Travel Photography (hidden link)

 
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Travel Photography

Just over ten years ago, my younger, more naive Self stood at passport control waiting to board my flight to Australia. I was actually going out to look at a music production course and just happened to make a last minute impulse decision to buy a ‘big’ camera (Canon 350d) to take some nice holiday snaps with.  I was completely unaware just how much that trip would change my life as it was then that I found two new passions that totally engulfed me. Travel and photography. 

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I spent the next few years trying to teach myself everything and anything about photography whilst simultaneously marking out places on a map I’d like to visit. I was totally hooked.

Looking back over the past 10 years now, after visiting 61 countries, I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. It certainly hasn’t been plain sailing and has required a lot of dedication and sacrifice. With some pretty life changing experiences collected, I can vouch that it’s been worth the hard work and hopefully now, I can pass on some advice to any aspiring travel photographers along with sharing some images I've captured from the last year on the road.

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I guess a good place to start is to ask what is the point of travel photography? For me, and on a deeper level, travelling itself has made me increasingly more content with life as the more I’ve done it, the more I’ve gained an understanding as to how the world works, from the rich cultural diversity between us all but the unifying similarities that we share. Ignorance doesn’t lead to progression, so my real aim with photography is simply to share what I see with the hope that it will inspire others to travel, or give people a little insight into how others live. A visual researcher, if you will. 

Here are what I deem to be important qualities to have when working as a travel photographer.

 
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Know Your Gear.

Travel photography is quite a broad term as it covers so many genres in one. Everything from landscapes, portraiture, street, food and architecture. Lighting situations can be tricky at times and the action fast paced. You don’t need to have the most expensive camera on the market but with what you do have, it’s best to know it like the back of your hand. I taught myself with help from the internet and books. Looking around your own home, getting out and experimenting, failing and learning from the mistakes you’ll inevitably make it the fastest and cheapest way to prepare yourself. 

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Honesty.

Honesty for me is the most important aspect to travel photography. With the ease at which your imagery can be seen and shared these days, what you present can be the first time someone comes into contact with a culture or landscape. Staging photographs or digitally manipulating an image with Photoshop to be something it’s not will warp people’s perception of reality. It’s confusing what is fact and upping people’s expectations for when they travel. The world is plenty beautiful and interesting enough to photograph without duping others. I feel it’s a travel photographer’s job to be responsible with this. 

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Respect.

Respect is another virtue that it is worth being in tune with, for both the places you explore and the art of photography itself. It really does come out in your work if you’re disconnected with what you’re photographing. You need to immerse yourself in the place and with the people who live there. You can only truly do that if you respect your surroundings. I treat it as if I’m a guest in someone’s house. Being a little courteous goes a long way when on the road. 

 
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The Numbers Game.

Facebook had only just taken off and Instagram was nothing but a pile of undeveloped code when I bought my first camera. Instagram has been the biggest game changer with photography and depending on how you use it, it can be a good or a bad thing. I’ve definitely been guilty of chasing ‘likes’ in the past. It’s completely normal to enjoy praise for the things you do but the addictive nature of the social media game can create an unhealthy grip on you. Looking back at my work, there was a period where I can actually see the saturation slider creeping up as more ‘likes’ flowed in for my colourful landscape photos. There comes a point where it feels like you’re not being honest and not respecting the craft. It’s a point where I wasn’t enjoying my own work as I was hiding behind cheap tricks to get my photos seen. Ultimately, if the platform developers decided to change the algorithm, you’re back to square one anyway. It’s best to have fun with it and share the work you love, follow and engage with people you admire. Instagram is a great way to meet local photographers as well. I’ve made some lifelong friends through the platform and my photos and travel memories are the better because of it. 

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I will add that Instagram is a good enough platform to research new locations. It’s much better to use it quite loosely, just to build up an idea of what to expect and it’s important not to imitate what you see there. 

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Never Stop Learning.  

