New to Dubai and could do with a run-down of all it's most photogenic spots? Need a little reminder of places to take your clients for their family shoot? Planning a shoot for your own family and would like to get a little location inspiration? With the cooler weather just around the corner we are excited to bring you a run down – from a photographer’s perspective – of locations for your next family photoshoot. Full of hints and tips to set you up for a successful session, our ‘Business of Family Photography’ workshop instructor Natalie Robinson shares 6 of her favourite locations for family shoots.
Al Fahidi historical district
The light in Al Fahidi is always divine; bouncing off the cream walls and acting as a natural reflector. It is the perfect place to encourage children and their family to explore, with lots of narrow alleyways, doors to knock on and courtyards to enter. The mosque is a beautiful backdrop with stunning architecture and patterns and the whole areas is peppered with Arabian architectural influences and textures. There are lots of spots to discover and many corners for children to discover. And if you manage to find any staircases leading up to the top of the shop houses: the view from the top is beautiful!
Parking can be a bit tricky so I would advise parking underground at Al Seef and walking across. It is definitely the kind of place you need to go to in advance and do a walk round so that you have a rough plan of where to guide your family; you will also need to gain official permission to photograph your clients there. If the weather is cool it’s the perfect spot for a shoot at any time of the day because you can easily find shadier areas.
At the end of your explorative walk, head to the XVA Gallery and Café for their amazing mint lemonade and a take a look around their gallery. This is the perfect place to practice moving from Aperture Priority to Manual: with the intensity of light changing all the time, you really have to consciously connect with your ISO and shutter speed.
Perhaps one of the most obvious - but certainly one of the most requested locations for family shoots is the beach! With the weather just on the verge of cooling down; NOW is the time to be encouraging your clients to book in beach shoots.
Make a plan to head down to the beach during golden hour (so called because of the beautiful morning and late afternoon sunlight). This is when the light is at the most flattering as it wraps around your subjects perfectly.
Look online for the exact timings of sunrise and sunset and your golden hour timing for that day (there are also apps available that show you this too). Although it varies throughout the year, in my experience any time from 4.45pm onwards is just stunning. Ask your clients to bring a picnic dinner for their children, pack a towel, some spare clothes, a blanket to sit on and you are all set.
Check the direction and strength of the light and consider this when capturing your clients. Also be aware that on weekends during the good weather season, the beaches can be extremely busy which makes it a little more tricky to find a quiet spot (and also calls for more editing of people in the background, afterwards).
I love Black Palace beach because of the natural curve in the bay: so that if you head down to the left hand side of the beach you can position yourself with the Burj Al Arab in the background and cleverly cut out all of the beachgoers on the right hand side of your image. Along the far left of the beach there are rocks and a pier and to the far right there is a patch of grassy reeds that are super photogenic and again give a bit of variety in backdrop. At certain times of the month the tide retreats leaving a beautiful mirror effect where the shoreline meets the sand.
Another wonderful beach is Nessnass beach; often when I am shooting there I will begin with family portraits close to the reed fence (towards the left of the beach) and then move my families along the shoreline all the way around to the rocks on the right side of the bay. Parking can be tricky here so again, it will be helpful to plan in advance and check this out yourself.
Desert time is just around the corner! My favourite spot has to be out near to Al Qudra lakes; head past The Last Exit and look up ‘Hamari Well’ on Google Maps. Along that road there are plenty of wonderful, photogenic desert spots. Park on the sand along the side of the street (but take care in this area as cars and lorries do zip up and down the road; and please do not end up in a sandy patch unable to get out! If you look carefully there are more gravelled parts so please use these and be careful). There is no need for off-roading unless your clients are feeling particularly adventurous; remember you have to keep their safety at the forefront of your mind.
The best time of the day is similar to the beach; any time from 4.45pm onwards unless you're feeling particularly bright and breezy and fancy heading out there for sunrise.
The desert is a beautiful spot to capture those big, wide landscape shots, so think about how you fill your frame and look for different angles so that you are challenging yourself to photograph creatively every time. The texture of untouched dunes is just beautiful so try and encourage the family you are photographing to walk around these do that you can use them in your images. Given a vast, empty space, children will most likely run when you all arrive at your shoot, so take a neutral coloured blanket with you to encourage everyone to sit together at the start of your shoot for some more classic portraits.
Having a very open and plain landscape can be a challenge, so rise to it by experimenting with the type of shots you take. Step away, then get in close (a zoom lens would be very handy for desert shoots if you have one). Document movement and then stillness. Look for the light and shade and embrace it all!
