Mission: Capture people passing by the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku from a variety of angles.
Photographer: Yasser Alaa Mobarak
Location: Alexandria, Egypt
Kit used: Nikon D5600 and Nikon AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR
I have been an avid travel photographer for 14 years. One day, I came across the famous Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan, designed by Zaha Hadid. I researched many photographs to find the best angles. During my trip in 2019, I made multiple visits over four days to capture different types of lighting. I then whittled hundreds of images down to just two. They changed my life.
Together, they have won over 40 awards across a variety of photo competitions, including Travel Photographer of the Year 2020, International Photography Awards 2022 and National Geographic Traveller India. After all the success I achieved following my first trip, I decided to revisit the building complex in 2023.
All of my images include a human element alongside the structure to give a sense of scale. I frame this human element using architectural lines and curves to create a more interesting composition. Including only a single figure and avoiding crowds is vital to create a simple, minimalist composition. I carefully consider the position, direction and spacing of the human element, emphasized via light and shadow, as well as contrasting colors.
Where kit is concerned, I feel comfortable using my Nikon D5600 and Nikon AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR. I use a small, crop-sensor camera to avoid attention, because I spend hours photographing from the same spot.
My best shots
I took this shot on my first trip in 2019. I repeatedly visited the location over several days until I captured the woman in yellow, which contrasted with the blue sky. I wanted to convey a sense of scale and waited until the woman passed between two curves before firing the shutter, so the dark lines didn’t intersect with her.
I often wait for a very long time to take an image and decided on only one picture from each angle. I had to wait for the woman in the red dress to appear. The image includes all the RGB colors; the woman’s dress creates contrast between the warm red and the cool blues and greens. I intentionally captured the figure on the left-hand side of the frame – looking towards the right – to create active space on the right-hand side.
The leading line is the most important visual element in this image. It leads the eye of the viewer to the woman who is the point of interest. Again, the direction of the figure turns dead space into active space.
I turned this image to monochrome because the woman was wearing black, so I felt it would convert nicely into a black and white. Also, I feel the harsh shadows and light work well in mono. I applied the rule of thirds here and used active space to create a dynamic composition.
I really liked the light and shadow in this scene, so I waited for someone to pass by, framed by the building’s vertical lines. This created a sense of scale, showing how big the building is compared to the figure.
My architecture photography tips
Research is the key to success. Study how other photographers captured the subject so you’re able to photograph it in a different style.
Visit a place twice. The first time you visit the attraction, you will be in awe and will likely take the normal ‘touristy’ images. The second time, you won’t be so distracted, and will be able to find the angles that convey your own style.
Be invisible. Travel photographers don’t wear photography jackets and they don’t carry a huge bag full of cameras and lenses. Carry a small camera to avoid attention.