NidalM Photography  /  Blog  /  Being a Photographer  /  Photography in Saudi Arabia

Photography in Saudi Arabia

So you just got your shiny new camera and want to go about taking some nice pictures. Then you look around and realize you’re in Saudi Arabia. Well the good news is, there’s never been a better time to pick up the hobby. SLRs are getting cheaper by the day. And with the prevalence of modern cellphones with their miniature onboard cameras, society has finally become more accepting of photos being taken. That said, walking around with an SLR, with a decent lens and a tripod is bound to turn some eyes. Here’s some tips for photographers in Saudi that I’ve picked up over the months. Please feel free to comment on this post and suggest some new ones!

Social

  1. Whenever possible, keep your camera hidden. Some people tend to get uneasy if you’re walking around with one so it’s best to avoid any form of confrontation.
  2. Always ask before you take a photo of somebody, even in public. This goes more so for the male photographers shooting women. Though you should generally ok taking wide angled shots of no-one in particular.
  3. If shooting a wedding, never never never never NEVER take pictures of the womens’ side. People have been lynched for doing that. Yes, it’s THAT serious.
  4. When in doubt, don’t ask. If you’re unsure whether you’re allowed to take pictures of a certain building (or inside one), look left, and then look right. See anybody looking? No? Good, now take your picture. If you act like you know what you’re doing, all doors are open.
  5. Understand you have a right to be taking pictures in public. The ministry of tourism has allowed it and even published a document to that effect. Here’s the pdf transcript. Download it, print it, and keep it in your camera bag in case someone causes trouble.
  6. Despite the above, try not to hang around the same area for too long when taking pictures. The police (especially the religious police) are not aware, or choose not to be aware, of the law. They will only gladly run up to unsuspecting photographers yelling their favorite word: ‘mamnoo3′ (It’s not allowed). Sometimes locals will object to it as well and threaten to call the cops. Don’t fight, just leave and come back later.

Technical

Shooting in the climate here can get a little tricky sometimes!

  1. Deserts are very dusty (duh!). Avoid changing lenses in the field. And if you have to, do it in shelter (inside a car perhaps). You don’t want the sand messing up your image sensor.
  2. In the humid months, the lens can fog up if you try to take photos in the outdoors. There’s two ways to handle this:
    1. Get a good lens cloth; just Wipe ‘n shoot :P
    2. Keep your camera warm. If you know you’ll need to shoot soon, keep your camera outside for 10-15min so it warms up to the outside temperature. This prevents condensation from forming on the lens.
  3. Goes without saying, keep your equipment out of the heat of the sun.
  4. When shooting outdoors with flash with automatic metering on dusty days, the dust particles in the air close to the lens tend to become overly bright (due to proximity to the light source). This can throw off focus and metering. On these days, you’ll just need to go full manual on the focus and flash.

Saudi Photoblogs

Not necessarily devoted to photos, these are people living in Saudi Arabia who’s websites I check out often for the interesting photos they put up!

  1. Khan Serai – A blog about politics, religion, and every now and then, some very quirky photos from Saudi. Check out the post on the Niqabi Cowgirls!
  2. Susie of Arabia – An American woman in Jeddah, posting pics of oddities and interesting things she finds all over the place!
  3. Samaher Tariq -With a passion for marketing and fashion, Samaher posts regular shots of some very well known brand names. If you’re into fashion, you’ll probably want to follow this one!
  4. I know there more out there, help me out!

I’ll keep updating this post, so check back. Got any tips to share? Comment!



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  • http://www.kronikiegipskie.blogspot.com/ Ania

    Lucky me living in Egypt!
    You have to use fast shutter speed to overtake religious police ;)

    I've been to Libia this year and I think it's even worse there. The government or army builidngs are not signed. If you take them picture, even by accident, you are going to the jail and even your Embassy won't help you. The best way to take pictures there is to have Libian man with you who will help you deal with police and worn you when neccesary (I mean the whole photo tour ;)

    Enjoy taking pictures ;)

  • http://www.kronikiegipskie.blogspot.com/ Ania

    Lucky me living in Egypt!
    You have to use fast shutter speed to overtake religious police ;)

    I've been to Libia this year and I think it's even worse there. The government or army builidngs are not signed. If you take them picture, even by accident, you are going to the jail and even your Embassy won't help you. The best way to take pictures there is to have Libian man with you who will help you deal with police and worn you when neccesary (I mean the whole photo tour ;)

    Enjoy taking pictures ;)

  • samaher

    thank you ,, pretty helpful

  • samaher

    thank you ,, pretty helpful

  • http://www.the-media-junkie.com/ Media Junkie

    i love the fact that you endorse guerilla shooting. had to do that for my documentary – sharjah is as good as saudi in that aspect.

