Jake traveled to Oman to capture its arid desert, spectacular architecture and fascinating culture.

A photo of Jake
Jake Salyers from the USA,
Winner Photography Scholarship 2012

Jake's photographic assignment was to explore the historic town of Muscat, Oman, and it's surroundings.

The Matrah fish market

Immediately upon meeting Jason, I realized that sleep was going to be a low priority on this expedition. Before we had even really started the trip, we did not have enough time and I knew it instinctually. With every second precious, like the scarce water supply in this arid country, time would be our greatest and most valuable resource.

Our first official day of shooting began at the local fish markets of Matrah, a coastal town near old Muscat. We arrived before sunrise and watched the men and their catch begin to negotiate the sales.  The light was minimal to start off and it took a while for my brain to warm up to what I was trying to capture. I put on a flash at first but decided instead to raise my ISO and see what I could do with the low natural light as the sun rapidly approached.

With the light increasing, so did the population of the market. Men and women of all ages filed in, perusing and negotiating. A simple system emerged for the buyers: after buying the fish, they could take them over to a man with a hose and a knife to fillet their purchases on the spot. As the sun began to move rapidly up in the horizon, we decided to move on to our next destination.


The Grand Mosque

The Grand Mosque plays a major role in the skyline of Muscat and its importance was clear to me the night I arrived and first drove past it. Four large turrets surrounded a massive dome, the ornate and lavish mosque stood out like an oasis of green flora and white marble in the city. We were only permitted access, as non-Muslims, during a small window of the morning. Being there at this time the mosque was filled with light-skinned tourists and as a result, it felt more like a museum than a house of worship.

With tall archways, shiny white marble and stark dark shadows, it seemed like the ultimate challenge of architecture photography. I learned quickly about the distortion present in my lenses as the long lines present all around me seemed to bend in the frame. Finding the right combination of lens and position was everything in creating well-composed frames. Exposure was a huge challenge as well, with the high sun creating drastic highlights and shadows. The key to me seemed to be finding the right frames, using the architecture itself to highlight important features of the mosque. Easier said than done.

Just before sunset, Jason and I spotted a soccer game going on in the village and we raced down to capture its closing action. However, only minutes after we arrived, the call to prayer sounded and the boys dispersed as quickly as we had arrived.

The Grand Mosque

The black tape

I was finally getting used to the pattern of this trip. Awake and in the cars well before dawn, followed by a race to catch the sunrise, day 4 began like the others. We climbed high into the hills to reach a beautiful little village in a small rocky canyon. The scramble in the cars was followed by an ascent up a path to the source of the village’s water.

In an unexpected move, Jason pulled out a piece of black tape and asked for my camera. Not knowing what he was planning on doing, I obliged. To my initial horror, he covered my screen with the tape and told me not to take it off on pain of death. The point of this exercise, he explained, was to keep my head up and focused on making the images, not on the results. He continued to tell me that, the viewfinder was only a hindrance and did nothing but distract a young photographer like myself. Though I obeyed and left the tape on, it took a while to stop my rote motion of checking the back of the camera.


The end... and beginning

The journey was almost over, but I knew its rewards were just beginning. I am going to miss Jason’s tutelage immensely but I feel confident I have grown as a photographer over these past 8 days. I only wish that the trip was 16 days long, not 8. Jason really raised the bar for what I should expect from myself and I feel very blessed to have been able to witness firsthand what hard work and dedication can result in. Working with a National Geographic photographer was a life-changing experience and has inspired me to only work harder at my dream of becoming a professional photographer. I believe that when one journey ends, another begins and I could not have imagined a better experience for preparing me for that next journey, to achieve my dream.

Omani man with Camel

Read Jake's full blog from Oman

View Jake's photos from Oman

Watch Jake's interview on assignment in Oman

Interview with Jake