Saturday, 11 September 2021 | Dubai
The Dubai skyline and its abundance of tall buildings has made it one of the most photographable cities in the world!
There are a number of places both on the ground and from high vantage points that provide incredible opportunities for jaw dropping photos!
The following is a list of some of my absolute favourite spots for cityscape photography in Dubai, with Google Maps pins on how to find them!
See the notes at the end of the article for tips on restrictions, best times to visit and photographing fog in Dubai.
If you're coming to visit Dubai, drop me a message!
Lets start with one of the views that everyone knows of when it comes to cityscape photography in Dubai - the view from the 43rd floor terrace of Shangri-La Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. Burj Khalifa and Downtown in the background and the crazy "spaghetti junction" in the foreground - that's the iconic frame.
This is a wide angle shot for either sunrise or sunset. At sunrise the light is coming from the back left of frame, sunset its front right. Its a classic lifestyle shot also, posing with the skyline behind a person.
I will say that whilst this frame is famous and a must have if you visit Dubai, there are some other great angles to take advantage of from this terrace. Over the other side, you have a nice view North up Sheikh Zayed Road, especially at sunrise. There is also an incredible shot to take of someone standing on one corner of the terrace with part of the hotel in the foreground and the Burj & downtown in the background.
Access to this terrace is reserved for guests staying at the hotel or through appointment with the concierge. There is a small fee for casual access, which comes with afternoon refreshments. Due to its popularity, it is often booked for private engagements, so plan your visit.
This vantage point is also one of the most sought after during the fog season as it commonly sits just above the fog and provides an amazing view.
With a moderate long lens (200mm and above) you can also capture some nice shots of planes flying behind the Burj Khalifa as the flight path from Dubai airport lines up pretty nicely from this angle.
The intersection below Shangri-La is one of the most fascinating for short interval time lapses - I could watch that traffic for hours.
It is almost impossible to split Address Downtown and Address Fountain views in terms of being amongst the best views of the Burj Khalifa/Dubai Fountains.
I do like that Fountain Views is a little further back and you get Address Downtown in your frame! You also have a bit more flexibility with your compositions being that bit further back.
From high up at Address Fountain Views, you get a wonderful view of the Downtown area around the fountains, including the roof of Dubai Mall and then looking back along the Boulevard traffic (great for time lapses). With a wide angle lens you can fit in all of the Address Downtown and the Burj Khalifa. If you only have something like 24mm, you will either need to do vertical panorama or crop off the bottom of Address Downtown.
At sunrise, you will be shooting mostly into the setting sun, which can make exposing for the fountains in the foreground really difficult. In contrast, i love this spot at sunrise when the catch light on the front of the Burj Khalifa at first light is amazing! If you are lucky enough to stay at thi hotel with a room facing the Dubai fountains, you are in luck! It is awesome for time-lapse and time-blending/exposure-blending.
Due to its height, this is also another amazing spot during the fog season!
I find it almost impossible to choose between the views at Address Downtown & Fountain Views. Despite being close together, they are quite different. Address Downtown brings you much closer to the Burj Khalifa and the fountains - jaw droppingly close! From the terrace of Address Downtown, you are really looking at using a wide angle (14-16mm) lens to be able to get everything in. Ideally you want to try and include the small footbridge over the water and obviously all of the Burj Khalifa. Blue hour at this spot is really hard to beat. The fountains go every half an hour, so make sure you have everything set ready to go for the fountain show around blue hour - this is the money shot. I typically take a series of exposures for the buildings & sky, then some fast shutter speed shots to blend in the fountains.
This is a famous spot for photographing the New Years Eve fireworks and a prime location for fog photos. The terrace is only accessed through permission taken directly from Emaar.
First of the ground-level views, is one of the classic skyline shots. From this walking path along the Dubai Creek you can get the iconic panoramic view of Dubai Downtown. It can be a great place for the light show on the Burj Khalifa, although you are still com distance from the buildings.
At certain times of the year, the sun and moon will set behind the buildings from this view, allowing you to get some really amazing silhouettes and compression shots.
Lots of people will also include the walking track and hand rail in the composition to create some leading lines. Its is also a popular spot for lifestyle/engagement shoots where you can frame people and the skyline in the shot.
Park along the road and walk along the waterfront until you find the composition you want (it goes for about 1km).