  • http://www.the-media-junkie.com/ Media Junkie

    i love the fact that you endorse guerilla shooting. had to do that for my documentary – sharjah is as good as saudi in that aspect.

  • Chiara

    Being not quite a technophobe but hardly a techie I especially enjoyed your comments on the social aspects of photography. In Iran we weren't allowed to take any photos outside the Media Centre where the conference was held, except with permission and under careful supervisionof the far off hills. Outside at the airport was verboten. As both sites would be prime targets for a coup d'etat this was understandable. The women in the women's lounge area of the washroom with the trendy jeans and tops under the chador would have been off limits too I assume.

    In China the risks are quite different: losing face. Therefore women road workers threw boulders at those who tried to photograph them. The Hakka in Hong Kong love to be photographed–for a fee.

    You didn't mention the permissibility of photographing children. Would a man with a camera near a playground or schoolyard raise the same child porn, pedophilia alarms as in North America? (or a woman for that matter–because of collaboration with the real pervert, or child theft). How about an uncle photographing nieces? Under what age if any would that be permissible? What about other family members? Oops, you got me started! LOL :)

    Great post for both practical and socio-cultural insights. Sorry the only Saudi photoblogs I know are yours and Susie's.

  • Chiara

    Being not quite a technophobe but hardly a techie I especially enjoyed your comments on the social aspects of photography. In Iran we weren't allowed to take any photos outside the Media Centre where the conference was held, except with permission and under careful supervisionof the far off hills. Outside at the airport was verboten. As both sites would be prime targets for a coup d'etat this was understandable. The women in the women's lounge area of the washroom with the trendy jeans and tops under the chador would have been off limits too I assume.

    In China the risks are quite different: losing face. Therefore women road workers threw boulders at those who tried to photograph them. The Hakka in Hong Kong love to be photographed–for a fee.

    You didn't mention the permissibility of photographing children. Would a man with a camera near a playground or schoolyard raise the same child porn, pedophilia alarms as in North America? (or a woman for that matter–because of collaboration with the real pervert, or child theft). How about an uncle photographing nieces? Under what age if any would that be permissible? What about other family members? Oops, you got me started! LOL :)

    Great post for both practical and socio-cultural insights. Sorry the only Saudi photoblogs I know are yours and Susie's.

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ NidalM

    Local knowledge is vital when taking pictures.

    When I was visiting Saudi after some time in the US, I got detained by police for photographing what allegedly were homes of Americans (I live in a compound, and was just taking photos around the neighborhood).

    After a bit of explanation (and flaunting of a very American accent), they let me go.

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ NidalM

    Local knowledge is vital when taking pictures.

    When I was visiting Saudi after some time in the US, I got detained by police for photographing what allegedly were homes of Americans (I live in a compound, and was just taking photos around the neighborhood).

    After a bit of explanation (and flaunting of a very American accent), they let me go.

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ NidalM

    I'd love to see the documentary if you have it posted online somewhere :)

    I learned the trick from a Hollywood based film crew that was out in Egypt, shooting a documentary on Comedy in the Middle East. We had an indecent where we mall security (during a promotional event) detained the photographers and videographers. We kept the cameras rolling during the whole ordeal and got some really nice footage :P

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ NidalM

    I'd love to see the documentary if you have it posted online somewhere :)

    I learned the trick from a Hollywood based film crew that was out in Egypt, shooting a documentary on Comedy in the Middle East. We had an incident where we mall security (during a promotional event) detained the photographers and videographers. We kept the cameras rolling during the whole ordeal and got some really nice footage :P

  • http://www.the-media-junkie.com/ Media Junkie

    Check out my youtube channel – http://www.youtube.com/drnsain

  • http://www.the-media-junkie.com/ Media Junkie

    Check out my youtube channel – http://www.youtube.com/drnsain

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ NidalM

    Never knew you've been to Iran!

    It would be pretty creepy for a stranger to come start taking pictures of the kids, regardless of where you are I guess. Though accusations of pedophilia are unlikely. I know girls who can easily go take these shots (pet the kid, smile at parents, ask to take pictures), but with guys it would be decidedly tougher (why are we all so untrustworthy? :P ).

