By Anand Holla
Having discovered the deeply compelling pleasures of cell phone photography, Khaled al-Shibli posted on Instagram a neat panoramic shot of the sunset and the glistening towers at the value="ACORN:2195736114" idsrc="xmltag.org">Corniche, sometime in 2013.
"My friend told me it's a bad picture. I asked him why. He said it's not of great quality or detailing because I took it using my phone. It's not professional-looking, he complained," al-Shibli recalls, a perpetual grin pasted across his face.
Soon enough, al-Shibli's friend went to the same spot on the value="ACORN:2195736114" idsrc="xmltag.org">Corniche and took a near-identical picture and posted it on his Facebook page to rave reviews. "I wrote to him asking how come he replicated my photograph after having criticised it. He replied that his photograph was fantastic unlike mine. That was it for me," al-Shibli says, laughing.
All charged up, al-Shibli stormed into the nearest camera store and asked them to show him the same Fuji camera that his friend had. "I didn't know any better," says the 25-year-old Qatari, "There was a last piece left and I bought it — only to learn later that it was damaged."
After replacing that with a value="Tokyo:6758" idsrc="xmltag.org">Sony and then a Canon, al-Shibli began taking pictures of everything around him, soon realising that the silly argument that he had with his friend was actually the gateway to unravelling his passion. "That first year, every day, I would step out to take photos. I would go crazy clicking anything that I would find beautiful or aesthetically appealing," he says.
After eventually buying a Canon 5D Mark III and becoming considerably proficient in the art of photography, al-Shibli now also enjoys the satisfaction of scoring a wicked win over his friend. "When I take photos with my camera and he takes with his, I now see a massive difference," he says and laughs.
Ever ready to flash a smile or to let his flash smile on his subjects, al-Shibli has certainly come a long way within three years of picking his first camera. At a photography exhibition titled A Click for a Cause — #ShangrilART at value="Bangkok:SHANG" idsrc="xmltag.org">Shangri-La Hotel, value="LU/qa..doha" idsrc="xmltag.org">Doha, al-Shibli's four striking pictures of Souq Waqif highlighting the traditional structures and the market buzz features alongside the work of three other Qatari photographers. Displayed at the exhibition foyer at Level 2 of the hotel, al-Shibli's cleverly composed frames belie his relative newness to the scene.
Organised by value="Bangkok:SHANG" idsrc="xmltag.org">Shangri-La Hotel and Q-Talent, the exhibition — open to all from 6.30am to 11pm — underlines a good cause; 50 per cent of the proceeds raised from the photographs' sales of first prints will be donated to charity.? Qatari entrepreneur and founder of Q-Talent, Maryam al-Subaiey, tells Community that with such events and initiatives, they intend to focus on Qataris, and especially young Qatari talents like al-Shibli.
"Our purpose is to promote the local talent who haven't exhibited before," she says, "This is the first exhibition for two of the four photographers and it will give them a boost of confidence. We are trying to make the local talent shine in the face of the expat influx to the country, which is somewhat overtaking the locals in various arenas of talent, making the latter feel left out. Our focus is to support the Qataris."
More of a landscape and nature photographer, al-Shibli has tried his hand at everything from product photography to grand events but his heart has increasingly been pulling him towards portraits. "Some of my regular photography haunts are the value="ACORN:2195736114" idsrc="xmltag.org">Corniche, Souq Waqif, Museum of Islamic Art and its wonderful park, Al Shamal, Dukhan, Wakrah Souq, the Grand mosque, and value="ACORN:1763955065" idsrc="xmltag.org">Qatar University," he says.
Completely self-taught, al-Shibli learnt photography by scouring through various websites and YouTube tutorial videos. "There are, for instance, videos that have precise graphics explaining how the light works, where we should place the camera, and where and how many flashlights we should put," he says.
Al-Shibli especially loves taking pictures during sunset. "That's the time I get to show all the colours, shades and tones that emerge in the sky and the sea. It's such a fabulous time of day that the vibrant burst of colours that are not seen or noticed by the naked eye are captured in full detail by the camera," he says.
So as to gauge how good his photos are, al-Shibli has always relied on the feedback he gets from Instagram users. "When I post my photos on Instagram and see the likes and comments, I learn a lot about what's working in my photos and what's not. As a beginner photographer, you don't know whether your picture is good or not, or where exactly you are going wrong. Instagram has helped me a lot because I always encounter somebody telling me how I could have made a picture better, perhaps by taking a photograph from one floor above or in a particular angle. This helps me keep getting better," he says.
Criticisms don't matter as long as it's constructive. "It's fine because people respond to photographs in a subjective manner, everybody offering their own interpretations. You have to pick the lessons from their comments and leave the rest," al-Shibli says.
One of his favourite effects that he likes to lend to his images is freezing motion by using slow shutter speed. Al-Shibli explains, "In an overhead photograph I made at the Souq Waqif, there's a frozen swirl of people in the main street and also stationary people sitting at the cafes. It was a picture posted by a Chinese girl on Instagram that got me thinking of composing such a shot, but I did it a lot differently than she did."
Not only does al-Shibli embrace inspiration from wherever he manages to find it, he also likes to laugh at his mistakes — as the following one. "As part of the recent Darb al Saai celebrations, one of the ministers had come to value="ACORN:1763955065" idsrc="xmltag.org">Qatar University (QU) for an event," al-Shibli recalls, "I was very nervous because I had never photographed a minister before. I asked him to pose for the camera but whatever I did, the camera refused to click."
That's because al-Shibli's camera extreme settings were meant to shoot a studio portrait. "My aperture was on 12 and shutter speed was like five seconds," he says, laughing, "For one whole minute, the minister stood there perplexed as I goofed around with my camera. He kept wondering what's wrong with this boy or his camera."
A student of Business Accounting and Management at QU, al-Shibli, however, has now gone slow on his photography since the end of last year. "I was spending so much time on photography that my grades went down in one semester," he says, "So I plan to photograph only very important things now. After I graduate, Insha'Allah I'll pursue it wholeheartedly."