PTW III Behind the Scenes: We Got Stuck in the Dubai Desert Overnight

Our latest series of behind the scenes episodes with Elia Locardi are almost over. In today's episode we continue to explore the rooftops of Dubai in search of the perfect cityscape photograph of the city. We then head out to a remote desert to photograph the stars only to find out our guide had other plans. This is “Photographing the World III” behind the scenes episode 12!

In “Photographing the World II,” Elia focused heavily on photographing different types of cityscapes ranging from ancient temples of Cambodia to the urban sprawl of Hong Kong. When it was time to plan the locations for the third installment of “Photographing the World,” we knew we wanted to focus on both panoramic imagery but also on how to scout multiple locations within a large city to find the absolutely best vantage points. The ultra modern city of Dubai was the perfect location for this.

Shooting from different rooftops and high rise apartment units is a pretty common activity among photographers living in Dubai. The city is growing at such a rapid pace that you literally can get different images year after year from the exact same location, but because of the intense growth, you also have the opportunity to shoot from locations that might not have previously existed. In last week's episode we explored a few different rooftop locations that were off the beaten path but as we wrapped up our shooting in Dubai we wound up teaching a few lessons in some of the more common locations that anyone could access.

The most famous of these locations is from the top of the Shangri La hotel. This location is one of the most popular locations to photograph Dubai because it showcases both the massive interchange off Sheikh Zayed Road and it also frames up the Burj Khalifa nicely. Almost anyone can get access to this rooftop patio but if you want access early in the morning you really need to stay at the hotel or pay management to let you outside for sunrise. Make sure you come prepared with the right tripod though because the floors on top of this location do shake a bit, and it can be tough getting a rock solid image unless you have a handy little tabletop tripod

The above photograph was taken just as the sun was rising from the east which created a pretty dramatic silhouette effect on the city. As Elia teaches in the full tutorial, by capturing a bunch of images in a vertical orientation, we were able to capture an awesome panoramic composite of one of the most popular views of the city. This location is also where Elia captured one of his favorite images in his entire portfolio. A few times a year, the heavy morning fog completely encapsulates the entire city except for the highest floors of the skyscrapers. This gives an eerie yet futuristic tone to the entire city which is pretty dramatic. As a bonus lesson in “Photographing the World III,” Elia shares how he captured and edited the image below so you can get a sense of how different the same scene can look with heavy fog.

After capturing the final lesson on rooftop photography, we wound up watching the sunrise from the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Lee and I had been to Dubai once before to attend Gulf Photo Plus (an amazing experience I would highly add to any photographer's bucket list), but because of time constraints, we never had the chance to see the city from the 125th floor. As beautiful as the view is at this observation deck, the resulting time-lapses were not as dramatic as I had hoped. When photographing most major cities, positioning yourself at the top of the highest building usually doesn't give the city the best sense of scale. Just like the best skyline photos of New York City include the Empire State Building, we found the best views of Dubai must also include the Burj Khalifa. Regardless, watching the sunrise from the highest man made building on earth was definitely worth the price of admission. 

Our final two excursions in Dubai involved driving out to the remote desert. The first time we visited the desert, we were supposed to photograph the stars and create an interesting astrophotography image with the massive dunes as the foreground. Unfortunately our tour guide took us to the wrong location which was heavily polluted with lights from a neighboring town. To make matters worse, the guide also got stuck in the stand which required us to hang out after sunset for many hours before we were rescued. For the second trip to the desert, there was something I had always wanted to do in Dubai: race dune buggies. Despite my lack of knowing how to drive a manual car, I assured the company I was comfortable driving a manual (I was not) but this was the perfect place to practice my shifting skills. Overall the sand race was pretty awesome but I would have liked it if they had allowed us to be a little more reckless. 

Stay tuned for the final episode of the behind the scenes of “Photographing the World III” where we head back to the U.S.A. to wrap up production in New York City. You can learn about the entire landscape photography tutorial here and also subscribe to our YouTube Channel for more videos from this series and other photography related videos.

Patrick Hall's picture

Patrick Hall is a founder of and a photographer based out of Charleston, South Carolina.

Log in or register to post comments

Will start with World 1 'will buy all three' but can't wait to catch up and watch World 3, looks great.
Looks like you guys worked hard but played hard.

Is there any other way to live life?

No! Makes you feel alive, doesn't it. Life's for living to the full.
I will be buying the World 1-3. The 'behind the scenes got my creative side wanting more. Keep up the good work.
All the best to the team