Dubai

It’s big, it’s brash and, in parts at least, it’s beautiful.

Dubai is a dazzling metropolis in the middle of the desert. The realisation of a monarch’s dream to make the city a world-leading wealth generator, it is famous for its sky-high towers and its addiction to world firsts, biggests and tallests.

In the heart of the Arab middle east, a Westerner might think that a trip to Dubai would be an educational voyage of discovery into the culture and habits of the Arab world, but in reality, this commercial congregation of businesses and tourists from across the world makes this city very much Middle-East lite.

One of seven Emirates (collectively, the United Arab Emirates – UAE), Dubai gained independence from the UK on 2 December 1971. Since then, businesses from across the globe have flocked to the region, seeking a ride on the wealth-propelling (if a little bumpy) rocket that is this ambitious and forward-thinking city.

For all its seven star hotels, shopping malls (one with an aquarium, one with a ski centre), majestic buildings and crazy developments (man-made islands The Globe and The Palm spring to mind), Dubai, for me at least, lacks a sense of sincere culture and soul. Perhaps all the money spinning mirrored glass has diluted the culture of 50 years ago.

That’s not to say it’s not worth a visit. It absolutely is. It’s one of those destinations you mark as an ‘experience’ and from a photography point of view, there’s plenty to keep you happy. Just a note of caution. If you’re going to go, do so armed with a pre-set budget and don’t be afraid to use it. There’s no such thing as a beach-front Travelodge. It’s pretty much 5 star or no star.

We visited in March. The weather was beautiful – the skies were blue (other than the days of the sandstorm!), the beaches white and the sun bounced off the steel and glass.

Dubai buildings in the early evening sunlight

My brother in law, a Dubai resident, had bought us tickets to the Dubai World Cup  – an experience like no other. A fashion show for Western expats, whose principal aim is to quaff champagne whilst getting papped for the local glossies and websites, the horse racing is a purely incidental affair for the majority of race-goers (Westerners may be influenced by the no-betting policy [do it before you leave home via the internet if you must]). At a mile long, with a capacity of 60,000, and lit seats reminiscent of an 80’s dance-floor, the grandstand is extreme, whilst the no-expense-spared, statement-making fireworks were as dramatic as you’d expect. There were lots of them. They were loud. They were pretty. There was an aerobatic display from a spitfire. Yes, it was impressive.

Meydan Racecourse, Dubai

Meydan Racecourse, Dubai – champagne and glittering lights

Burj Khalifa, Dubai - tallest building in the world

Burj Khalifa, Dubai – tallest building in the world

Elsewhere, the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, situated just outside the largest shopping mall in the world (The Dubai Mall, complete with must-have aquarium) is a must-see.

We went for Afternoon Tea – and with treats like these, why wouldn’t you?

Burj Khalifa, Dubai Afternoon Tea

The highest tea in the world – Burj Khalifa, Dubai afternoon tea

The best view, so we were reliably informed, is from the ladies toilet. And yes, it’s pretty good. This is the vertigo-inducing view from the restaurant. Not bad?

View of Dubai from Burj Khalifa

View of Dubai from Burj Khalifa

Then there’s the fountains. “You must see the fountains” friends had implored before our trip. If I’m honest I can take or leave fountains. Not these fountains. You absolutely HAVE to see these fountains.

The Dubai fountains

The Dubai fountains

Every evening, a display of synchronised water dancing takes place in the 30-acre lake at the foot of the Burj Khalifa. 275m of fountains, shooting up to 150ft tall, the creators of the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas masterminded this installation. It’s free, but my recommendation would be to book an outside table and eat at one of the restaurants overlooking the fountain ‘arena’. We ate at Mango Tree. The food was amazing and the view pretty crazy. The best part was seeing the fountains moonwalk to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which you can see here via the wonder of YouTube.

And finally, the Burj Al Arab, the iconic hotel on the Jumeriah Beach. Beautiful at night and well worth a photo. A good spot is from the bridge outside the Souk Madinat Jumeriah.

