Abu Dhabi, UAE
We are very grateful to Mirjana DeLaey, Executive Producer at Abu Dhabi Media Zone, for helping us organize our production and trip to the United Arab Emirates from start to finish.
She and her colleagues not only offered help and support in obtaining location permits, but also with the entire logistics for the production and crew during our stay in the UAE. She was our producer for over 2 weeks full time, and even after our shooting, Mirjana continued working with us over 2 months to the very end ensuring the material goes live, all in the spirit of our project, so that everyone around the globe can enjoy the sights of the UAE.
Of the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, on an island just a few hundred meters from the UAE main land, lies the island-city of Abu Dhabi, surrounded by many other islands that are just a bridge away. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the emirate of Abu Dhabi and the capital of the United Arab Emirates, as well as the political, industrial, commercial and cultural center of the country.
The main part of the city life is concentrated on the northern side of the island where several street blocks flow out into the Corniche, an 8 km-long picturesque waterfront. It contains almost all of the city's beachfront hotels, numerous shopping centers, cafes, restaurants, parks, children's play areas and fountains. Corniche beach holds a prestigious Blue Flag — an award given to beachfront vacation spots where the water and other conditions meet the highest standards.
One of the main landmarks on that waterfront is the luxurious five-star hotel, Emirates Palace. It is a magnificent building with 114 domes that light up at night with changing colors, and enormous greens and gardens along with a kilometer-long private beach. The hotel totals 394 rooms with the biggest room measuring 680 square meters. Tourists often visit the lobby to admire the riches of the hotel: the 13 different kinds of marble brought over from Italy, Spain, China and India, 1002 Swarovski chandeliers, and other items of luxury.
The City's waterfront has many gigantic skyscrapers that thrill visitors with their size and architectural forms. Among the most known Abu Dhabi landmarks are the Etihad Towers. In this complex of five towers that range in height from 217 to 305 meters lie luxurious apartments, offices and one more hotel from Jumeirah Group luxury hotels company, named Jumeira @ Etihad Towers.
Although often compared to Dubai, Abu Dhabi is making an impression on its own as a cultural capital of the UAE. The Cultural District on Saadiyat island will soon be the home to Louvre Abu Dhabi, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Zaeyd National Museum, Performing Arts Centre and other cultural institutions.
One of the most important historic landmarks of Abu Dhabi is Qasr Al Hosn, the first fortress of the Abu Dhabi rulers, which was built in 1793. It served as a primary residence for the emirate government until 1966, and after two decades it was opened up to the public. Qasr al Hosn is also called "White Tower", which is not exactly correct because its pure white coloring was acquired after the reconstruction at the end of the last century.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque one of the largest mosques in the world, named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is also located in Abu Dhabi. It was built in 2007. There are four minarets in the four corners of the mosque that are 107 meters tall. The outside row of the main building is covered in 82 domes decorated with white marble, and the inside courtyard is decorated with colored marble. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, with an overall area of 5,627 sq. meters, has a capacity for forty thousand worshippers.
Emiratis are known for their love of high speed and expensive cars, so where else, if not in Abu Dhabi, would they open a theme park called Ferrari World. It's the largest indoor theme park in the world. Another record maker is the Formula Rossa ride. It is a roller coaster that reaches the speed of 240 kilometers per hour in only 5 seconds.
Ferrari World, as well as Yas Marina Circuit — the Formula 1 speed track, is located on a man-made island called Yas. Over the legendary race track, is the Yas Viceroy Hotel with its amazing LED grid shell roof. The F1 racetrack runs around and even under the hotel allowing its visitors to watch the race from the bridge lounge running across the racetrack or even from their room.
And, of course, one cannot fail to mention the weather in Abu Dhabi: it is one of the hottest cities in the world. There is almost no precipitation there, temperatures in the summer can reach +50°C, and in the winter it stays at about +25°C. Because of this, during summer months it is far more enjoyable to view the sights of Abu Dhabi on our aerial photo panoramas in the comfort of your own home and plan your visit for the winter time.
Photographing Dubai is always a pleasure. Everything about it is crystal clear and straightforward: here's the tallest building in the world; there's Marina, and then there's The Palm, the sail-shaped hotel and several clusters of high-rises within an old city and several beaches...
It is very easy to find time for a photo session in Dubai. Dubai is one of the world’s biggest airport hubs so if you are flying to Australia, for instance, make sure to buy tickets with a stopover in Dubai; and just like that you will have a couple of days at your disposal — A couple of days to take nice walks and do a little shopping and flying (if the weather permits).
