One of Dubai’s most overused phrases according to Time Out magazine is, “It’s just like Ibiza/Vegas/Paris/New York/London here.” It’s true there’s an endless summer vibe to Dubai, like a Balearic Calvin Harris club anthem when the bass drops. For some the city is an escapist fantasy. “What happens in Dubai stays in Dubai!” And of course there is enough wealth to rival any world capital city. It’s the Ferrari of fortunes, the Rolls Royce of riches.
Dubai is also an enigma that seduces everyone from foreign investors to wishful immigrants. But is it the city of the future, a prodigy metropolis, a sustainable way forward? Or is it the finest example of unbridled hubris the world has ever seen, an anything goes theme park, a bubble city going from boom to bust? Peel back a layer and you learn that 85% of the people who live there aren’t from there. It’s a city built and maintained by immigrants but owned and run by Emirati. Whether you believe Dubai is a dystopian Blade Runner-esque omen or the next Shangri La, one thing’s for certain: there is no place like it on Earth.
How I made the shot: Dubai From Level 43
- 10 sec. @ F/11
- ISO 100
- Focal length: 16 mm
- Lens: Nikkor 16-35mm
- Camera: Nikon D610
- 1 RAW Exposure
Dubai is quite possibly the best cityscape photography destination in the world. When my friend and fellow photographer Jimmy McIntyre and I were researching shoot locations, we sent messages back and forth. Each one said something like “LOOK at this!” or “How about THAT?!” and was followed by a wicked image.
[For more, read my article: 7 Expert Tips For Photographing Dubai from 7 Pro Photographers]
The most popular spot has to be from the Level 43 Sky Lounge at the Sheraton 4 points. It’s the easiest place to access. Just walk in and buy a drink. You are allowed to take photos, but you can’t use a tripod without permission from the hotel. To get approval to use a tripod, you’ll either need to know someone or ask the management beforehand (or both).
To process the photo, I first I did some dodging, burning, and adjusted the white balance in Adobe Lightroom. Then I exported to Nik Color Effects and made some adjustments with the Pro Contrast filter. Next, I sharpened the image in Sharpener Pro, mainly using the local contrast and focus sliders. Finally, I brought the photo back to Lightroom for some final touches. For instance, I increased the clarity, contrast, and shadows on the buildings in the left of the photo to bring out the reflection in the glass.
How to Get High in Dubai
- Sneak Up: Dubai is flat so the only way to get up high is to go up buildings. Most roofs are locked. Some sneak up by riding the elevator to the top floor and walking up the fire escape. Another option is to bribe the security guard.
- Observatories/Lounges: An easier way is to go to observatories like at the Burj Khalifa or rooftop lounges. The downside to this is that you will often have to shoot through glass and they sometimes don’t allow tripods.
- Airbnb: Stay in an apartment that is already high up or ask if you could shoot from their balcony or roof. You could always exchange your photo (or money) for access.
- Daniel Cheong: is the original Dubai rooftopper. He usually shoots from high vantage points, especially during blue hour or in the fog.
- Beno Saradzic: is a Slovenian born Emmy-nominated time-lapse cinematographer, photographer and visual artist based in Dubai.
- Alisdair Miller: is a photographer based in Dubai specializing in urban photography, most notably modern architecture. His Salvador-Dali-like conceptual cityscape photographs of Dubai are hella cool.
- UAE Landscapers: There are tons of other talented photographers in Dubai, many of which you can find here, along with workshops, meetups, and other events.
When To Go
The best time is in the winter from December to February. It’s much cooler. This is also when you’ll have your best chance of catching the elusive fog.
- Don’t make Dubai your final destination. Fly Emirates Airlines, stay in Dubai a few days, then continue on to your final destination with their Stopover program.
- Qatar Airlines has some great deals. I booked a ticket Seoul – Dubai – Singapore for just $620.
Where to Sleep
- Budget accommodation: Lodging in Dubai is not cheap. Most of the cheaper hotels and guesthouses are located around Deira.
- City Max Al Barsha: recommended by a friend, near the Mall of the Emirates.
- Airbnb: We stayed at this place right on Jumeirah Beach. Jimmy took this beautiful pic from the apartment terrace. I’d stay there again. The hosts were great.
- Aperture: ƒ/8
- Focal length: 16mm
- ISO: 100
- Shutter speed: 10s