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Of course, there’s plenty more to see than all of this. There’s the creek, the gold souks, the golf courses, the sandy beaches and the ski centre. Naturally.

Go, go, go!

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Hamble

If boats and coastal scenes are your thing, the famous and historical Hamble marina near Southampton in Hampshire is a great place to head with the camera.  Someone once said that the area is like the M25 of the sailing world, and they’re not wrong.  As the home of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), the UK governing body for sailing, powerboating and windsurfing, and the setting of the 1980’s BBC television show, Howard’s Way, it goes without saying that Hamble is a good place to start for all things nautical.

Sun reflecting off boat railings and rigging

Sunshine on Steel – Sun reflecting off boat railings and rigging at Hamble

When the sun’s out, it glistens on the rows of yachts, rigging and water. There’s always plenty of activity in the marina, boatyard and at the various sailing clubs – and there’s a plethora of pubs, cafes and restaurants for keeping you fed and watered.

Whilst there are hundreds, if not thousands of boats moored in and around Hamble,  you may not get to see much adrenaline-filled, spray-forming action, as the boats pootle, rather than race in and out of marina. For that you’ll need to head further round the coast, or, better still, try and get on a boat to get really up-close and personal.

Royal Southern Yacht Club at Hamble

Royal Southern Yacht Club at Hamble

There are various parking spots offering easy walks to different photo opportunities.

Hamble Point Marina give you boats, a wide stretch of water, views out to Fawley and Calshot in one direction and Warsash in the other. As you head into Hamble, take Copse Lane on your right and follow it round into School Lane. Parking just outside the marina is free – although expect it to get busy during high season.

Hamble Point Marina

Hamble Point Marina

Go when the tide is out to be able to walk down onto the rocks and pebble shoreline. I was able to walk out quite a distance, although I did have to keep moving to stop my feet sinking! Make sure to take wellies or old shoes – the ground is muddy and it goes without saying to keep an eye on the environment and how far out is safe.

Fawley from Hamble

Fawley from Hamble

With a view of Fawley Refinery (Exon Mobil are based here and it’s arguably one of the most industrial areas on the Hampshire coast), it’s perhaps not the most idyllic horizon by day. However, wait until sundown for some stunning sunset images with a bit of a difference. The silhouettes are fantastic and with the smoke and the reflections I think it takes some beating.

Sundown at Fawley - from Hamble

Sundown at Fawley – from Hamble

For yet more yachts, river trips and the Hamble – Warsash water taxi, drive further round into Hamble itself and park in The Square car park (there’s free parking for 30 minutes), or continue down into the Foreshore car park.

River Trips from Hamble

River Trips from Hamble

Hamble Warsash Ferry

Hamble Warsash Ferry

The bright pink Hamble – Warsash ferry takes walk-on passengers the short journey across the harbour – good for photos, a bit of fun and means you get to see the coastline from a different angle.  Costs as at 12 May 2012 were £1.50 (adult) / £1.00 (child).

The history books tell us that ferry services have operated across this stretch of water since the time of King Henry VII, though I’m guessing the pink paint is a more recent feature!

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About the River Hamble

Hamble – Warsah Ferry

Keyhaven and Hurst Castle

English Heritage Hurst Castle

English Heritage Hurst Castle

A lighthouse, an imposing Tudor castle, a cute passenger ferry, views of The Needles off the Isle of Wight, a long stretch of pebbled beach overlooking Christchurch and Mudeford, a harbour and a yacht club with boats glistening in the sunlight.

Keyhaven and Hurst Castle offer some fantastic coastal photo opportunities.

Getting there

On the south coast of England, Keyhaven is a short drive from Lymington, through the pretty village of Milford on Sea  (where there are plenty of tea shops for a quick bite, or local pubs and fish and chip shops for more substantial offerings).

Park at the car park just behind Keyhaven Yacht Club / opposite the Gun Inn, or continue round Saltgrass Lane to park up on the side of the road. I parked at the yacht club, walked towards the sea with the boats on my left and turned right along the path with the marshes on my right and the harbour to my left.  Over the footbridge and up the bank, to reveal a stunning view of the Isle of Wight’s famous rocky outcrop and lighthouse.