Complacency will be the end of you. Of course, be confident in your abilities but be modest with the results. I’m currently experimenting with film photography after so many years of being strictly digital. It’s so refreshing and fun to be getting back to basics and approach things in a slightly different way. The character and emotion that film captures is much more powerful in my opinion and only after going back to analogue was I able to replicate it more truly in my digital work. Photography is easy enough to learn but it will take a lifetime to master. I’ve found it hugely beneficial to constantly review my work and plan what my next moves are and what areas I need to work on. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be daunting at times but really, what’s the worst that can happen?

 
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Simplify.

I’ve found it easier to compose images with the idea of asking ‘what can I take out of this, what’s not needed here?’. After all, the great Albert Einstein once said. ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler’. That couldn’t be a more helpful statement for photography. What’s the absolute minimum I can put in the frame that will still tell the viewer the story? I find images that follow that idea are the keepers. 

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Even simplifying my camera equipment has been hugely beneficial. I used to have multiple zooms from a 16-35mm, covering every available focal mm to 400mm. The logic was that I’d have every focal length at my disposal so I’d never miss a shot. I now work with only prime lenses, using the Zeiss Batis lineup. I still have all the areas of travel photography covered with the wide 18mm for land and cityscapes, to the 135mm for portraits and picking out details. Using primes meant I stopped being lazy and zooming with the lens and started to really think about my compositions and zoom with my feet. It’ll force you to get closer to the action and your imagery will benefit as you’re more connected to the scene. Unless you’re photographing a pride of Lions! Zooms are a little better then! 

 
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Have Fun.

It’s a bit of a no brainer but remember to enjoy the process! There will be times where you will question life as your gut rumbles from being without food for three days, you’re covered in mosquito bites, suffering from sleep deprivation due to being thrown against a train roof as you travel for 35 hours to get to a spot, to then walk away without a single decent photo. But it’s all part and parcel of it! It wouldn’t be fun if it were easy. Right?! 

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Dubai Highlights

 
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Dubai’s first skyscraper was only completed in 1979 but it now ranks third in the world for the city with the most skyscrapers, one of which is the world’s tallest. It’s a city rich in tradition but modern and with huge ambition for the future. 

I had been to Dubai three times before but only used it as as a flight bridge to get back and forth to Asia and beyond. I always assumed it was so expensive that it would be out of reach to  spend any time exploring it. I was wrong on that front.

I had the opportunity to spend five days there in December, split in two trips as I travelled between the UK and Australia. This photo diary will show the highlights of my time there and hopefully give you a few ideas if you're planning a trip there.

At the Top,  Burj Khalifa 

The Burj Khalifa is currently the World’s tallest and Dubai’s most iconic building. Measuring to a total height of 829.8 m (2,722 ft). You’ll likely see this gigantic silver needle from most places around the city and in reverse, once you’re up onto the world's highest observation deck, you’ll be able to see all of the city in every direction.

You can book tickets online or buy on location but either way definitely head for the first available time slot or get up there an hour or so before sunset and wait patiently. It does get very busy! 

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Dubai Souks

It seems it's a little more for the tourists than locals these days but it’s still a good place to check out some more authentic souks and step away from the futuristic parts of the city. The gold, textile and spice are located next to each other. 

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D3 Design District

Home to designers, artists and creative thinkers. This area is still being developed but there’s already a thriving creative scene down there with plenty of art galleries to see some great exhibitions. 

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The Green Planet

The Green Planet recreates the enchanting world of the tropical forest with over 3,000 plants and animals and the World's largest indoor man-made and life-sustaining tree. 

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Dubai Mall, Aquarium & Fountains

The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world by total area. With over 1,200 shops, an ice rink, cinema, indoor theme park and the second largest aquarium in the world, you can see why  it is one of the most visited buildings on the planet. In 2011 it actually was the most visited building on the planet, attracting over 54 million visitors. 

The aquarium, located in the mall, showcases more than 300 species of marine animals, including sharks and rays. You’re even able to scuba dive inside!