    If you know the kids, you're fine. I've been asked to do photoshoots of kids sometimes, always loved it :)

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ NidalM

    Never knew you've been to Iran!

    It would be pretty creepy for a stranger to come start taking pictures of the kids, regardless of where you are I guess. Though accusations of pedophilia are unlikely. I know girls who can easily go take these shots (pet the kid, smile at parents, ask to take pictures), but with guys it would be decidedly tougher (why are we all so untrustworthy? :P ).

    If you know the kids, you're fine. I've been asked to do photoshoots of kids sometimes, always loved it :)

  • http://sophiaali.blogspot.com/ Sophia Ali

    ha ha..I read it in a humorous perspective…and boy that is serious – getting lynched for shooting women…

  • http://sophiaali.blogspot.com/ Sophia Ali

    ha ha..I read it in a humorous perspective…and boy that is serious – getting lynched for shooting women…

  • http://www.diehardgamefan.com/ Mohamed S.

    Thanks for the tips!

    Just a question. What's a good camera for a beginner photographer?

    I'm looking at the Canon EOS 450D. Is that a good choice?

  • http://www.diehardgamefan.com/ Mohamed S.

    Thanks for the tips!

    Just a question. What's a good camera for a beginner photographer?

    I'm looking at the Canon EOS 450D. Is that a good choice?

  • http://www.zoombits.de/batterien/ batterie 12v

    Hi,
    I never been in Saudi Arab before but I will go to Dubai soon.I was wondering about photography in humid condition of desert and I got the perfect information here.Thanks for this post.

  • http://www.zoombits.de/batterien/ batterie 12v

    Hi,
    I never been in Saudi Arab before but I will go to Dubai soon.I was wondering about photography in humid condition of desert and I got the perfect information here.Thanks for this post.

  • sinankaraoglu

    Dear,
    My name is Sinan and i am from Belgium . My hobby is taking panoramic picture an would like to shoot some pictures with an tripod and reflex digital camera.
    Can i get some trouble when i do this around and in Mecca?
    If there is where can i get the permission to do this?

  • sinankaraoglu

    Dear,
    My name is Sinan and i am from Belgium . My hobby is taking panoramic picture an would like to shoot some pictures with an tripod and reflex digital camera.
    Can i get some trouble when i do this around and in Mecca?
    If there is where can i get the permission to do this?

  • sinankaraoglu

    Dear,
    My name is Sinan and i am from Belgium . My hobby is taking panoramic picture an would like to shoot some pictures with an tripod and reflex digital camera.
    Can i get some trouble when i do this around and in Mecca?
    If there is where can i get the permission to do this?

  • sinankaraoglu

    Dear,
    My name is Sinan and i am from Belgium . My hobby is taking panoramic picture an would like to shoot some pictures with an tripod and reflex digital camera.
    Can i get some trouble when i do this around and in Mecca?
    If there is where can i get the permission to do this?

  • http://samahertariq.com/ samaher

    awwwwwwwwww thank you <3

  • http://halfthedeen.blogspot.com/ Single4now

    lol @ nobody looking? Good take your picture.

    Seriously. It's not worth the hassle. I remember a friend telling me about how she was trying to take a few pictures of leaves (since the Middle East has no natural beauty to photograph) and it just happened to be that the plant was on some Prince's road and a police stopped to question what she was doing. She didn't get into trouble but she was certainly worried.

    I remember asking parents if I could take a picture of their newborn in the pediatrics ward. The kid was a total cutie. The parents obliged. It always helps to complement the child but again I doubt this would work for a guy. :P I also asked a small girl if I could take a picture of her henna-ed hands. The parents certainly didn't stop me. :) I guess it is definitely easier being a girl in that sense. Alhumdulillah. :D

  • http://nidalm.com/blog/a-photo-with-a-story-kfupm-campus/ A Photo with a Story: KFUPM Campus | NidalM Photography

    [...] government assurances of our right of expression (even Saudi Arabia allows public photography), all it takes for that right to be revoked is a well-meaning, but overly-scared citizen. Sadly, [...]

  • http://www.rys-raziel.blogpsot.com/ Ren_crow

    “Understand you have a right to be taking pictures in public. The ministry of tourism has allowed it and even published a document to that effect. Here’s the pdf transcript. Download it, print it, and keep it in your camera bag in case someone causes trouble.”

    Aha aha aha. That didn't seem to work when I was detained by the police for taking site photos for my senior arch. project in dammam. I was lucky to get just a ride around the block in the back of a police car only because of my nationality.

