a view from the top of Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Dubai Photography – Who Knew?!

Emirate Airlines and Dubai are quickly becoming major players in the African Safari world, as they offer more and more flights from the U.S. and Europe to Eastern and Southern Africa.  En route to a recent expedition in Uganda & Rwanda, I decided to check out this famed city for myself and wow—it didn’t disappoint.  In fact, I was quickly blown away by its efficiency, cleanliness, beauty, and its unique photographic opportunities.

Perhaps what surprised me the most are the beaches.  It turns out that the Persian Gulf is absolutely stunning.

a colorful photo of Dubai's Jumeriah Beach, situated on the persian gulf

Beaches of Dubai

The beaches of Dubai are indeed the unknown treasure. This goes for not just photography, but for experience in general.  There are a number of top-class beach resorts with amazing access to the sandy shores and turquoise water.  But of course, one of the most iconic buildings of Dubai is here, on Jumeriah beach…the Burj al Arab.

a photo of Burj al Arab, the sail building of dubai

This is where things got a little difficult, photographically.  I’ve seen lots of amazing photos of this “sail building” and figured it’d be relatively easy to get similar photos.  Well, not so easily done.  I found that even though in person it was a really fun view, my lower vantage point on the beach was probably my issue.

Having only a day there, I didn’t have time to explore around, but my guess is that the best way to photograph it is from a much taller building nearby (and there’s no shortage of tall buildings in Dubai) using a medium telephoto like a 70-200mm to make it look like you’re right upon it, but actually you’re many stories up so that you can also get some of the coastline in your shot.

And getting under the building is not a possibility.  They are incredibly strict with entrance and security…best to not even try unless you have a reservation there.

Nevertheless, there are some other really cool shots you can get of the beaches, some with that iconic sail building, and others with just neat lifestyle and travel shots.

a surfer walks along the sand in Dubai

the burj al arab building situated on the shoreline of the persian gulf coast with lifeguard tower in front

the water ways of a luxury resort in dubai on the beach

Tall Buildings

As I mentioned before, Dubai indeed has no shortage of tall, tall buildings.  And the king of them all is the Burj Khalifa…the world’s tallest.  If you’re in Dubai, it’s pretty much a must-do of all the various touristic activities.  This is just one of those times you’re going to have to do the touristy thing, as it’s actually quite incredible.  I didn’t think I would personally like it all that much, but the vantage point of the city (and heck, the earth, too!) is actually mind-blowing.

a photo from the top of the burj khalifa, the world's tallest building

Protip: pay the extra bucks to go all the way to the top.  It’s worth the view, and the photos.

an architectural photo of the burj khalifa

a view from inside the burj khalifa with chairs looking out

In line with the rest of Dubai, there is no shortage of interesting VIP-feeling experiences, including having tea at the top of the world’s tallest building, with a pretty astounding view.

However, you don’t have to go to the top to get some neat photos.  Taking photos of the Burj Khalifa from below is also worth the trip.  And what’s nice is that one of Dubai’s most famous malls surrounds the Burj, so you don’t have to go far for a day of entertainment and activities.

an outside, below view of the burj khalifa towering over the Dubai Mall


Probably another key “talking point” of Dubai is the shopping.  While I’m not a big shopper, I still found it to be a fascinating experience, and completely photo-worthy.

Dubai is quite literally an engineered city, so although you’re in the stark desert, you’re never far from some oasis, be it man-made, or not.

a photo of the fountains outside of dubai mall

Surrounding the Dubai Mall is an intricate and expansive fountain system, complete with outdoor walk way teeming with restaurants and vendors, and supposedly a spectacular night-time fountain show (again, only there for a day).  Make your plans accordingly, and perhaps stick around for an extra day on your journeys.

Street Photography

There are indeed opportunities for general travel photos, but probably not quite as robust as, say, night markets in Cambodia or pagodas in Nepal.  Nevertheless, the design and general vibe of Dubai is terrific to photograph, even if just of routine things that somehow look a little different here.

a row of bikes lines the street of dubai

a photo of sandy colored buildings contrasts old and new architecture

Dubai—it’s quite literally the result of a grand plan being implemented with near-limitless financial resources, coming together in a fascinating and well-orchestrated way.  From the moment upon arrival, I knew I was somewhere different.  Attentive airport personnel were standing by in droves, taxis so abundant and efficient it would be impossible for a queue to even form.  I was swept away immediately.

It’s a city engineered to be great, in an environment that is consistently pushing back.  From the waves lapping the shore, carrying away ounce by ounce of its sugary sand, to howling winds at the top of the world’s tallest building, there is resistance everywhere—but so too are there initiatives everywhere to combat those forces.

If you’re headed on an African safari, and you  find your route taking you through Dubai, give yourself a night or two and enjoy what it has to offer!

All the best,