If you are looking to stay at a hotel that won't cost you and arm and a leg, but still have amazing views from a balcony - take a look at Taj in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. If you can get a high floor with Dubai Marina view, you will a really amazing look at the buildings with a great intersection in the foreground.
If you're not staying at the hotel, you can get the view from Paros, the pool bar/restaurant on the rooftop. Access is limited unless you have sought permission as it operates as a restaurant. There is also a really high glass wall, which makes using a tripod difficult, so if you have a clamp, this is a spot to use it.
This is also an amazing spot for photography when there is fog - the sun lights up the front of the buildings and you are high enough to get great shots. Its also a really great angle fo the marina skyline coming up out of the fog.
One of the really famous views in Dubai - some say that its been a little over-photographed, but that happens for a good reason, its an incredible view!
The classic view from an unused window cleaning platform that looks over Downtown - specifically Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall's entrance. This is a magic view at blue hour, especially with some cloud or colour in the sky. You can also use the reflections in the glass on the right side of your frame to create some unusual compositions.
Whilst everyone wants this iconic view, there are actually some other great compositions from Central Park Towers, including lots of options to use you long lens. Note that it is not allowed to photograph towards the Sheikh's palace which is to the left of the Burj Khalifa. However looking in the opposite direction of the Burj is Dubai International Financial District with some neat frames. If you have a long lens, you can also get a shot of a plane between the twin buildings of Emirates Towers.
There is another platform on the other side of the building which looks over the "spaghetti" intersection from the opposite side to Shangri-La. I love this intersection for light trails and time-lapses.
Access to these platforms for photography requires application to the management offices. In most cases there is a requirement for a small spend at their retail outlets, a deposit and supply of images that can be used on social media.
Timelapse of Sheikh Zayed Rd from Central Park Towers
This is one of the most sought after vantage points during fog season, however it has become increasingly difficult to gain access to the rooftop of Index Towers, with tightened security. Small numbers of people may still be able to access with special permits, otherwise you will need to know someone with a balcony on a high floor.
There are 2 views from Index Tower - one direction faces Downtown with a great view of the Burj Khalifa and in teh other direction its a really nice view down Sheikh Zayed Road.
It is still one the fog shots I am yet to get, as when I have gone up Index Tower, the fog never arrived, so if you have this in your portfolio, you've done well!
It is still a really wonderful shot a blue hour and if you do get the chance to access for photos, you will be rewarded.
There are lots of great spots around Dubai Marina, many are private apartment buildings and some you can rent rooms if you're staying in Dubai. The Intercontinental has a perfect spot right on the water opposite Marina Mall and Pier 7 - a cylindrical tower of 7 restaurants that lights up at night.
If you're not staying at the hotel, you can apply for access on Tuesday evenings from the terrace on the 39th floor. Its and amazing view, but also quite steep due to being so close to the marina - so you will need a wide angle lens or stitch panoramas.
The classic view is that shot of the marina including the mall and Pier 7, however there's also great views looking back North (you can even see the Burj Khalifa between buildings on a clear day) and also unique angles of the Ain Dubai (worlds largest ferris wheel). I also love the traffic on the north side of the terrace for unique abstract shots or time lapses. This is definitely worth spending a sunset photoshoot!
A relatively new addition to the great vantage spots in Dubai from which to take photos. This new observation platform at the top of Nakheel Mall Tower is a pretty incredible place to look over the famous Dubai Palm. You will have 360 degree views of the palm, Dubai Marina and even back towards Downtown. From the observation deck, you can take really great shots either through the glass or between the gaps, however the best shots are from the private rooftop area which requires permission through the buildings management. From here you have the same view but without any glass.
This spot has an amazing shot of Atlantis Hotel, the fronds of the palm and a really using look back at Dubai Marina. Ideally if you can visit at sunset and catch some if the changing colour in the sky.
I would suggest a mixture between wide angle and zoom lenses. On a clear day you will get some interesting shots back at Downtown with the Burj Al Arab in the foreground.
Another location where you can find great views from teh ground level. This side of the palm is reached by car and if you keep driving around until you reach the Anantara Resort entrance. From here you can walk either way depending on your choice of composition. This spot has a great view to shoot the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa in the same frame! So you can get creative with how you position those iconic buildings. It is a great place for sunset because the sun will be at your back and reflects on the glass of Burj Al Arab.
