in the end. 
I need to do it again some time.

Since you became a pro, where have you been?

All over the world – I’ve been to more than 40 countries. Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nepal... My pictures have appeared in the National Geographic and various other publications. I’ve also shot in Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK.

People often ask me which is more beautiful – Europe or Asia – and I have to say it’s Asia. It’s a more colourful continent, more exuberant, in terms of both the people and the landscapes. Right now, I’m in Singapore working on a tourism website. 
It’s beautiful.

Which pictures are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all of them in some way, but two spring to mind. The Girl and the Bicycle was taken in the Netherlands, and features a woman walking between thousands of bikes. I felt it captured the trend for sustainable transport that’s taking over this part of the world. But even more amazing is Between Land and Sea. I was in a helicopter off the coast of Dubai getting some city shots when, suddenly, there was just this brief moment when the desert and sea seemed to become almost indistinguishable apart from the vivid colours. There was a boat not far out and it framed the moment beautifully. That 
was named in National Geographic’s top 100 landscape pictures of 2015.

The UAE must be a photographer’s dream...

It is, because you have gorgeous natural beauty and then the almost-sci-fi cityscapes. I took a couple of images for BBC World News where the brief was to capture the spirit of the country. I clicked one picture in the desert in the early morning, and one in Dubai from the 70th storey of a skyscraper on Shaikh Zayed Road. The contrast couldn’t have been greater, but both pictures represent the UAE.

What would be your dream picture?

You can’t answer that because if you ever do take your dream picture, straightaway you have a new dream. I want my pictures to inspire people and open their minds to the beauty and positivity that is all around us. 
I would love for young people to see something I’ve taken and then be inspired to travel the world because of it, or, even better, change it.

Any tips for aspiring young photographers?

Practice and persistence. You need to keep at it to get better and better, but you also need to have the self-belief that if you don’t get the shot today, you’ll get it tomorrow.

Don’t let setbacks put you off. Keep trying, keep working at it. You can only improve the more you do click pictures. Photography is not a skill you’re born with. It’s an art that is learned. So, I firmly believe you can be as good as you want to be.

By Colin Drury

By Colin Drury