A passenger ferry operates if you’d rather save your legs… although when I visited, low tide meant it was out of action.

Keyhaven Hurst Castle Ferry Port

Keyhaven – Hurst Castle ferry port in low tide

Photo Notes

The pebble beach is good news for photographers who want to get that lovely coastal shot, without the risk of sand in precious equipment. Refuelling and refreshment opportunities are scarce though, so snack supplies recommended.

The Castle

Ok, so it’s not a traditionally picturesque turreted fort, but Hurst Castle boasts some pretty impressive historical credentials and its location makes for some stunning views.  When I visited (albeit out of season) it was fairly quiet too, so good for ‘tourist-free’ photos.

Hurst Castle and Lighthouse

Hurst Castle and Lighthouse

Built by Henry VIII and used as the prison of Charles I before his trial and execution, it’s now an English Heritage site, so you can pay to see inside the imposing stone walls, or just take in the views from the outside.

The Lighthouse

Hurst Point Lighthouse, a white and green building on a fairly isolated stretch of land with the hallmark New Forest rough scrub makes for some eye-catching landscape shots.

Hurst Point Lighthouse

Hurst Point Lighthouse

I imagine with the right lighting conditions it would be a good setting for dramatic stormy scenes.

I spotted a lifesaver and almost too good to be true, the lighthouse lines up perfectly through the bright red and white circular frame.

Through the Round Window - Hurst Point Lighthouse through a lifesaver

Through the Round Window – Hurst Point Lighthouse

The Needles

The Needles, a rocky outcrop off the coast of the Isle of Wight are a series of three jagged chalk pillars – hence, ‘needles’, marked by an upside down flashing exclamation mark – or lighthouse. As familiar a British coastal sight as the White Cliffs of Dover, they make for a good focal point on the Hampshire horizon.

The Needles from Hurst Castle

I found a weather-worn groyn to frame a shot of this landmark.

Sailing Sailing

Keyhaven and Keyhaven Yacht Club is a great location for shots of sailing boats, whether in action on the water, or moored in the harbour.

Keyhaven Boats

Keyhaven Boats

I love the way these boats are queuing in an orderly, obedient fashion – ready and waiting to be called into service.

Mudeford

One of the main reasons people head to Mudeford on the south coast of England is for the pretty beach huts – some of the most expensive beach huts in the world.  With views of The Needles off the Isle of Wight in one direction and Christchurch Priory Church in the other, the sailing boats and sandy beaches, plus a cute ferry and little green land train, not forgetting the working fishermen and children with their crabbing pots, there are photo opportunities everywhere.

Mudeford Beach Huts

Mudeford Beach Huts

Mudeford Fisherman at Work

Mudeford Fisherman at Work

Needles in the distance

Isle of Wight Needles from Mudeford harbour

Boat and church in the Mudeford dawn mist

Boat and church in the Mudeford dawn mist

When to go?

For a more serene and tranquil experience (and less tourists to get in the way of your arty shots) go on a weekday if you can, or even better, go out of season (when parking is also considerably cheaper).

There are plenty of interesting focal points for sunset and sunrise shots at Mudeford, so getting there early, or sticking around until later in the day is highly recommended.  If you’re really committed you could hire out one of the beach huts to guarantee being in the right spot at the right time. We stayed over with friends for a 40th birthday celebration. Loads of fun, especially as we went out of season, so with no-one else around it really did feel like our own desert island!

Christchurch Priory Church in the dawn mist

Christchurch Priory Church in the dawn mist

Sunrise at Mudeford

Sunrise at Mudeford

Sunset at Mudeford

Sunset at Mudeford

How to get there?

Catch the cute ferry from Mudeford Harbour or drive round to Hengistbury Head to park up and catch the land train or walk the mile and a half (approx) route through the Nature Reserve.

What else?