It is also a perfect spot for moon rise compression photos. You can get the moon rising above the skyline or if you want to get really creative, have the moon sitting on/above the Burj Al Arab.
Mostly this area has not been a problem for people to go and take photos using a tripod, however recently there have been people saying that security has been stopping people from using tripods. I will try to update this situation.
Towards the top of the palm (and if you are catching public transport, at the monorail stop) is The Point (map). This is an amazing place to capture some long exposures/reflections of The Atlantis Hotel - one of the really iconic buildings in Dubai.
On the other side of the Palm, there are lots of great spots to photograph Dubai Marina skyline and also Blue Waters Island with the newly opened ferris wheel, Ain Dubai.
The area from Palm West (in front of Fairmont The Palm) right the way down to Five The Palm has a great shot of the Marina buildings, especially at sunset when the light is reflecting on the buildings and often creating a nice flare. Unfortunately they have made an island on the right side, so the further away you go, the more this island comes into your frame. There is an area close to the Five Hotel that is a little rock wall that is amazing and allows you to bring the rocks into your foreground. Previously you could just walk to here, however more recently security from the hotel has suggested its not possible to photograph from there without permission. These spots are on the trunk of the palm and if you keep going around to the crescent you will end up with a similar view, albeit closer and without anything in between you and Bluewaters Island.
This is a great place to photograph the ferris wheel and Address Beach Resort or the Marina skyline. The wheel is now open so you shoudl be able to get some really colourful photos! I haven't had any issues photographing from this boardwalk before, even with a tripod. If you are looking for a bit of elevation, the balconies of Raffles The Palm are the place to get the best views of Marina and Bluewaters - and you can even turn around and look the other way to Burj Al Arab and Downtown from the other side of Raffles.
This is another of those views that some people will claim is "over-photographed", but that is simply because it is so good! This is the iconic Sheikh Zayed Road shot and one that everyone who visits Dubai wants to get!
There is an amazing terrace at the bar on Level 42 - it is a functioning restaurant, so they don't allow people to simply come and set up their tripods, as guests also want to take photos of this view. It can be arranged to get permission to visit for photography and I have taken guests here many times. I always suggest also having your dinner/some drinks there to support the hotel for allowing photographers to use the space (plus the food is pretty good!).
The view looks south down Sheikh Zayed Road and has a really futuristic feel to it. The railing can be a bit of a challenge if you're not tall or have a short tripod. A clamp does work well but risks being wobbled. I love this spot at sunset because the light from the right side of the frame catches the buildings along the road and creates some really magic light. There are some wonderful intersections for light trails and time lapses too.
As a note, the building in the front left of your frame is Gevora Tower. When the lights come on, the top of this building is extremely bright, so to control your highlights you will need to take some pretty underexposed shots. To get all of the Gevora in the frame and some of the buildings on the right side you will need a very wide angle (minimum 14mm).
When you are talking about great views of Dubai Marina, these buildings have one of the very best. The higher floors are private apartments and I was fortunate enough to be able to shoot from them during teh fog season. The lower floors are managed by the hotel and actually provide a great frame, as the high floors can actually be too high unless you have a really wide angle lens/tilt shift lens.
The view from the top is amazing for fog because it looks over the whole marina towards JLT and also has Cayenne tower on the right of frame which catches some nice morning light.
The view straight down is dizzyingly cool and I actually love this spot during blue hour when some of the colourful boats are starting to move around the marina.
There are several other tall buildings around like Cayenne Tower and Damac Heights, that if you can get access to also provide incredible marina views.
Another great ground level spot, especially for sunset/blue hour. This is another relatively new spot that has become quite popular. The skyline here is constantly changing with the addition of new buildings. There is a bridge that you can photograph from that has a nice view ands depending on the time of year, you will catch the sun setting between buildings for a nice flare. Otherwise its a really great blue hour shot too.
Further around to the left of frame there are some apartments that have a nice view straight across the water and the newly opened Dorchester Hotel. You can also use the moored boats here to create some nice leading lines. Unfortunately you cannot shoot from the promenade or under the bridge using tripod without a permit.
There is some unique architecture that can be fun to use a long lens and get some more abstract types of shots.
This is another great skyline shot from ground level. It is a bit closer than the view from Jaddaf Walk and depending on the time of year can be a spot to capture the moon above the skyline of Downtown.