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ NidalM

    For some reason, the police seem to be unaware of the laws of their own country. This happens to be true in the US as well. A friend was detained by the police in Atlanta a couple of years ago for taking shots of a factory from the highway. Something, as far as I'm aware, is perfectly legal.

    I guess the establishment simply mistrusts photographers :s

  • http://www.echodepiction.wordpress.com/ Arianna A.

    It's so important to pay attention to your surroundings when taking a photograph in the KSA. I almost made the same mistake on a high security American compound, but just as I was considering taking my camera out of its case, I noticed a sign warning that no photos are to be taken under any circumstance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=682731382 Ellie Smith

    I have missed out on several good photos opps because I always ask before I shoot in Saudi Arabia. At Janadriyah Cultural Festival most people were great about it, some were not. It made me laugh that the “locals” just got out their camera-phones and took flash photos and no one said a word, but I got out my camera and asked politely (in Arabic) if they minded a photo and was told no…. oh, well. Next time?

  • Sami Qahar

    dude, lenses here are expensive. and i havent been able to find a decent fish eye here for a reasonable price. have you ever ordered lesnes online?
    imagine i havent been able to find a les cover for nikon either. lost mine and i have checked at extra, carrefour, kingdom mall riyadh but no luck. you think you can help?

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ NidalM

    Hi Sami, and thanks for stopping by!

    I usually order all my stuff online. You lose the warranty (there are ways around this), but you save a SIGNIFICANT amount of money. I easily saved over SR5k by ordering a 5D mk2 from the web.

    I usually use adorama.com, they do ship internationally, but then again an $80 charge for a lens cap seems over the top. For small purchases, I use something called Shop&Ship, a service by Aramex that ships your shopping for SR65 (per 0.5kg). Theres a SR100 charge to set up your account, though!

    You can always use a friend's Account too!

  • http://nidalm.com/blog/being-a-photographer/not-buying-photo-gear-in-saudi/ (Not) Buying Photo Gear in Saudi | NidalM Photography

    [...] Buying Photo Gear in Saudi Posted by NidalM on Aug 3rd, 2010 | View Comments Taking pictures isn’t easy in Saudi Arabia. It’s not just the mutawwas patrolling the streets, detaining you for taking perfectly legal [...]

  • http://x-spotsaudiarabia.blogspot.com/ DonPepe1972

    I wish I read this before my friend and I were apprehended by the police last year because of taking photos. This could have spared us from going to the detention cell.
    http://cameranicabrera.blogspot.com/2009/11/wanderlust.html

  • Noor

    I could not help but laugh because its so funny yet so true. One day here in Riyadh I was taking a picture. No one was beside or in front of me. And yet I heard gasp way from the back. Okay weird.. lol.I am a photographer but with a crappy camera so what does that make me a photographer at heart?

    I have been yelled at A LOT here bc of my camera. I was taking a picture of the fireworks on Eid and the police was screaming like a mad man. Ugh so weird here about things. I mean okay were all in black whats it matter?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1326668132 Ocir Aicrag

    good day, i just bought my canon 1000d, but i need to purchase a lens hood for my 75-300mm lens, do you know a place or shop here in dammam or al khobar where i can purchase this item? even in canon supplier they told me is out of stock, canon lens hood ET-60 will be fine if i can get this item, thanks

  • enseven

    hi rico, try to look for an Abdul Wahed Store in your area, or you can check ebay. =)

  • http://www.facebook.com/loz.cupit Lawrence Cupit

    Hi Sami

    If you haven’t bought any lenses online yet it’s pretty safe to do so. There is a UK pro dealer called Calumet that are pretty decent. I am soon to be based out in Riyhad and I will probably look to ship my new purchases out through then. You have to pay UK tax on your purchase but can claim it back on your end so get them to send the forms out with your lens (This will save you an additional 20%).

    If your out by Riyad when I am over in about 4 weeks (for the next few years) feel free to say Hi.

    Loz

  • http://www.facebook.com/loz.cupit Lawrence Cupit

    Hi Guys.
    I will be out in Riyhad for about 3yrs from july 2011 If anyone is in the area it would be nice to make a few photography contacts especially to show me the ropes of the social shooting environment.
    Really nice and informative community that you have built here by the way. Nice to meet you all and have a great day.
    Loz

  • Sami Qahar

    thanks Lawrence. i will check out the sites you have mentioned. i am not in riyadh anymore and have moved to dubai.
    i got sigma 10-20mm wide angle some time back and now i am looking for a large range zoom lens like 18-200 or 18-250 be it nikkor or sigma. i have read similar reviews of 18-200 sigma and nikkor. i have also heard of a certain 28-250 of tamron. if anyone has used these lenses, please let me know.

