Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Beauty of Abu Dhabi

Since the very first day of my arrival here, I have set one personal goal. As a photography enthusiast, I wanted to capture the beauty of the Abu Dhabi skyline at night on film--digital that is.

I spent several evenings near the Emirates Palace Hotel trying to frame the picture down the left side of the miles long row of tall buildings. I won't use the word "sky-scraper." You have to go to Dubai for that. Anyway, I just wasn't able to frame the photo right. From the waterfront I could see across the bay to a small peninsula that extended just beyond the Marina Mall. There is an unusual building there, and next to it is what was the world's tallest flag pole, with the UAE flag proudly displayed at the top. I decided that was where I needed to go.

I inquired as to what the place was. I was told that it is the Heritage Village, a place for visitors to learn about Abu Dhabi's history.

My first trip there proved a waste of time for landing the desired shot. During that same week, desert winds blew dust into the city, and the lingering haze had not yet completely departed. Shooting across the bay that night wasn't going to happen. But the trip was not at all a waste.

I found treasure in the people there.

This one little spot of land across the bay from the city is a gathering place on "Friday night" here (the last work day of the week is Thursday). People come here for the view. They come to visit with family and friends. They come to chat. And they come to make new friends. On that, my first evening there, I made lots of new friends. And I did it with my Canon 10D digital camera.

The whole "Be mister Olan Mills for the evening thing stared when I politely asked a really nice looking family if I could take their photo.

What started as a single snapshot for my collection turned into the complete package--8x10's, 5x7's, and wallets. No, I didn't charge anyone a dime. I sent the photos free-of-charge by email.

In the span of ten minutes, I knew this man's name, and the names of his visiting parents from India. His father, a very distinguishing man was retired from the Indian Royal Air Force. A delightful family.

Then there was the family from Egypt. I snapped a photo of their catch of the day overy the shoulder of one of their own doing the same thing.

That started another portfolio. They were not only very "photo-genic," they really enjoyed having their picture taken. Before I was done, I had a standing invitation to be a guest in their home the next time I made it to Cairo. Patricia
has always wanted to see the Great Pyramids.
This flagpole, although not very well seen in the darkness, is the one I mentioned earlier, once the tallest flagpole in the world. Think of the difficulty I must have had in framing this photo. The building in the background is the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village. Makes for a pretty backdrop doesn't it? One last photo for now. The boardwalk out to the point is always filled with activity. Kids playing, seniors sitting, roller-bladers. I wasn't expecting to be part of what appeared to be an attempt to photograph a CD cover. That's the only logical explanation I could come up with for the photo I captured of these two guys.
The neat thing about the picture is the picture-within-the-picture. Remember that nice family in the first photo above?
Anyway, I did finally capture that skyline shot. You might have missed it at the top. It is a treasure for me. But not as valuable as the few minutes I spent with perfect strangers that treated me like family. Such is the beauty of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dubai Is For The Eye

Ok, Las Vegas has some nice buildings. But if you like innovative, beautiful, can't-believe-what-I-am-looking-at buildings, then Dubai is your eye candy store.

In the UAE, virtually all of the oil revenue flows out of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. But some time ago some brilliant leaders decided to transform Dubai from an oil-based, to a tourism-based economy.
These very visionary leaders decided to add a little coastline to their small Emirate and began building the three largest man-made islands in the world. Palm Jumeirah was completed first, and Palm Jebel Ali, and The World Islands are under construction. You can read more about Palm Jumeirah at

Entering Dubai from Abu Dhabi, the first two jewels of this Emirate are the luxurious Burj Al Arab Hotel and the Mall of
the Emirates.

The Burj's website says it was built to resemble a billowing
sail. Check.

The website also mentions something about your chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. Check.

The photo of the Burj was taken from the public beach southeast of the hotel. The sand was Panama-City Beach Florida white, and the water was crystal clear. I was a bit disappointed that I could find no where on the other side of the hotel to capture the sun set on its beautifully mirrored glass. I walked about a mile north looking, and soon found a lot of people turning right into some type of market or shopping area.

As I began to cross the bridge over what appeared to be a very lovely man-made waterway, I saw it on my right. The giant sail jutted up into the evening sky above the trees and buildings. If you were to look up Dubai on Google maps and select the satellite view, it would appear that the Burj Al Arab was built on an island, very disconnected from the Dubai coastline. Well, someone apparently issued an executive order that the two be connected. I'm just not sure if they moved the island, moved the Emirate, or just built a fabulously designed system of land, condos, trees, and water to fill the gap. It is an extraordinary sight.

Near the top of the Burj there are two prominent features--on the left is a restaurant. No, I have not dined there, I haven't even been inside or up close to the Burj. The rooms start at somewhere around ten Franklins per night. I am fine on the outside looking, well, in.

On the right is the heli-pad. The first time I saw photos of the Burj Al Arab, they were of Tiger Woods driving golf balls from the heli-pad. That probably wouldn't be a good idea now since the beach is now probably within Tiger's driving range. I have looked at this an similar photos I shot on my Dubai outing. For the life of me, I can't explain why the Burj doesn't look so over-powering in the photos as it does in person. Probably because I had to shoot in wide angle to get the whole thing.

If you should find yourself bored with staring at the Burj, or it's just too darn hot outside, no problem. About five minutes away you'll find the Mall of the Emirates, and waiting inside for you is Ski Dubai, aka, Winter Wonderland Comes To The Desert. Incredible. I went looking for reasonably priced food and landed in (much to my great fortune) a Labanese restaurant called Karam. Wow. The picture you see is the view I had while dining on superb local fare for a really great price. My waiter was very gracious in allowing me to set my table-top tripod up to take this somewhat long exposure. Throughout the Mall, you will find tourists like me gawking at the slopes, the skiers, snow-boarders and tubers smiling and laughing on the frozen powdery fun.