There are a couple of ways of getting there and all involve a shortish walk. I usually park basically underneath the Dubai-Al Ain Road and walk back towards Dubai Design District (D3). There its a rail that runs along the creek and you can choose how far along you want to walk to get your composition.
The security will often come if they see tripods being used, so again, this is a location that if you have a clamp, it will be useful.
The view is a wide panorama of the Downtown skyline. Sunrise you will have the light at your back and at sunset you will be shooting into the sun.
With so many tall buildings in Dubai, there are endless balconies around that aren't open too the public and aren't hotels. Lots of the apartment buildings in Downtown and Dubai Marina especially have amazing views that offer unique photo opportunities. If you are lucky enough to know someone who lives on a high floor with a balcony, this is perfect! Alternatively, lots of apartments can be rented short term and if your coming to Dubai and wanting to take photos, choosing either a hotel or an apartment with a great view is a must!
Definitely have a look at the options around Dubai Marina and Downtown.
The shot below is taken from South Ridge Towers and is one of my favourite skyline views!
This is a relatively new addition to the available spots to shoot from ground level. The canal connects the Dubai Creek from behind Downtown Dubai, back to the ocean - essentially creating an island of Downtown. Along the south side of the canal between Sheikh Zayed Road and the ocean are a number of spots you can shoot the skyline. You can park around Safa Park or under the Sheikh Zayed Road Bridge. The smaller foot bridges are also really popular for lifestyle and architecture photography. Close to Sheikh Zayed Road I have been stopped by security and told it its not allowed to use a tripod in that area, so a clamp would definitely be better for this location.
Closer to the Sheikh Zayed Road there are some nice compositions of the skyline with the waterfall from the bridge which changes colour at night. For something a little different you can go up the elevator to the metro station and capture the metro passing by with the skyline in the background (you will need a wide angle lens for this).
The walk from the bridge back towards the water is one of the most popular spots to capture the moon rise behind the Burj Khalifa and create compression shots. You are relatively close to the Burj here so even a 200-400mm lens will work pretty well. If you are using a longer lens you will really only get the tip of the Burj. Use photopils app to work out where the moon will cross the building. If you want to be further away for a moon shot of the Burj, I suggest "Bokra Beach" which has lots of room for you to move around and get in the right position as the moon rises (map).
There are so many places around Dubai Marina that you can get some great photos from ground level. It is one of my favourite places to walk around with a camera in hand and there are definitely some great cityscape compositions.
Generally it is ok to take photos with a tripod, however the security on the Marina Mall side will often stop to check you are taking only photos (not video) and it isnt for any commercial purpose. Otherwise, there is a rail all the way around and you can easily attach a clamp.
Here are some of my favourite spots:
There really are limitless compositions around Dubai Marina though. It is a perfect spot to spend an afternoon/evening with your camera and tripod/clamp. There are also loads of places to eat long the promenade on the marina mall side (middle eastern restaurants etc)
Yet another of the newer locations, this is a great spot to photograph the Dubai Downtown skyline either in the morning (with amazing front lighting) or n the evening (can create sunset silhouettes or have great blue hour images). This is also one of the most popular places for lifestyle photography.
The area is relatively new and offers a similar view of the skyline to Jaddaf Walk, although its further back. Vida Creek Harbour is the hotel at this location and it provides a perfect base to shoot this view - note you can only be taking photos from the hotel if you are staying there or have permission. There is even a rooftop area at the hotel that has an elevated view (permits required). From there you can walk down to the boardwalk area where there are lots of different coimpsoiuton options above just the standard skyline photo. There are arches you can use to frame the view or even giant flamingo statues that make for an interesting foreground. I also like using the harbour and moorings as a foreground element.
There are security in the area but for the most part they are good and mostly just check that people are not taking video/commercial purposes.
I may have saved one of my absolute favourites for last! This is one of the best places for sunrise, especially if you time it right and the sun rises in a small gap between 2 of the tallest buildings of the Dubai Marina block and you can get that cool sunburst effect.
The google maps pin takes you directly to the spot to take photos. There is a small carpark on the other side of the road where you can park. In the morning there will often be some of Dubai's fitness community using the public gym equipment, but otherwise I have never had issues taking photos from here.
The view is the "front" view of the Dubai Marina block with Cayenne tower really prominent on the right hand side. Before sunrise, you will get some really great blue hour pics while the lights of teh building are still on. As the sun comes up, use photopills to work out where you need to be and then maybe some quick adjustment to be in position to capture that sun peeking through the buildings.