The fountains performances are held daily and last up to 5 minutes. Evening shows begin at 6 pm and are every half hour until 11 pm. There are also 2 performances in the daytime; at 1 pm and 1.30 pm (1.30 pm and 2 pm on Fridays). It gets very busy so if you want a good viewing spot, get there early. 

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Kite Beach

Just one of the many amazing beaches in Dubai, Kite beach gets its name from the mass of kite surfers that use this area. There are also plenty of other sporting activities around, from beach volleyball to a world class skate park as well as a stack of pop up style food trucks, making this beach a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike.  

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Sheikh Zayed Road

This mega road runs parallel to the Persian Gulf along the entire length of the UAE. The section that dissects downtown Dubai is like something from a science fiction movie. 

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Rooftop Bars

A city with as many skyscrapers as this, of course there are plenty of options to take in a stunning view whilst sipping on an Old Fashioned. My favourites were at the 4 Points by Sheraton and Uptown at  the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. 

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Jumeirah Mosque

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding hosts visits of the Grand Jumeirah Mosque 6 days a week Saturday through Thursday at 10:00am. It’s a great way to learn more about Islam and Emirati culture. 

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Palm Jumeirah

The Palm Jumeirah is a man made island, shaped like a palm tree. It contains many residential buildings and hotels, including the famous 5 Star Atlantis. If you head to either end of the outer arch, you’ll be rewarded with great views of the Dubai Marina and Downtown. To give you an idea of the scale of this island, it’s 12km to walk around the outer edge! 

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Dubai Marina

Home to some 120,000 people, this area is a city itself. There’s a whole host of good restaurants and bars where you can take in the views of the many skyscrapers that tower above. Head to Pier 7 for plenty of options, all offering great views. 

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Ski Dubai

Ski Dubai is an indoor ski resort with 22,500 square meters of indoor ski area. It is a part of the Mall of the Emirates, another one of the largest shopping malls in the world. The indoor resort features an 85-metre-high indoor mountain with 5 slopes of varying steepness and difficulty, including a 400-metre-long run, the world's first indoor black diamond run, and various features (boxes, rails, kickers) that are changed on a regular basis.

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Where to Stay.

There's almost too many options when it comes  to finding a place to stay! Being that I made two trips to Dubai in a month, I hope my suggestions save you the time and effort of sifting through the many options out there. Both offer top end service, are very well and positively reviewed across travel websites, in great locations and are great value for money. 

 

The H Hotel Dubai

The 5 Star H Hotel is  located at  #1 Sheikh Zayed Road, home to Dubai's famous skyscrapers, business and shopping districts and offering convenient access to the Dubai World Trade Centre, the Exhibition Centre, Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa and other business and tourist destinations. As you'd expect the service is impeccable and the room I stayed in was huge and extremely comfortable.  There's a pool, a fully equipped gym, an award winning Spa as well as  a number of bars and restaurants. I can't recommend Zahira enough. I absolutely love Middle Eastern food  so to have a menu curated by award-winning Chef Greg Malouf. I was in food heaven. 

Rooms are as low as $90USD per night. 

https://www.hhoteldubai.com

 

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Media One Hotel 

The 4 Star Media One Hotel is towards the other end of Dubai but still in a convenient location, just 2 km from Dubai Marina and an 8 minute walk to the beach. The staff couldn't have been more friendly throughout my stay and  the breakfast was amazing. The hotel also has a state of the art gym and Miami styled pool/bar area. My room was huge and modern. The bed was perfect. 

Rooms are available from around $70USD

https://www.mediaonehotel.com

 

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This really is just a general overview and has only really scratched the service  of what's on offer in Dubai. It's a city that you could come back to a year later and write a whole new list as the expansion of this future city is showing no signs of slowing down! I feel I missed out for all the times I transited through the airport without exploring the city so, I'm happy to have broken that cycle  and seen first hand this futuristic metropolis in the desert.