  • Never Found It…

    never found it…. : /

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ Anonymous

    Sure. Check out my post about buying photo gear in Saudi Arabia :)

  • AMMalik

    Hi, with ref to saudi photoblogs, I would like you to visit below 2 sites, which might be of some interest to you:
    http://www.pbase.com/adnan_masood
    http://www.facebook.com/adnan.m.malik

    These are my experiences in Saudi arabia, capturing cities, landscapes & some very interesting historical, archeological sites around kingdom.

  • AMMalik

    Hi Nidal,
    I had honour to find our blog today & its really interesting. I am an amateur photographer and love to explore places. Found interesting comments from people & though, i never had experience with any local authority stopping me shooting inside kingdom. Document of having right to photograph in KSA is very handy :) , and I will carry this with me now.

    Also shared my 2 links, where facebook link is for saudi arabia exploration & other gallery contains 90% coverage of KSA. Hope you and your blog visitors enjoy these links, covering western, southern, northern, central & some part of eastern regions.

    Cheers,

  • Lhummel13

    this was a relief to come across. I kept reading that it wasn’t permitted to take pictures in the kingdom. I am moving there for work for 2 years and besides working in nuclear medicine i have been into photography for the past 15 years! Your blog was extremely helpful!

  • Omlujain

    http://imagesofsaudi.blogspot.com/ is a great photoblog by a Finish (married to a Saudi) lady here in Riyadh! A MUST see!

  • MYRK

    Excellent Information Nidal ! Can you please tell me how can i find a few Saudi Models for a Photoshot. 
    I am looking for the following models : 
    1. Teenage boys – 13-15 years 2. Gentlemen – Aged 50-60 

    Regards
    YKhan

  • Rr00069

    I once photographed a police car, the guy came and snatched the camera from me :(  

  • Mody_adel91
  • Missdarrenkaya

    helpful blog…
    still its not enough for me. especially when i’m to street photography with barely any restrictions at all. :(
    people should be more accepting to change…

  • http://yobynos.wordpress.com/ Sony Fugaban

    Where can I find an english text of that notice regarding the Ministry of Tourism’s provision on taking photographs?

    Would appreciate your response.

  • http://yobynos.wordpress.com/ Sony Fugaban

    Where can I find an english text of that notice regarding the Ministry of Tourism’s provision on taking photographs?

    Would appreciate your response.

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ Anonymous

    Unfortunately you may need to go ahead and google translate it to get the gist. There’s no english version that I’m aware of :(

  • http://www.nidalm.com/blog/ Anonymous

    Unfortunately you may need to go ahead and google translate it to get the gist. There’s no english version that I’m aware of :(

  • SaudiScenes

    Also saudiscenes.blogspot.com has numerous photos  of Saudi.

  • http://www.uplifers.com/inisiyatif-almanin-in-oldugu-memleket-suudi-arabistan/ Arabistan Notlar?: ?nisiyatif alman?n “IN” oldu?u memleket Suudi Arabistan

    [...] Asla ama asla dü?ün foto?raflar?nda kad?n k?sm?n? çekme! Bu yüzden linç edilenler var (güvenilir bir blog [...]

  • Sharon Levine

    Your friend must have been “photographing while Muslim” or “photographing as Arab,” i.e., they thought he was a terrorist … Muslims are suspect when photographing things like large buildings, bridges, government stuff, etc.

  • jon

    thanks! your blog is informative. can i ask if there is new rules impost in regards to photography besides the script you mention here. thanks again.

  • abdu razaq

    I met some carribeans they arrested by khobar police… while they try to take some pictures ….i give them your file…. they were so happy to get that copy of law…. thsnks abdullah..

  • Elena

    Hi, I am planning to join my husband who works in Khobar. I am intensively studying the photography and working in this direction. I want to develop my skills further . I am not sure how can i do it in KSA considering that i am a female? Are there any tips for me? What could be done? Is shooting in the park or seafront ok (without locals)? Would it be ok to use reflectors?

  • http://thesamerainbowsend.com/2014/08/20/camera-love/ camera love. | the same rainbow's end

    [...] important to me. The camera drew stares. And despite the fact that photography in public places is legal in Saudi Arabia, managing to take candid street photographs was nearly impossible because folks were always [...]

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