Its common to bring in the hand rail on the said elf the marina for some leading lines.
In clear conditions, you can also gets some unique angles of the light catching the Burj Al Arab away to the North East (with a long lens). Looking the other direction you have a unique view of the top of Ain Dubai - the worlds largest ferris wheel.
Whilst there is a really strong photography community in Dubai and you will see lots of images on social media, there are still some pretty strict regulations around where and when you can take photographs.
In general it is always advisable to check with someone before setting up to take photos somewhere, as places like around the Dubai Fountains can be extremely strict even if you are just using a camera without a tripod! In many instances, photographers have been told they cannot use a "professional camera" (anything other than a smart phone) without a permit - the exact reasons for this appear to centre around the need for permits for anything that may involve commercial work. In many places, it is actually easier than people think to apply for and obtain a permit for photography - however the process can take time, so be prepared for that.
Places like hotel balconies, apartments etc are usually quite alright, as long as you're not seen to be invading other people's privacy! However in public areas you do often need to check. In many places, it comes down to the discretion of the developers in control of that area, rather than the police necessarily. So around Dubai Marina for example, the Emaar security associated with the mall might ask what you are taking photos of. Like in most cases in Dubai, if you are genuinely not causing any issues, there will not be any problems, even if security advise that you cant take photos in that area - they will simply ask for you to pack up.
It is illegal in Dubai to take a photo of somebody without their permission. Obviously there may be situations where people inadvertently are in your composition and that isnt seen as a problem. But taking someones portrait or a photo specifically of them, is not permitted.
There are also copyright restrictions on the commercial use of images in some areas and photos of some buildings like the Burj Khalifa. Most of the issues faced by photographers surround commercial shoots for brands, which do require specific permits. So if you are visiting and intending to conduct brand shoots, keep this in mind and plan early. If you are just looking to take photos for Instagram, there shouldn't be a problem.
OPorbably the most common question I get asked about cityscape photography in Dubai is "how do you get access to rooftops". There isnt really a short answer to that question, other than to say it is getting more difficult. Because people have done silly things in the past, security & access to many rooftops has become a lot stricter. There are several hotels that will allow permission or grant permits in certain situations and these can be requested through marketing departments.
Certainly networking is your best avenue to know which places are accessible and who to ask for permission. There are very few rooftop/terrace areas that you will be able to access without having arranged permission.
Feel free to drop me a message on Instagram (@andympics) if you're looking to visit Dubai and want some advice on places to go.
Everyone imagines Dubai as being extremely hot - if you visit win the middle of the year, it will absolutely live up to this perception! The summers are extremely hot, humid and hazy, making photography quite difficult. You can still get some nice sunsets, but generally they're hazy.
Winter and the months either side are definitely the best times to visit for photography (anywhere from November to March would be the peak). The temperatures are cooler, more cloud action and the skies are clearer. It is absolutely more pleasant on rooftops in Winter. This also coincides with the fog season!
In terms of places to stay, there are hundreds of options. I would suggest choosing somewhere that either has a great view or has access to a great view. Check out any of the following: Shangri-La, Intercontinental Dubai Marina, Raffles The Palm, Sheraton by Four Points, Damac Distinction, Address Fountain View, Address Downtown, Taj JLT.
Fog season is an exciting time for photographers in Dubai! There are mornings where the entire city from the Marina to Downtown is covered in a thick blanket of fog and only the tops of the tall buildings poke through above the clouds. Dubai is unique in that it has so many skyscrapers, so once you are above the cloud, there are lots of buildings visible.
The fog is however extremely unpredictable. Some years it only happens once or twice, other years like early 2021 we had 7 straight days of fog! It is impossible to plan a trip around the fog as you will definitely need some luck. Once in Dubai, i suggest following forecasts like "yr.no", it gives a fog forecast that is pretty accurate. You sometimes know around 9-10pm whether there will be fog the next morning. However I have spent many sunrises on balconies waiting for fog that never arrived.
You will need to be at least 35 floors up to be above the fog and sometimes it can go as high as 50 floors. I have tried to mention in the list about places that are great for fog photos, however some of my favourites are: Shangri-La, Address Downtown, Address Fountain Views, Marina Gate, Damac Heights and Taj JLT.
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