By now, I've already flown above the city by helicopter twice, and our website has published two tours. Yet, this type of photography does not allow the photographer to capture everything in detail, to study elements, or to go down below and come out from between structures.
It would be more convenient to go there with our drone (a radio-controlled helicopter). However, considering the fact that I was not allowed to open even the helicopter window without a paper from the police, we assumed that our flying device would definitely arise interest and objections from the local authorities and security services.
Therefore, when we finally planned to photograph Dubai and Abu-Dhabi with the drone, we asked World Wide Web for help with obtaining the required permits.
To our relief, several people responded to our cry for help. One of them was Mirjana, who was working as a media producer in a large media company in Abu-Dhabi. She was key to organizing our shooting in the UAE –making sure every piece of the puzzle / paper is in place.
In the beginning, we had no idea how big of a puzzle it was — it took us many hours to fill out all the applications, determine exact shooting locations perimeters, provide specifications of our equipment. All the papers were submitted, all payments made and passports scanned long in advance. And we did not know if we would get the permits for shooting until the last minute. The joyful message arrived right before our flight: We got lucky! We did receive the permit to photograph Dubai! However, as Dubai shooting locations are strictly divided in several categories, with different and some very high fees to pay, our permits were for photographing in public places, which is a rather limited number of locations.The rest was a matter of organization: Mirjana would pick us up before dawn, we would choose a starting point of shooting, and then we would shoot, shoot and then shoot again.
It was disappointing that the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, is not considered a public place; so we could not fly our drone around and above its musical fountains at the base of the building. The cost of the permits to photograph Burj Khalifa is several thousands of US$ per day, Burj Al Arab, the sail-shaped hotel, charges about the same amount of money for photographing at its location.
It is strikingly different from the reception of our crew in the adjacent emirate of Abu-Dhabi, where we were not only allowed to photograph the best hotels and locations, such as the Emirates Palace and Etihad Towers, but we were also offered to stay in these hotels so that we could plunge into the atmosphere and later share our photographs.
Abu-Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and it has completely different feel from Dubai. Firstly it is an island-city and it is a planned city – with a grid street system, just like Manhattan, it is very easy to navigate around it. Abu Dhabi main island is surrounded by many little islands that are being developed into amazing new industry specific quarters – cultural district, business district…. Being a capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi has numerous palaces and governmental institutions around the city, which explains the vigilant security. In fact, at any moment, someone important can be flying by in a helicopter.
According to the procedures described in our permit, we were required to request a corridor from aviation dispatchers for each takeoff. We have never experienced anything like this before. Our shooting locations were predetermined and logged in the air traffic systems well in advance. We would dial the "tower", give our coordinates, and ask for a certain altitude. We would be given permission to fly for 10-15 minutes, or we would be asked to wait and call back while somebody of importance would fly by not too far away. Once we get go-ahead, we would launch our drone and do some photo shooting. Then, the corridor would be closed in the same manner: with a phone call to a tower.
We were very excited about having a wonderful opportunity to shoot all over Abu Dhabi with almost no restrictions. The only exception was the outstandingly beautiful, snow-white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We did not get aerial permit but we were allowed to shoot it from the ground. So I came back several times there to see it in every light of the day and spent a considerable amount of time admiring this work of art and trying to capture its beauty in the panoramic photos. Now that our photos are published, we see how much of the charm the portrait of Abu Dhabi looses and we hope that we will be given the privilege to film Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in its entire beauty next time we are in the UAE.
The Emirates is a great, vibrant, wondrous country — people are relaxed and friendly, the standard of living there is rather high. They build majestic cities with unusual buildings, make man-made islands, create convenient conditions for business, and ensure safety. These two cities that we had a pleasure to visit, Abu-Dhabi and Dubai, are definitely aspired for greatness in the future.
Filming in Abu Dhabi and in the UAE was great collaborative effort of numerous authorities, companies and media enthusiasts. AirPano team is very grateful to all for their kindness, perseverance and support.
We would like to express our special thanks to the UAE authorities and media companies:
— National Media Council
— Ministry of Interior
— Ministry of Defense
— Ministry of Presidential Affairs
— General Civil Aviation Authority
— Department of Transport
— twofour54 — Abu Dhabi Media and Entertainment Hub
— The Media Company — one of the fastest growing media production companies in the Emirates
and our most sincere appreciation and gratitude to our Emirates production crew: Mohammad Fathii, Ahmed Al Kaabi and Mirjana DeLaey for making this production possible.
Photo and text by Stas Sedov and Dmitry Moiseenko
3 September 2014