Photographing young children that still take naps? Plan with the parents for the children to have their nap in the car on the way to your shoot. Practically this might not be possible but it can be up to a 45 minute drive to the desert so do keep this in mind for families with younger children.
Desert shoots are great….but just not on windy days. Families plus a sandy breeze equals a slight disaster! There is nothing worse than everyone turning up, ready for their shoot and sand whipping up into their eyes and throat (and not to mention inside your camera). As the photographer you want this to go well, so the best thing to do is to head towards your desert spot before the family are due to leave their home. You can usually tell by the time you get to the Town Square / Mira area whether the wind is going to be too strong so that you can make a call on it. Communicate this concern of yours well in advance to your clients and either have either a back up location in mind, or a back up date planned in your diaries.
My absolute favourite place to shoot families is in their homes - where their children are most comfortable, relaxed, normal - where their day to day life happens and where memories are made.
As a photographer it is so refreshing to walk into a new space that you have never seen before. It’s an on-the-spot challenge to use different light, backgrounds, places and spaces within their home to capture the family all together.
When I arrive at a clients home I normally take a quick tour around; at this point I am mainly looking for the brightest rooms in the house to use. I’m looking at window light, colour tones within their rooms, what they have on their walls, where their sofa, bed, chairs are in relation to the window light and quickly coming up with a route map of what could be captured in each space.
I will either start outside or finish outside; depending on the time of the shoot. For example for a morning shoot, we begin in the garden (or nearby park for apartment dwellers) and then head inside; for late afternoon shoots we start inside at around 3pm and then move outside as the sun drops lower in the sky.
During my home shoots I focus on the energy levels of the children that I am photographing; at first they are likely to be full of energy, typically eager to show me around their home and I love to use this to my advantage and make sure I am capturing the family all together at the beginning. A little later into the shoot, the children’s energy or interest in being photographed may wane so that’s when I would help bring the energy down by suggesting some focussed activities such as reading, painting, playing a game, colouring, making pancakes etc.
Considering we live in such an urban, bustling city, we are totally spoilt with beautiful manicured, established parks and outside spaces. Some favourites are Safa, Barsha, Zabeel, Mushrif, Al Khazzan, Umm Sequim….use the weekends with your your own family to go and check them out ahead of time.
Zabeel Park is a favourite for its huge trees and great expansive greenery. The amphitheatre steps entertain children for ages and are a great spot to centre your clients. There are winding pathways that create wonderful leading lines and if you plan your route well you can avoid playgrounds!
Safa Park is another old favourite with so much charm and so many amazing tall (read, photogenic!) trees. The front side of the park tends to be busy especially on weekends, so head to the back of the park to the 'woods' for beautiful autumnal colours. There is a lot to explore here which is great for children.
Let’s talk about ‘green'. Green reflects onto skin with a green tone so if you are sitting your clients on the grass you might want to sit them on a neutral toned blanket instead of directly on the grass. You may also find when editing that you need to desaturate your greens slightly; play around with your hue, saturation and luminance sliders in Lightroom to achieve the tones that you prefer.
Need to get up to speed on Lightroom quickly? We have a course especially for you!
Parks are perfect for shoots at any time of the day because you can easily find shady spots. Make a mental note of where the playgrounds are and actively try and avoid these until you know you have captured the essential moments that you intended. Public parks have defined opening times so be sure to check these in advance. For larger family shoots a park is an ideal place as you don’t have to worry about space or everyone feeling squeezed in; once you find a route that you love you can work with the shade to be more creative with the light; think dappled light, backlight, sun bursts!
Al Qudra Lakes
This is one of the most beautiful places to photograph families with its beautiful tones of pastel greens and blue skies. Head directly to Love Lakes to find many different kinds of backgrounds that you can use to amplify your family portraits.
The only down side to Al Qudra is that it can feel slightly like driving to a festival on the weekends; it is particularly busy from 4pm on Friday and Saturdays so shooting on a weekday is definitely going to be preferable.
If you had planned a desert shoot but the gusts of wind stopped you in your tracks….have a spot in Al Qudra as your backup plan. It’s not quite the same as the tranquillity of the desert, but practically it is nearby and offers shade and protection from sandy gusts of wind. Come and photo walk Al Qudra with me and I will personally show you our favourite spots to photograph clients here!
A note on places that I didn’t include
There are many other popular locations in Dubai for family photoshoots but most of these are private property and involve contacting the location and gaining permission directly. For example, hotels and their private grounds, beach access on the Palm, Burj Plaza, Souk Al Manzil, La Mer, Box Park, City Walk, Al Seef, Bluewaters. As the photographer it is your responsibility to organise and gain permission from the relevant management authorities prior to your shoot date.