The photographers of Dubai

From shooting curving towers, to wild horses – Mohammed Asif has created a forum for young photographers to flourish in Dubai

Mohammed Arfan Asif came from Bangalore to Dubai over two decades ago, with a camera, a tripod, and a desire to take his photography to the next level. “My interest in photography had its beginnings during my school days,” he says. “ I was known as an artist back then, due to all my sketching and drawing and had on many occasions represented my school. But a specific photographic interest came from the magazines that were available in the school library, and later exhibitions I viewed in art galleries.”

Asif settled on portraiture as his favourite photographic discipline, “and it is due to portraiture primarily that I made my mark on the international scene,” he adds.

“I dabble in all kinds of subjects including nature and wildlife photography, and am particularly enamored by landscapes at the moment.”

Though landscape and nature remain his favoured subjects, he says that moving to Dubai gave him an increasing appreciation of the emirate’s impressive architectural structures – and its status as a nascent city means that there is always something changing that he can document.

portrait shot Mohammed Arfan Asif
Sajjad the Determined, by Mohammed Arfan AsifImage: Mohammed Arfan Asif

But, Dubai gave Asif more than new subjects to shoot– it provided him with an outlet to teach and connect with the young photographers in the city.

Seeing the enthusiasm of the young creative around him, he began to gather a small group for field trips, teaching them about composition, depth of field, and the patience it takes to achieve the perfect shot – whether it be of a spiny-tailed lizard in the desert, or a curving tower in Abu Dhabi.   

His group, the Shutter Bugs Creative Forum, now boasts more than 40 members, some of whom have received international acclaim for their images.

“I have been into serious (though amateur) art photography for thirty plus years and felt the need to share my knowledge with like minded enthusiasts,” Asif says.

“The end result is the forum, which I think of as a mentorship program. It all began in 2009 with three members and today I mentor 49 serious enthusiasts who can retain membership only with regularity, hard work and the aspiration to progress in the art.”

To be a good young photographer, Asif identifies enthusiasm and discipline as two vital traits to have.

stallion joseph antony
Stallion, by Joseph AntonyImage: Joseph Antony

“Many speak of passion in the art, but only few practically reflect it. A good young photographer will search for knowledge and look for improvement in his images. He is one who will not be flattered by comments in a social forum but will place his image to receive critiquing from the experts in the field and look to fine-tune his images.”

He identifies a number of up and coming talents in his forum, including Abbas Kapadia who excels in travel photography; Nisha Purushothaman, who is particularly good at photographing birds, and Shibu Mathew and Manu Reghurajan, who favour macro (extreme close-up) photography.

Asif adds that, given that we are now in a digital age where numerous images can be produced so quickly, it is more important than ever that an aspiring photographer be meticulous about his shots.

“Today, the sheer number of images that can be created is phenomenal. It is unlike in the old days, where a thought was given before each image was clicked.”

“In my mind, one of the most important lessons a young photographer has to understand that it is quality that matters – not quantity.”