With a wide range of landscapes ranging from resort-lined beaches to endless sand dunes to craggy mountains, the United Arab Emirates is a great destination for photographers.
Culturally, photographers can find ancient souks with narrow, shop-filled alleyways, as well as city skylines with ultra-modern skyscrapers
The United Arab Emirates is a Middle Eastern country made up of seven emirates, states ruled by emirs. The most well-known emirates are Dubai and Abu Dhabi (the country’s capital city), but all seven offer some great places to photograph.
Visitors to the UAE should never photograph the police or any government or military buildings or bases. They should also keep in mind the country has strict privacy laws – you can’t photograph someone without their permission.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. The Palm Jumeirah
Dubai’s iconic Palm Jumeirah is a man-made landmass shaped like a giant palm frond. The peninsula sticks out into the sea and the “leaves” are filled with luxury hotels, luxury residences, and other developments. You can get some great photos from its many beaches and oceanfront promenades, especially those that face back to Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) and those that face the Burj al Arab Jumeirah hotel.
Some of the best views of the Palm Jumeirah are from above. You can go skydiving or paragliding or take a flight in a gyrocopter, which is best for photography.
2. Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is another emirate in the UAE. It’s right next to Dubai and an hour’s drive away. The emirate has some beautiful beaches, especially the resort area around Marjan Island. For desert photography, much of the area between RAK and Dubai is all raw dunes. Many companies offer tours that will take you into the dunes for a few hours.
3. Dhayah Fort
This historic fort in Ras Al Khaimah, mainly built in the 18th century, is on a hilltop with sweeping views of the surrounding area. The fort and the hill really stand out from the surrounding landscape and make for some great photos. The ruins of the hilltop fort itself, with various rooms and structures, are also excellent photo subjects.
4. Jebel Jais
This mountain, located on the border partly in Ras Al Khaimah and partly in Oman, is the highest point in the UAE. Roads snake up the mountain to the summit, where there are some hiking trails and lots of great viewing areas.
5. Burj Khalifa
The world’s tallest building and tallest structure is a must-see for photographers. You can take the high-speed elevators to the observation areas and head to the outdoor viewing areas for the best shots. Aside from the incredible views you can get from the top, be sure to get some shots from the ground level. If you have a wide-angle lens, you can get some great pics from the area around The Dubai Fountain at the Dubai Mall.
This rapidly disappearing area, also known as Old Dubai, is located near Dubai Creek. The narrow alleyways and typical medina-like Arabic bazaar vibe offer a contrast to Dubai’s luxurious modern areas. The spice and fragrance souks, with their eye-popping displays of colorful spices and products, make great subjects.
7. Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
The Dubai Aquarium is located inside a shopping mall, and this is a great place for underwater photography. They offer experiences like being able to get into a shark cage during feeding time. You wear a helmet with an air line attached to it; no scuba experience is necessary. You can photograph feedings of manta rays, sharks, and a “King Croc,” too.
A good vantage point is the Aquarium Tunnel, a round chamber that goes through the center of the structure.
8. The Louvre Abu Dhabi
The inside of the Paris museum’s Middle Eastern outpost is filled with incredible artwork, but the building itself is a work of art. It’s an excellent place for architectural photography, with a wide range of surfaces and structures along with great views of the city skyline. The seafront museum sits on a series of island structures seemingly floating on water.
9. Sheik Zayed Mosque
The country’s largest mosque is also in Abu Dhabi, and it can hold more than 40,000 worshippers. The building is architecturally spectacular, with white marble and gold-topped minarets. It’s surrounded by a water mirror, which reflects the mosque, and at night the entire building is beautifully lit.
10. Dubai Creek
This area is where the city-state started as a trading port. The creek is more like a river and is lined with hotels, restaurants, and waterfront promenades. The iconic boats called “abras” that ferry people back and forth across the creek are great to photograph.
11. Al Noor Island
This fascinating place to photograph is in the emirate of Sharjah. It’s an island in the middle of Khalid Lake, transformed into a tropical paradise. Photogenic highlights include the extensive gardens, the changing art installations, and the butterfly house. The butterfly house is a huge enclosure filled with thousands of butterflies.
The smallest emirate by land area, Ajman is only about 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) in size. It’s completely surrounded by Sharjah but offers some beautiful natural landscapes and historic areas to photograph. The main seafront area has several old forts and the large Ajman Corniche Mosque. There are also beaches.
The emirate of Fujairah is at the northwest tip of the UAE. It’s the only emirate with coastline solely along the Gulf of Oman – none on the Persian Gulf. The Gulf of Oman provides a striking backdrop for photographs. There is a lot of history here, too, including the 15th-century Al Bidiya Mosque, the oldest in the UAE.
14. Umm Al Quwain
If you’re into history and archeological photography, the emirate of Umm Al Quwain is a great place to visit. This emirate, the smallest by population, is located on a peninsula with a large medina area.
Other places to photograph include the Umm Al Quwain Fort and the old harbor with its traditional boats and shipmakers. Two sites in the emirate, Tell Abraq and Ed-Dur, are some of the oldest settlements in the Middle East. The ruins at Tell Abraq can be visited and photographed.
15. Al Madam
This very unique place to photograph is in the emirate of Sharjah. Al Madam is an abandoned village that is slowly being reclaimed by the desert. The contrast of the brightly painted buildings with the sand pouring in through the windows and doors provides a truly unique setting. You’ll get the best pics at sunrise and sunset, and you’ll need a 4X4 to access the site. It’s about an hour southeast of downtown Dubai.