It is the epitome of what being a photographer is all about – to be a devoted witness of the beauty around us

Award-winning photographer and Lord of the Rings digital effects star Karim Sahai talks about his favourite shoot locations

Weta digital effects expert Karim Sahai creates fantastical scenes for films such as Lord Of The Rings, Iron Man 3 and Avatar. But while his work leaves us open mouthed, the landscapes that blow him away are those created by nature. When Sahai’s not busy in the studio, the photographer travels the world to capture the beauty of some of the world’s harshest environments. Here he reveals the locations that remain at the top of his dream location list.

 

1 SVALBARD

The location: The Arctic is really dear to me for many reasons. I’ve been going there a lot. It was kickstarted with a childhood dream I guess. It’s one of the last untouched parts of the world. Every time I go there I always feel incredibly connected to nature. When people see my images from there I would like them to experience the same sense of awe and humility I felt of the place when I took the shot.

The shot: One of my best photographs is of a polar bear. The reason I like this picture is because to come really close to a predator like that you’ve got to be lucky. It gave me the chance to photograph it in its element at close quarters. It’s one of my favourite photographs because I am less than 20 metres away. I wanted to take that photograph and it seemed as if the bear wanted something back in exchange. It could have been me… It is a good memory for me and great to be able to share it with people.

Polar Bear Yawning, Svalbard
Polar Bear Yawning, Svalbard

 

 2 NORTH KOREA

The location: Not because it’s a dream location as much as an unusual location. I was mostly photographing people and scenes of daily life. You have two government minders with you at all times. It’s very different from the kind of photography I do. I took photos of how life happens. People still need to eat, go to work every day, get dressed every day… I wanted to go there and see if I could capture and show we could that people live just like us. When I shared my shots of North Korea with people, it became a really good entry door as people are very curious about life there.

The shot: I actually in a space of three weeks shot 28,000 images. I was shooting a lot every day. I wasn’t sure if I would have the chance to go back. This shot is quite iconic of my experience there. It is one of two giant portraits of Kim Ill-sung and Kim Jong-il. They were preparing a celebration for the birthday of the founder. The shot of the 25-metre high portraits and the guy looking really small walking through the square is a good visual to illustrate the omnipresence of the leaders.

A man walks under giant portraits of the "Eternal Leader" and the "Dear Leader", on Pyongyang's Kim-Il Sung Square, a place of great cultural significance, as it is a common gathering place for rallies, dances and military parades. Both Kims are now dead and the DPRKs current ruler is the third in the dynasty, Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il and the grandson of Kim Il-Sung. In April 2012, Kim Jong-un was formally given the title of Supreme Leader. He is not even 30 years old.
A man walks under giant portraits of the “Eternal Leader” and the “Dear Leader”, on Pyongyang’s Kim-Il Sung Square, a place of great cultural significance, as it is a common gathering place for rallies, dances and military parades. Both Kims are now dead and the DPRKs current ruler is the third in the dynasty, Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il and the grandson of Kim Il-Sung. In April 2012, Kim Jong-un was formally given the title of Supreme Leader. He is not even 30 years old.

 

3 RWANDA

The location: I love travelling to Rwanda. Its serenity, remarkable natural splendour and the relatively easy access it offers to some of the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world, are all the reasons compelling me to keep going back to this Land of a Thousand Hills.

The shot: Shortly after taking this shot of an adult female mountain gorilla, I switched to a longer 400mm telephoto lens for a tighter portrait of the male silverback. While attempting to frame the male gorilla through the viewfinder, I felt a vibration on the ground. I took my eye away from the camera and saw the powerful primate running towards me. I was being charged by a mountain gorilla! Francois, the ranger, made a series a grunting noises, which is said would ‘defuse the situation’. The gorilla calmed down and everything was okay. The ranger later explained that the lens, unusual by its size, was probably seen as a threat by the gorilla. When the gorilla charged me and thumped his chest it was purely defensive. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

At 225Kg, Guhonda is the largest silverback mountain gorilla in the world. He is the alpha male of the Sabinyo group and is often seen in the company of one of the group’s several adult females. Rwanda’s Volcanos National Park (Parc National Des Volcans) is home to some of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. The apes of Central Africa face danger from habitat loss, hunting and armed conflic in the border region of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. As their habitat in increasingly encroached upon, mountain gorillas become exposed to a host of human pathogens. Long term conservation efforts have been credited for an increase in population; from 620 individuals in the early 1990s to 880 in 2011.
At 225Kg, Guhonda is the largest silverback mountain gorilla in the world. He is the alpha male of the Sabinyo group and is often seen in the company of one of the group’s several adult females.
Rwanda’s Volcanos National Park (Parc National Des Volcans) is home to some of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. The apes of Central Africa face danger from habitat loss, hunting and armed conflic in the border region of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
As their habitat in increasingly encroached upon, mountain gorillas become exposed to a host of human pathogens. Long term conservation efforts have been credited for an increase in population; from 620 individuals in the early 1990s to 880 in 2011.

 

4 NORWAY

The location: There are two places near Trondheim that I love. It’s here that I’ve been able to photograph one of the last remaining animals from the Ice Age – the musk ox.

The shot: My favourite shot is of a musk ox. Relatively easy to access, but you have to go and seek them out so there’s a bit of adventure component to that. When I’m there I think about the fact that I’m holding all these technologically advanced cameras and lenses, but I am pointing them at something ancient. I’m photographing a living fossil. It’s a kind of tongue-in-cheek way of looking at the past. I try and go there once a year.

Musk Ox In Winter, Dovrefjell National Park, Norway

 

5 NEW ZEALAND

The location: In Southern New Zealand there is a region called Central Otago, and when I’m travelling to the south of the country this is pretty much the first place I go to. It’s a pilgrimage for me. I go with an analogue camera. Nothing electronic and I try to get to the basics of photography. I have a freezer where I store my film. I shoot both analogue and digital – I’m hybrid that way. I go to that place as almost a pilgrimage there are times that you need to forget about being a photographer. I want to experience the place without photography being my main goal. With an analogue you don’t know totally what you are going to get so you stay present in the moment. The landscape is so vast and wide and colourful, even with a simple camera you can capture that beauty.

The shot: I love to shoot at The Crown Range where it’s the highest point on the road. It has an open space where you can walk around. At a particular time of the day you can see where the sun filters through the clouds. It happens just a few minutes a day. It is an amazing experience for me. How the light interacts with the land. You feel incredibly small.  It is the epitome of what being a photographer is all about – to be a devoted witness of the beauty around us.

The setting sun's rays filters through a layer of clouds hanging over the Crown Range valley, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand. The Crown Range mountains overlook Lake Wakatipu, near the city of Queenstown. In the 1860s, this part of Central Otago was at the center of a relatively brief gold rush. Today it is synonymous with alpine sports and picturesque expanses attracting visitors from all around the world.

 

 

To see more of Karim Sahai’s work visit www.fulllife.no

karim_sahai_2015_v03

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Pinterest