Sea air, great views and a relaxed vibe, Mudeford is a great location for a day out with the camera. On Mudeford spit, the Beach House cafe serves light snacks to full-blown evening meals and of course New Forest ice cream! There’s also a cafe and public toilets at the car park at Hengistbury Head, so you’re well catered for. If you fancy exploring further afield, there’s plenty more to see along the coast line, including Highcliffe Castle which is a little walk around the bay.

New York

I’d happily wager that New York is the most photographed city in the world and it’s easy to see why.

Almost everywhere you look there’s a scene or building made famous by film makers or photographers over the years. Central Park, The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, the Manhatten skyline, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Terminal, Times Square. The list goes on. Famous landmarks which are even more impressive in real life. Yes, it’s been photographed a billion times over, yet it doesn’t take away any of the fun of trying to get your very own New York photo memory.

We went in November, just before the famous Marcy’s Thanksgiving Parade.  A good time of year to go, not least as it wasn’t too hot to lug camera gear around!  If it’s your first time in The City That Never Sleeps, I’d recommend spending the first day or two on a city tour bus – great for getting to know where everything is – as well as the history lesson and local knowledge you’ll get from your guide.

As the list of photo opportunities really is endless, I’ve selected just a few of my shots here. For more of my New York images, see my Flickr pages.

Grand Central Terminal.  A beautiful building crammed full of character and plenty of photo opportunities.  Perhaps the most tried and tested of all is in the main concourse. Go with a friend for a fun slow release shot. Get them to stand dead still just in front of the main desk and clock in the centre, whilst you take the shot from the facing stairway.

Grand Central Station slow shutter

Calm in the Chaos at Grand Central Station

This image was taken on a 4 second shutter release, iso 800. If you have a wide angle lens, make sure you take it along. This was shot at 18mm which was as wide as I could go. A wider angle would capture the beautiful turquoise and golden ceiling. A good reason to return I think! 

Pershing Square. Just outside of Grand Central Terminal is this busy and colourful cafe / restaurant made famous by films such as Friends With Benefits. Take a tripod, focus on the cafe, set up a slow (ish) shutter speed and wait for the inevitable yellow cab to swarm past for a perfect New York memory.  See www.pershingsquare.com.

Pershing Square Yellow Cabs

Pershing Square Yellow Cabs

The Empire State Building.  Whether you’re after views from, or views of this iconic 1930’s art deco building, it’s a must-do for any tourist in New York – photographer or not. If you’re after a view from the outside you’ll do well to have a wide angle lens at hand.  In tightly packed streets, it’s hard to take a step back, and with only an 18mm at hand I wasn’t really able to cram the full scale of the tower into shot.

For views from the top, I’d recommend heading up an hour or so before sunset, to guarantee some daylight, twilight, sunset and night time shots. You can buy sunrise and sunset passes, which allow you up twice in one day, but with so much else to see in this vast city, we really wanted to cram as much in as possible in one hit and so the late afternoon option worked best for us.  See www.esbnyc.com.

New York from the top of the Empire State Building

Matchbox City – New York from the top of the Empire State Building

Remember to take a sturdy tripod if you have one. Yes, it can be a pain to lug around, but it’ll be worth it at the top, especially when the light starts to fade and you need as much support as you can get to keep your images clear and crisp. If you don’t have a tripod you should be able to find a small ledge to rest your camera on – provided you’re happy to wait your turn and wriggle your way in amongst the crowds.

Of course, the one thing you can’t see from the Empire State Building – is the Empire State Building. As you can’t go to New York and not get photos of this most famous of all landmarks, you’ll need to head to (and up!) the Rockefeller Centre.

Rockefeller Centre. We went up at night, which was great for seeing the city defined by twinkling lights from the buildings and matchbox cars.  In one direction there’s a rectangular black hole, which in daylight would be the leafy green expanse of Central Park, whilst in the other direction there’s the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

The Empire State Building from the Rockefeller Centre

The Empire State Building from the Rockefeller Centre

Yes, it’s perhaps the most photgraphed cityscape in the world, but there’s nothing more satisfying than having your own memory of this incredible city.