A Camel Helps Photographers Capture Images in the Desert

For 7 days, Sarha wandered with her gear (and came home each night).

Sarha the camel
Sarha in her gear.

Wunderman Thompson / STC

Nature photographers sometimes must combat challenging circumstances to create their images. They can deal with extreme weather conditions and demanding terrain.

In Saudi Arabia, photographers recently had extra help from a four-legged assistant to go where they couldn’t. They enlisted the help of a camel named Sarha to wander areas that are not easily reachable or inhabitable. They fitted her with a solar-powered camera and let her roam daily in some remote locations for a week. Each night she returned home to base camp, with a team checking on her comfort and safety.

With Sarha’s help, 11 photographers from around the world took remote photos for a campaign showcasing the beauty of the land. The images were compiled in a campaign created by Wunderman Thompson creative agency for Saudi Telecom Company (STC), a Saudi Arabia-based telecommunications company.

Rayyan Aoun, executive creative director at Wunderman Thompson Saudi Arabia, spoke to Treehugger about how Sarha was treated throughout her weeklong job as a photographer’s assistant and about the images she helped the photographers created from so many miles away.

You can see the final images online or on Instagram @unveilsaudi.

Treehugger: What was the impetus for the project? Did you start with knowing you wanted to photograph areas of Saudi Arabia where no person has ever been to before and then figure out how to do it?

Rayyan Aoun: This project is a part of “Unveil Saudi” a bigger initiative we launched for stc; a long-term platform that demonstrates the power of stc’s network coverage through unveiling content about the country. In this year’s project, we utilized Sarha, the camel, and decided to go further and unveil the unseen wonders of Saudi Arabia. This project allowed us to put stc’s network to the ultimate test.

Najib Murad image of Saudi Arabia

Najib Murad

How did you decide to use a camel for this project? What research did you do to choose Sarha?

We heard and researched a lot about the country’s most remote deserts, and how hard it is for humans to get there by simple means. We looked at who lives there and can easily get to such places, and it was obvious for us that it’s the camel. In Saudi Arabia, the camel is an icon, historically labeled as the ship of the desert and is always venerated for its looks and grace.

After an extensive research on camel breeds, we’ve selected a specific type called “Rahala” in Arabic, which is a strong breed that is known and well-fit for journeying and covering long distances in the desert. This breed also has a higher endurance to extreme weather conditions. Furthermore, the chosen camel was a female, as this gender is known to be the better wanderer. We picked it carefully from a camel farm and chose one that is healthy, young, and active, and named it: Sarha.

How was her rig designed? How was it important to protect both the safety of the equipment and the camel? What considerations did you have to keep in mind?

We partnered with our teams from different parts of the world (Saudi Arabia, USA, Costa Rica) and with a local production house to design the technology behind the project and the rig system. The rig was tailor-made and designed to fit Sarha’s measurements. The saddle had extra layers of cushioning to make sure the rig sat comfortably on its hump. We tried as much as possible to minimize the number of equipment (laptop, camera with the CamRanger, solar power panels, a tracker device, and stc’s hotspot router). The laptop used is a military-grade one that withstands the extreme weather conditions.

How did individual photographers get involved? How did they take photographs?

We invited photographers from different corners of the world to take the idea of remote shooting even further. We were looking for a variety of photography styles, to have a richer library in the end, and we mainly went after photographers who are explorers by nature and are into landscape and nature photography.

We also engaged with local photographers from different parts of Saudi Arabia. We gave each photographer a time slot, in which he/she can access the rig system through a dedicated control center we have developed for Sarha. From there they were able to fully control the rig system over Sarha’s hump and use all the camera settings from their desk at home. Finally, we gave them the freedom to retouch the photos in the way they wanted as per their vision.

Sarha gets fed

Wunderman Thompson / STC

How did you monitor Sarha’s welfare? How were you tracking her?

At base camp, we made sure Sarha was properly checked, treated, fed, and hydrated in preparation for its mission. We were always connected with it via live video stream 24/7, to monitor its journey. We had a tracker device on it to easily locate her and a drone that is always ready to find her.

Did she just go wherever she would naturally wander? Where were some of the more interesting places she went that she allowed the photographers to take photos?

The camel breed, a female “Rahhala,” is known for their ability to wander the desert during the day and return home during the night. We let Sarha roam freely in the nature and take us through her eyes to those places. The most interesting region was the Arna mountains, a very rich landscape with a very unique terrain.

Saudi Arabia image by Najib Murad

Najib Murad

What were the reactions of the photographers? What were some of the favorite images?

Ben Jacks said: “I felt like one of the first astronauts, stepping into Mars – it’s just unbelievable.”

Anthony Lamb said: “It was a great experience and something that I have never done before.”

Najib Mrad said: “I am excited, because it’s going to be the first time a camera lens gets this close, and I’m one of those lenses.”

Ahmad Almalki said: “As a photographer, I have never imagined I would be able to shoot in such places, as you know they are very hard to reach.”

Every photographer unveiled a piece of land that was astonishing. We did not expect to see such richness in the desert, especially when we look at the photos of Anthony Lamb and Najib Mrad.

Sarha camel

Wunderman Thompson / STC

How long did she wander? Where did the journey end?

She wandered for seven days. Her journey started in Hail and ended in Al-Ula region.

What happened to Sarha when her photo assistant role was complete? Was she given a medical checkup before and after?

After the mission was over, the camel was given a thorough medical check-up and a big treat for its successful voyage. We returned Sarha home to the camel farm we borrowed her from. We are constantly checking on Sarha and making sure she would be fit for the next journey of discovering new lands.