Discovering Fake Dubai: A Road That Led to Nowhere

After reading an article from a fellow Fstoppers writer on following the herd, I realized the power one person actually has when it comes to sharing a photo. Here is my story on discovering a location that doesn’t exist.

A few weeks ago, I was able to go on a trip I am very proud of. For years, I had been dreaming of visiting Dubai, and finally, my opportunity was there to do so. To make things even better, I was able to bring a buddy to help out with the project. Keeping this short and simple, we took advantage of everything we could out there and had a really amazing experience. However, coming home from it all, I soon realized that an image I created convinced thousands, if not millions of people that my Photoshopped picture was an actual reality.

Social media affects everybody in a different way, but in this case, it really affected me. I never thought I would be able to have this kind of leverage or create something that few people would question. Traveling and discovering new spots has to be one of the greatest fads on social media, but do these places we see online actually exist?

Fake Dubai

The truth is, I’ve seen photos like this so many times on my Instagram over the past three years or so. I said to myself that if I ever get to go to Dubai, I want to do my own version of this photo. When I got out there, I tried to do just that. After spending some time on Google maps looking for where this road could be, Martin and I decided to take it or leave it and head to the location we thought this one spot could be.

As we rolled up, we noticed the road was blocked off and the area seemed to be restricted. There was not a shot we would be able to get to that spot. We went back to check Google for more spots with this potential view, but soon discovered that we had been fooled by other photos of "fake" Dubai.

Every time I saw these pictures, I thought they were real. I’d always wonder how these people got onto these roads covered by this sand with such a beautiful iconic view. For me, it kind of hurt to find out it we'd been fooled, but it allowed me to create a scene of my own and actually plan to do it.

This leads me to my conclusion. Three or four years ago, I found something that really interested me: aerial photography. I had just bought a drone but never put it to use like I saw people doing on Instagram. Over the years, I learned more and more about drones, aerial photos, composition, good lighting, drone laws, and so much more. Just like me, anybody can dedicate their time to understanding this stuff, but at the end of the day, I feel like I created a false reality to such a large audience.

All this leads me to think about how our generation has literally brought people to locations that don’t truly exist. I guess it comes down to our morals. With over 20 people reaching out to personally ask me where the location was, I found myself unable to lie about that being a real place.

Anybody can get an image out there like this, but if they are one of the first ones to create that image, and so many other people create their own version of the same thing, how do people know what is real and what is not? Should we lie and pretend these places exist or be honest and let people know they are fake?

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Kyle Medina's picture

"Traveling and discovering new spots has to be one of the greatest fads on social media"

No its not a fad. We are just realizing that so many people have the same itching to get away from work/life whatever it may be. Social revealed that we and millions of other people have the save gearing. Our minds are not locked into what is only around us anymore and the stories we heard from our little neck of the woods. That's what social media did. Travel and adventure has always been there.

If confronted if these photos are fake than yes you should reveal that. To lie is to deceive. You can enjoy a fake photo as much as a real one. A lot of old painting that are ficitional are loved why can't your Dubai photo be that way? To me its an amazing image, I've seen it countless times without ever knowing the artist. Now I do and I don't dislike the image still.

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

I cannot understand why some people have a problem admitting that they used photoshop to create an image.

I too was in Dubai recently and stumbled upon that picture (or some variation of it) on Instagram. 10 minutes on Google maps and some minor knowledge about the area were enough to convince me, that that view doesn't exist.

Yet under said Instagram page dozens if not hundreds of people where asking where that is, telling their friends to go to Dubai and find this spot etc.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

Im not at all into the socail media mindset of going somewhere to get "the shot" I just have the itch to get the hell out of town and see whats out there. I doesn't even have to be a popular place, im happy with just visiting small town america.

Kyle Medina's picture

So you saw a place that you've never been to on social media and so its discarded? What if you saw it in a magazine or from your traveling aunt. Are you more inclined to go to that spot? Stop trying to be first and just travel. There are millions of people doing that with their cellphones and are happy about it. But since we a DSLR, facebook page, instagram, whatever we can't anymore? That's ludicrous! You would never know about these spot if not for social media. Its no different than a travel book or magazine before the internet. I have tons of travel books from my grandparents which is what they used to find locations because of the photos.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

I think you might have misunderstood me. I don't have an issue with people visiting popular places, I've been to several myself. I just simply like to go off the beaten path and explore on my own. I don't hate social media, just because I don't use it. It's just not for me.

Ty Poland's picture

There is nothing wrong with that either. i shoot in my own state and create new things constantly. Any little bit of adventure can be fun when it comes to shooting

Ty Poland's picture

Thank you Kyle! I totally agree with your take on this. In fact, I think shooting a real location is even more rewarding because that sense of adventure really pays off. Fake Dubai was certainly a cool place too though :)

Jason Frels's picture

Is there a fake Dubai?

Deleted Account's picture

I've read this article three times and still can't figure out what it's about. Is it about some abandoned road in Dubai? A photoshopped photo "millions" of people have seen, a trip you're proud of? What's "fake" Dubai? Wait, is it about aerial photography? An opportunity to show off a fancy car? Morality? Is it fake or real?

What is this abandoned road? Why are you proud you took a trip? How many conclusions can a writer fit into an article? WHAT DID I JUST READ?

I feel like I'm in a Kafka novel....

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

I felt the same, it was going to a direction, then when he brought up the drone i got confused.

To the question in the end: If you fake an image to an extend the location doesn't even exist man up and be honest, don't pretend like you found an awesome place that only exists in your head.

Ty Poland's picture

Hahaha maybe I can clean the next one up for you a bit

David Leøng's picture

Same. If the place is fake, how did those people take those photos? What does it actually look like?

Jon Wolding's picture

Did I just take the red pill or the blue pill?

So confused...

Shaun Maluga's picture

Damn that got all From Dusk Til Dawn and took a turn. Why does learning about drones = creating a false reality?

Marc J Wrzesinski's picture

...There is an interesting article and thesis here somewhere.


This really needed an editor with a red pen and couple more drafts honestly.

Nice images though!

Stephen Kampff's picture

Incredible images though, regardless of authenticity.

Tamas Nemeth's picture

I think it is a bit too early to get to the point by your single first time experience to conclude that the shot is fake.
Someone with local connection might get into places you cannot. Also restricted areas are changing over time, so maybe it wasn't restricted when the 'fake' picture was taken. And it could be a different road. One which looks perfect normal might not look that normal after a heavy sandstorm... So before you draw the conclusion, You should never think about a landscape photo opportunity in a way, that you simply go there, snap, and you have your epic photo. Conditions are changing continuously...

Daniel Simon's picture

Having lived in Dubai for a decade, there is a whole area of such roads half consumed by desert - it's called Dubai half desert road and it's on Google Maps. There isn't a view with the downtown skyline in the background though, so that would have to be photoshopped in. Also, you'd be hard pushed to get far round there in a Ferrari, at least until Ferrari decide to produce an SUV.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

So many people are now booking a flight to Dubai looking for this location... Lol

Simon Patterson's picture

Where's that guy who was discouraging the use of geotags when you need him?! Now is the time!