Ruqaya Al Kindi –
Haitham Al Shanfari, is an Omani wildlife photographer who is interested in monitoring and documenting birds locally and in the region. He spends his time tracking movement of birds and capturing photographs which are appreciated on social media.
Haitham is the first Omani photographer whose account on Instagram has been documented and followed by over 37,000 followers.
He said: “My passion for photography began in 2014 when I chose wildlife because I felt the society really needs to know wildlife in the Sultanate which is rich in a variety of resident and migratory birds.”
He tries to convey a message to society through photographs and to preserve the environment as birds are an essential component of preserving the balance. Unlike other photographers, Haitham tries to have a special perspective in the photo that he captures.
One of his favourite picture is the owl of Arab trees which breeds in abundance in Dhofar. “I called it ‘Welcome to me’, especially since I captured it upon returning from Britain after spending a year to study, “ he said.
One of his most toughest pictures to capture, he mentions, was the weaver bird building its nest. “I took me two weeks to shoot it under autumn amidst bitten by mosquitoes and using various methods of protection,” he says.
It took Haitham about 22 days to observe the eggs of the Al Karsou ‘bird until it was hatched. “I was watching it daily and intensively at different times during the day until I took the appropriate photo,” he points out.
He captured King Fischer Al Abaq bird, or the so-called Big King Fisher, which is one of the transiting or migrating birds in the Sultanate. “I clicked two birds on their migratory en route or away, and took about 12 days or approximately 120 hours until I get the picture that I looking forward, which was catching its prey, as it feeds on small fish,” he explains.
Haitham has faced numerous challenges as a shutterbug. “The difficulties are often related to weather, rough places that cannot be reached by feet, or sometimes the cars are damaged until we reach the site,” he pointed out.
He mentions the biggest challenge faced when he followed an owl for nearly 40 days in the deep valleys located in the Wilayat of Mirbat during warm weather.
There are no specific rituals that Haitham follows for photographing, “sometimes I take pictures accidently and other times I planned before shooting in terms of the equipment needed, the number of days to track the bird and the location.
Haitham said that the criteria for a successful image are lighting, composition, choosing the right moment, the right timing, the idea or message. “The real achievement of the photographer is when he see people sharing his photo on social media, and this indicates that he affected people and was able to convey his message through an image,” he said.
His advice to the photographer to always make the image is the first goal and not fame or money,” he added. Like other photographer, he began his passion as a hobby and ended up making money out of it “in case there are projects or tenders with the private or government sector,” he said.
He participated in many competitions and organising many personal exhibitions both inside and outside the Sultanate. He achieved the top spots and won prizes.
The most prominent was his contributions within judgment comity with National Graphics in the King Abdulaziz competition in Saudi Arabia, where he also shared three reports with National Graphics in Arabic about wildlife in the Sultanate.
He is also in the process of publishing a book called ‘Dhofar Birds,’ and is working on it. The book will include a large number of species of birds and animals. For the future, he looks forward to produce a documentary film about wildlife in Oman.