Extraordinary passion, Fine Art, Landscape & Wildlife

Celebrating life through photography – Rudy Atallah

My name is Rudy Atallah, and I am a retired air force pilot and special operator. Now I have my own global security company, I run two nonprofits and I’m a photographer.

I was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon to an American mother and a Lebanese father. In 1984, I moved to the United States, joined the Air Force after college, and ended up in the First Gulf War. I served for 21 years and retired in 2009 after the Mærsk Alabama hostage rescue – the Captain Phillips story. After that, I started White Mountain Research, along with my work for two nonprofits: The Nazarene Fund and The Blessing Projects.

Oftentimes, on business trips or while traveling for nonprofit work, I carry a camera with me. When I get to take a break, I sometimes capture things that move my heart. I don’t just arbitrarily pull the camera out of the bag and start shooting, I have to feel something when I point my lens towards a subject.

My passion for photography started off, believe it or not, during the First Gulf War. I was flying combat missions back and forth around Saudi Arabia, and I used to carry a camera in my helmet bag. When I flew my plane, every so often if I was flying low level, I would try to roll the plane on its side and take a shot with my camera. Back then I was using slide film and I never knew what the images would look like.

“I love to give gifts to people, so I often give out my photography. I love to see the expressions on people’s faces, see if what I captured resonated with them.”

Since then, I’ve shot aerial photography in quite a few extreme circumstances. Once, during the early days of fighting in Somalia, I was flying a plane and trying to take some pictures while also trying to avoid tracer fire coming up off the left wing. Another time, I flew over an active volcano in Eastern Congo and captured the lava bubbling over and ready to spew out.

But my passion for photography really picked up after I retired in 2009, when I finally said: okay, now I can truly focus on photography, I can buy more gear and study photography on my own, aiming to find my own way of expressing myself.

I captured this image back in 2016 while I was doing work for The Blessing Projects in Kenya. After visiting the village I was working with, I decided to go on a short safari and took my Phase One with me. I was in the back of the Jeep when I saw these elephants walking through the Masai Mara at sunset, a thunderstorm in the background. I knew that was the perfect moment to capture it, so I started yelling at the driver to stop the car. The time window was short and I was hand-holding the camera, but the lighting was just perfect and that tree was in the right spot for the composition. I was able to capture the image exactly as I had it in my mind. Then, of course, the thunderstorm picked up, the wind started to blow, the elephants walked by and it was all gone.

When I got home, I printed the image on a 40-inch Platinum Palladium print, and to look at it was absolutely incredible. Even from a distance, I’m able to pick up the details on the skin of the elephant, I can see details I wasn’t even able to notice as I was taking the shot. That was an extraordinary moment for me.

I travel with different types of cameras, but when I really want to capture a landscape with those extraordinary key details, I focus in with my Phase One. It pushes my work to the next level, that perfection I’m looking for. You know, using a Phase One is like jumping into a Lamborghini or Ferrari. Every piece in it has been well thought through. Everything has been put together in a way that it works perfectly, giving you the tools you need to create at a different level.

For me, nature is a way to get away. A good chunk of my life has been lived in wars, and I’ve seen the worst of humanity. When I go out and sit and capture a landscape, it takes me out of the craziness of the world and puts me in a quiet, beautiful environment, reminding me that there are places in the world that are not all chaotic. I cherish that I’m able to capture that moment and bring it home, either to hang in my living room or impart with somebody and give them that same peaceful feeling that I felt in the moment.

The core message I’m aiming to communicate through my photography is that we live in a beautiful world. There is so much to explore, and I encourage everybody to experience it as much as possible. The way I see it, life is not about accumulating wealth, it’s about accumulating experiences. And so, while you’re experiencing those wonderful moments, capture them on camera if you can.


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Filed under: Extraordinary passion, Fine Art, Landscape & Wildlife


Rudy began dabbling in photography while serving in the first Gulf war. During the course of his military career, Rudy found himself carrying a camera on most trips, excited to capture new landscapes and events. In 2001, while stationed in West Africa, he purchased his first digital camera and put together a portfolio about the Sahara, which eventually turned into a book. After retiring in 2009, Rudy teamed up with several world-renowned photographers, such as David Brookover and Frank Ruggles, who helped him refine his craft. These days, his passion for landscape photography and love for travel keeps him on the road searching for new adventures.