Alhada Mountain at Night: Extracting Beauty in the Dark




"Those who love much, do much and accomplish much, and whatever is done with love is done well.... Love is the best and noblest thing in the human heart, especially when it is tested by life as gold is tested by fire. Happy is he who has loved much, and although he may have wavered and doubted, he has kept that divine spark alive and returned to what was in the beginning and ever shall be.

If only one keeps loving faithfully what is truly worth loving and does not squander one's love on trivial and insignificant and meaningless things then one will gradually obtain more light and grow stronger."

-Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh




    There is love and beauty in any situation... even in darkness.

    I can't think of any other way to start this post but point something about relationships in Saudi Arabia. Being the center of Islam, this country has rules for everything and the ones for relationships (outside of marriage) is among the most notorious. Single men and women can't mingle unless blood-related or married (with proper documentations). It's difficult but you learn to live by and with it.

    Alhada Mountain Highway Light Trail Photographs

    Ahead of this trip, I had already imagined myself taking night long exposure photos of this highway. I've seen some Google images of the place and they inspired me. I didn't know when or how I'd do it, but I thought I had to.

    After the cable car ride (read: Breathtaking Sunset View from the Al Hada Cable Car) I convinced my friend and colleague who also had a camera to go out that night and take long exposure photos of the highway.

    It was around midnight when we went out and looked for a place to shoot from.

    Alhada Mountain Highway at Night Makkah Region Saudi Arabia (4)
    The spot we parked was actually the first and nearest viewing point from the hotel. It had a parking space so it was at a safe distance from road traffic. At the back is the Ramada Hotel.



    It wasn't easy. There were no lights other than the light posts from the road itself and they were not enough to illuminate substantial parts of the slopes.

    Here's a sooc (straight out of the camera) from my phone 📱:



    A phone camera shot of the highway at midnight. The rocks are practically indiscernible and you really don't know what you're gonna get in the frame. (Samsung Note 4)



    The only way to get better shots was to try and try and make adjustments each time until you're satisfied with the composition (live exposure was of little help).

    It was a challenge since the whole place is practically in the dark save for the lit roads. Won't go any more technical, but in short, I did several attempts per scene and produced only a few acceptable shots.

    Alhada Mountain Highway at Night Makkah Region Saudi Arabia (6)
    This was taken by the Canon and one of the first attempts to find out what and where to adjust. Lots of dark areas. 

     

    Alhada Mountain Highway at Night Makkah Region Saudi Arabia (3)



    In-camera settings/adjustments could only do so much in such a scene. One option would be photostacking but I don't do that. Post-processing in Lightroom is necessary to enhance and 'bring some details to light'.



    Alhada Mountain Highway at Night Makkah Region Saudi Arabia (2)
    I have another take from this spot that has a better composition but is underexposed (The other photo has more balanced foreground but this one has better exposure.)


    Alhada Mountain Highway at Night Makkah Region Saudi Arabia (8)
    That highway leads back to Jeddah.


    Alhada Mountain Highway at Night Makkah Region Saudi Arabia (7)
    15 seconds at f/20, ISO 400, 57mm


    If not of safety reasons and the mosquitoes, we (or maybe I) probably would have stayed longer and took more shots. The cold was bearable but it was also getting late and we had to wake up early the following morning.

    Before we could leave the place, something unexpected happened.


    Portraits in the Dark

    I am used to people approaching me to take their photos when I am out in the park. Young Saudis and (in rare occasions) some expats have asked me during photowalks, but this was a first for me.

    Three youngsters approached me while taking my last shots and asked me to take their photos. It took me seconds to realize that ██████████████. They spoke very little English but the word 'sura' was just enough to know. (Sura means photo or to take photo.)

    It felt strange to be █████████████████████████████. I had doubts and thought that this could be a setup or prank lol, but they seemed friendly and just wanted nothing but to be photographed.

    I could use flash but I didn't want to get any attention (there's a police station not far off) so I had to ask them to stay still (for 4-6 seconds) to take slow shutter photos, plus there's no way to get the background that dark to appear without 'taking it slowly'.

    [2 photos deleted]



    4 seconds, f/4.5, ISO 640

    I was totally weirded out (but tried to be cool) when the █████ posed the way ███ did. ██████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████.

    ███████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████. A lot of my misconceptions about Saudis changed that night.

    I shared the photos to one of the guys via Instagram (ugh, Instagram... reminds me to delete it for good).

    These people looked very young but could be ███████. Or not. It didn't matter. They were happy, respectful (of me) and enjoying their time.


    Edit: I decided to change the title and deduct some details and photos to be safe. Sigh. Sayang. I really waited over two years to write this but I chickened out. My ksma clang bbae. Ambbata nla. Eh hinug p q nung bbae s tuwa nang makta ung pctures. aun.

    -

    Travel Period: January 2017
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