The skyline selfie, the desert leap, and the flamingo in an infinity pool – everyone in the UAE with an Instagram account is guilty of it, and who can blame us?
With its world-famous skylines, perfectly manicured beaches and literally giant surroundings, the United Arab Emirates was made to be photographed, but it is the unexplored corners of the Emirates that hold the most charm.
In our new UAE Hidden Gems guide series, we talk to the experts – tour guides, foodies, culture buffs and nature lovers – to find out where they spend their free time.
For our second installment, we take our cameras out and think outside the box with the UAE’s most talented photographers, exploring every nook and cranny to discover the most photogenic places in the country.
Dubai cityscapes and Fujairah valleys
Self-taught photographer Kareem Mazhar has lived in Dubai for seven years and has spent much of his time exploring the UAE’s lesser-known spaces with his camera.
âThe UAE has everything you could want in a photo,â says Mazhar, 35, whose Instagram handle is @keeksawy.
âThere’s nature, mountains, desert, futuristic cityscapes and every year there’s a new place to explore – that’s what makes it so special.
âI walk with my camera and I’m pretty sure every sunrise is different, every day is different; I’ve been to the same places twice and met totally different people each time.
One of the places where Mazhar feels most at peace is Wadi Abadilah in Fujairah, which stretches northeast towards the Dibba coast.
âPeople usually go hiking in the mountains, but it’s a real valley,â he explains.
âIf you go there after it rains you’re going to find pools of cold water with very small frogs inside – in the middle of the desert – it’s fascinating.
âYou will also find beautiful red dragonflies that I have not seen anywhere else in the world other than here. If you are not afraid of insects, they are amazing to photograph.
âI love to explore and if there is a difficult trail that not many people will take, then I will take it because I love to find and see things that people have never seen before.
âEverything that has to do with the land attracts me, even the smallest flower that grows between two rocks, because they are so unique. “
Back in town, Mazhar has a sneaky suggestion to get the most incredible cityscape footage from the Dubai skyline.
âIn Central Park Towers, there is a balcony accessible to the public if you arrange it in advance,â he reveals.
âIf you go there at sunset you get an incredible reflection of the sun on the Burj Khalifa with some really cool colors in the background – it’s kind of like an inside secret.â
Down the street in the Dubai Design District is what Mazhar calls a portrait photographer’s âdreamâ.
âIf you walk between the buildings, there are some amazing colorful walls that you can use as a background,â he says.
âD3 Playground has a very colorful basketball court and nearby is a vibrant climbing wall where you can get a range of backgrounds in the same shoot.â
Mazhar calls his final destination a “forgotten gem”, as opposed to a secret, though it is impossible not to remember his stunning shots of Al Qudra Lakes.
âIf you are looking for a lake bottom with trees and an abundance of sand dunes, then this is the place for you,â he says. âThere won’t be anyone else in sight if you go for a sunrise photoshoot.
âIt’s one of my personal favorites. It’s not far, it’s easy to get to and you don’t need a 4×4 to get there.
The ghost town of Sharjah and the fossil dunes of Abu Dhabi
His fellow photographer Mohammad Azizi, 23, has 41,000 followers on his photography Instagram account @alphaspotting.
He has lived in Dubai his entire life and says most of the UAE’s most photogenic shots are hidden in the desert.
âThe Tree Route on the Al Qudra Cycle Path is literally a road that was built to accommodate a huge tree in the desert,â he says.
âIt’s a very unique place in Dubai and I don’t think there is anything else like it in the world.â
In Sharjah, Azizi’s favorite place is the abandoned village of Al Madam, also known as the ghost town.
âAgain, I think this is something totally unique to the UAE,â says Azizi. âYou’re not going to see this anywhere else on the planet.
âI love it there. You have the impression of being Lawrence of Arabia or on the set of an apocalyptic movie.
âIt’s a weird feeling, but in a good way and if you go at sunrise the sounds of desert winds are all you will hear for miles.â
Finally, Azizi recommends budding photographers to visit Al Wathba Fossil Dunes in Abu Dhabi.
âI would describe The Fossil Rocks as a foreign land,â he smiles. “If you click on the image at the right angle and edit it correctly, you could be on Mars.” It is completely fascinating.
House of Wisdom and Mosque of Light
Altamash Javed, who has 78,000 Instagram followers at @aljvd, was also raised in Dubai and believes that nowhere compares to Sharjah to capture the rich culture of the UAE.
âOne of the last places in the UAE that I absolutely fell in love with is Al Suhub Rest House in Khor Fakkan,â the 36-year-old photographer said.
âPerched on top of Khor Fakkan’s highest viewpoint, you not only get great views, but there’s a restaurant up there as well.
âI would highly recommend going up for the sunset, the views are just amazing.â
In the area, Javed recommends stopping at the House of Wisdom in the Al Juraina 1 neighborhood, a landmark that was also recommended by tour guide Nada Badran in our latest Hidden Gems Guide.
âAs a photographer, it’s a dream to photograph because I love architecture,â he says.
“You have to walk around the building to really appreciate it, especially The Scroll monument, which has what appears to be endless viewing angles.”
Finally, Javed recommends heading to Mohamed Abdulkhaliq Gargash Masjid, better known as the Mosque of Light, at Al Quoz in Dubai, which was designed by Dabbagh Architects.
âIt’s surrounded by a ton of warehouses, which makes the mosque really stand out,â he explains.
âYou get a feeling of calm and tranquility there despite being in one of the liveliest areas of the city.
“It’s amazing, but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.”
Update: October 21, 2021, 7:12 a.m.