Emirati photographer wins National Geographic ‘Moments’ contest


DUBAI: An Emirati lensman who only bought his first camera a few years ago has snapped up first place in a prestigious photographic competition.

Salem Sarhan was on Monday named the winner out of more than 27,000 entries in the high-profile National Geographic “Moments” contest.

National Geographic Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with Saudi dairy company Almarai, announced that the 27-year-old had scooped the award for his sunset image, shot with a drone, showing him and his brothers praying at home following the temporary closure of mosques in the UAE due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Sarhan, who studied law in Al-Ain, will receive $10,000 worth of professional photography equipment and have his winning photo published in National Geographic Al-Arabiya magazine.

The competition’s judging panel, that included two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner and National Geographic photographer, Muhammad Muheisen, and Almarai chief marketing officer, Hussam Abdulqader, chose Sarhan’s picture from a shortlist of 10 entrants.

Held under the title, “2020 Moments: A Year Lived Differently,” the shortlisted images captured a range of inspiring shots including students distance learning and socially distanced family.

Abu Dhabi-based photographer Sarhan, who became the first Emirati to win the competition in its 10-year history, told Arab News: “I am still in shock. I did not expect to even be among the finalists never mind be the winner. Before representing the Emiratis, I am extremely proud to represent the Gulf region and the Arab world in general.”

The cameraman normally prefers to take photos of cities and nature and had not originally intended to submit his winning picture for the contest.

He said: “I was at home and had nowhere to go due to the lockdown. So, I started thinking of what I could photograph. Then, the idea of documenting the moments we lived through during the pandemic came to me. I started taking shots from the first day we started wearing masks, the lockdown, and the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests.

“I wanted to document these moments as part of my archive to show people later on and tell them how in 2020 we witnessed these moments,” he added.

Sarhan submitted around eight pictures to competition organizers and the colorful drone shot was what made the cut.

The idea of using a drone to take pictures of him and his brothers praying came to him one afternoon and at first his siblings were confused. “But the idea was clear in my head,” he said, adding that he took the shot soon after sunset.

Sarhan’s career in photography only began in 2015.

“It was a coincidence, and I believe it was the best coincidence of my life. I started with my friend’s camera. He supported me after he saw that my pictures had potential. Then, he gifted me his camera and I started learning and discovering my passion,” he said.

Two years later, he bought himself a camera and started his journey. His future focus is on setting up his own exhibition and getting global exposure for his photographs.

On advice for others looking to go into photography, he added: “Diligence, perseverance, and thinking outside the box. These are the key things that distinguish one photographer from another.”

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