Learn to Master Cityscapes Like Dubai Photographer Daniel Cheong

Learn to Master Cityscapes Like Dubai Photographer Daniel Cheong

If there is one type of photograph that you could call universally appreciated, I would say a properly executed cityscape ranks right up there at the top. While New York City often comes to mind when you think of skyscrapers and iconic views, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates now makes a very strong case for being the most amazing city to photograph in the world. Of all the photos coming out of Dubai on a regular basis, I'd say Daniel Cheong's are hands down the best of the best. He is ready to share his skills in an upcoming class on September 8 put on by 500px called "Shooting and Stitching Vertical Panoramas." Best of all, the class is free for 500px premium members.

I can remember when I was a kid seeing photos of cities with the streaking car headlights and thinking how cool they were. They would often be featured in movie posters and advertisements. Every city had to have one. For me, capturing those long exposures contains an extra photographic draw as light movement in the scene retains an element of mystery as to how your final exposure will turn out. To learn more about how to create this kind of photograph better is a great opportunity. 

500px is really becoming more than just a place to share your photography. I wrote about them back in April when they boosted their portfolio, offering full-blown websites via Format. Now they are offering classes featuring photographers who are actively using the 500px platform. Cheong himself is not only a 500px brand ambassador, but he shares his incredible work regularly on the site. Posting beautiful photos regularly has worked well for Cheong who now has over 43,000 followers and over 12 million views. He has found a place to not only share his stunning photography but to also share his gained knowledge and techniques with others. One of my favorite things about Cheong is his editing and crispy clean shots.

Straight Out Of the Camera is a concept which I am not familiar with.

—Daniel Cheong

Cheong's work, although very idealized and stylish, is not overdone and maintains a very natural look. This is achieved from his own workflow of digital blending which you can learn about in the upcoming workshop. The process of capturing the images as a "vertorama," or vertical panorama, kind of came out of necessity due to the insane height of Dubai's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, which stands 2,717 feet tall. Cheong uses a tilt-shift lens to minimize distortion while capturing all the frames he needs for stitching later. He did say this is not a necessary step and there are tricks for those that don't own one of these specialized lenses (like me).

Cheong first got into photography seriously in 2006 when he got his first DSLR and began using it while traveling a lot for his job. At that time, he lived in Singapore, which also has an abundance of amazing architecture to photograph. When he moved to Dubai, him and a friend began exploring and discovering great vantage points to photograph the ever-expanding marvel of a city. Soon after, he was the first to get a roof topping workshop together. 

One of my favorite stories Cheong shared with me was very relatable. It is your typical "the shot you want turns out to be a dud, but plan B works out even better." He had been eyeing a specific rooftop with a helipad. Since asking would often end up with an automatic no, just acting like you knew where you were heading was often the best bet. In this particular case, Cheong and his friend used a "halfway up on elevator A then switch to elevator B technique" straight out of "Mission Impossible." When they got to the roof they had been longing for, they realized the sub level construction of the pad made for a very bad photo location. Just then security caught up with them. Details from here were a little fuzzy, but there may or may not have been a price mentioned to stay. Cheong and the friend laughed at the thought and responded that the spot sucked anyway so they would just leave. The guard persisted though, saying he could show them a much better spot. At that point, they proceeded to take some great shots at a spot no longer accessible due to new builds. Here is the shot:

After some of Cheong's work started gaining traction and his work was covered by the likes of CNN and Flickr, he was contacted by the prince of Dubai and given special access to many new buildings and rooftops. This enabled him to get to the top floors of over 60 buildings in Dubai. However, his stride towards more roofs and growing workshops took a serious hit in February 2017 when a Russian model dangled out over the edge of a high-rise for an Instagram photo. The photo and the story went viral and all the buildings that were inviting Cheong with open arms suddenly had policies and were forced to be less accommodating. Even a relationship for regular workshops at a prime location had to be put on hold. 

I don't know about you, but I may never be lucky enough to get to Dubai to do a workshop with Cheong. Luckily, like you, I can take this 500px class and apply what I learn to whatever local cityscape I choose. I could not think of a better teacher than someone who is constantly producing work at such a high level. If you want to learn more about Cheong, be sure to check out the feature 500px did a few years ago on their blog titled "A Day In The Life Of Cityscape Photographer Daniel Cheong."

The class is September 8, 2017 (2 p.m.–3 p.m. EDT) and is free to all 500px premium members with an "Awesome, Pro, or Pro+" plan. You can actually register for a two-week free trial and try the class during that time window. As an added bonus to our readers, use "Fstoppers70" for a special annual rate of $17.99 for the "Awesome" plan. That is 70 percent off of the full price! Be sure to check out the previous webinar as well as the accompanying videos over on 500px. Hope to see you there. Let me know if you're signing up in the comments.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Michael B. Stuart is a photographer at Stu Stu Studio in Lewiston, New York. Besides shooting weddings with his wife Nicole his specialties include long exposure, abstract monochrome creations, architecture, and bokeh. Work has been featured online by Adobe, Flickr, Google, and 500px with the most popular photo receiving over 950 million views.

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Great article. This guy is amazing.

These are fantastic. I found Dubai to be a very difficult city to photograph on just a visit. I spent 2 weeks there and didn't come back with any shots that I was really happy with, just some "OK" ones. Between all the construction and being in the middle of the desert, there just seemed to be this constant haze while I was there. I did still enjoy my time there, and it seemed like January was a great time of year temperature wise (mid 70's!).

I agree with your thoughts on Dubai. It works for twilight when the light hides all of the construction, but personally, I found Singapore to be a lot more photogenic and more what I had in mind when I visited Dubai.

Can't agree with you more as am presently in Dubai visiting. Fstoppers do a tutorial with Daniel Cheong, his work speaks for itself.