Majed alZaabi: Rare Encounters and Social Media Stardom
Award-winning wildlife photographer Majed Sultan Al Za’abi from Kuwait joins us to talk about creativity, social media, camera gear, and more.
As a judge for Bird Photographer of the Year, Majed aslo imparts great advice for those looking to enter into the world of photography competitions.
What came first for you – the love of photography or the love of nature and wildlife?
This is a difficult question, but thinking back to my childhood, my father used to love watching wildlife documentaries constantly, and I enjoyed sitting with him and watching wildlife channels.
At the same time, my father often used to carry a camera to capture the daily moments of our lives when we were young.
So, I love both of them together, though nature and wildlife might be my first love.
If you had to choose one image from your wildlife photography, which would be your favourite, and why?
Without hesitation, I would choose the photograph of Kipandi the gorilla.
Not because it is the best photograph ever taken, but because of the recognition it brought me.
This photograph earned me first place in the National History Museum’s competition for Wildlife Photographer of the Year, which is one of the largest wildlife photography competitions. It is every photographer’s dream.
The image carries a lot of contemplation, peace, and tranquillity for those who see it.
You aren’t just a photographer – you also work as a computer engineer and volunteer for charities. How to you find time for photography?
I worked as a computer engineer, and I studied many subjects in software engineering. I ventured into website design and needed some images for these websites, so I used to purchase them from stock photo websites.
After a while, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I take these photos myself?”. So, I started combining photography with website design, and now I work for a charitable organization in Kuwait that has 28 offices in Africa.
This website benefits millions of needy people annually. I integrated website design skills with photography and digital marketing on social media networks, and the results have been remarkable.
How do you come up with new ideas and compositions to capture wildlife that has already been widely photographed, such as lions and birdlife?
I believe that every individual is unique in their way of thinking, shaped by various factors they have encountered since childhood, such as colors, events, and ways of interaction.
These factors contribute to the development of a specific thinking pattern.
What’s beautiful about this is that the thinking pattern evolves when a person desires it to. One’s eyes may be trained to capture unconventional angles, and their ability to perceive things differently can be developed and enhanced. It is acquired and evolves over time.
One of the key ways to enhance this perception is by observing the works of others from different schools of thought and attempting to emulate those schools, integrating ideas together.
Ultimately, each individual will have a personal touch that gives a distinct character to their photographs.
When you see their photos on social media, you might recognize the photographer even before reading their name because they have walked a certain path in their photography journey.
What, in your opinion, makes a captivating and emotive wildlife photograph?
There are several factors that make a photograph important.
One of these factors is rarity, such as if the animal captured in the photo is endangered or if the behavior captured is rare.
Another factor is when the photograph evokes one of the seven sensory pleasures, such as cuteness, love, or tenderness.
For example, photographs of baby animals or the interactions between mothers and their young in intimate family moments can elicit these emotions.
Additionally, capturing an angle that the eye is not accustomed to seeing, like aerial drone shots, can also make for a captivating photograph.
As a judge for Bird Photographer of the Year, can you tell us what key elements you feel make for a winning composition?
In international competitions, judges often look for new angles or rare behaviors in birds that they haven’t seen before. They personally hope to come across photographs that make them pause and say, “This is the winning shot.”
Winning photographs rely on various factors, such as rarity, colors, angles, and the technical aspects of capturing the image. When all these components come together, they can produce a stunning and award-winning photograph.
I consider international competitions as a test for photographers, where they submit their best photographs and see at which stage their images reach in the evaluation process.
At the same time, if their images don’t progress to any stage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the photos are not beautiful.
However, in highly competitive scenarios, even the best photographs can be eliminated, but sometimes photographers rejoice when their images advance to the next stages in a competition.
The photograph may even be printed in the competition’s book or displayed in an accompanying exhibition, and it may receive awards, even if it was taken by an amateur photographer.
Some competitions also provide a separate category for amateurs, distinct from the professional category. Additionally, some competitions divide the contest into age groups, which is a wonderful aspect.
You work hard to inspire young photographers to pursue their passions and take their photos to the next level. What advice would you give to those who want to break into the photography world?
I always advise photographers to make use of the equipment they already have without burdening themselves with expensive gear at the beginning of their hobby.
My second piece of advice is to read, read, and read.
By studying photographs, especially those selected in international competitions, photographers can educate their eyes and understand the reasons behind the selection and success of these images in such competitions.
How important do you think it is for up-and-coming photographers to harness social media to get established and make themselves seen?
I believe it is extremely important for up-and-coming photographers to harness social media to establish themselves and gain visibility.
In our current era, social media has become a powerful tool for communication and promoting artistic works and personal innovations.
Social media provides emerging photographers with a unique opportunity to showcase their work to a wide global audience, interact with photography enthusiasts, and receive valuable feedback and comments.
By effectively using social media, aspiring photographers can build a network of clients and an interested audience for their work.
They can also engage with the photography community and professionals in the field, learning from their experiences and exchanging knowledge and inspiration.
Additionally, social media can assist emerging photographers in launching their own projects and promoting workshops, exhibitions, and events they participate in.
When packing for an assignment, what is one piece of gear you could not go without?
My camera for sure.
Secondary gear is depended on the specific assignment. For lenses, I always ensure that I take a good range that will help me in multiple situations; something like 180-600mm is often a good range to cover.
Can you tell us about the most exciting photography project you have been on?
My recent trip to Kenya was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.
It was a safari expedition in search of the black leopard, locally known as “Qīzā,” located in a reserve near Samburu called Laikipia.
Witnessing this unique black leopard during daylight hours was an indescribable joy.
The rarity of such shy and predominantly nocturnal animals made the encounter even more special.
It was my first time seeing a black leopard up close, and I thoroughly enjoyed capturing its presence in its natural habitat.