Dubai photographer captures Burj Khalifa like you’ve never seen it

Baber Afzal brings a uniquely visceral and emotional approach to capturing the UAE's architecture and landscapes

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Celebrated skyscrapers, groundbreaking architecture and visionary cityscapes — the UAE's monuments have been captured through many lenses.

However, tonight, photographer, filmmaker and visual artist, Baber Afzal, brings a uniquely visceral and emotional approach to architecture and landscape photography — as part of a new group exhibition at Foundry, Downtown Dubai.

Afzal's work blends the real and ethereal — skyscrapers rise from the clouds, emerge out of shadows and are painted with light, highlighting their significance without overshadowing their surroundings.

Afzal says he uses editing to help align his photos to his vision: pictured here is Burj Al Arab at sunset. Photo:  Baber Afzel

While it’s natural to depend on the scale of the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab or Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to create an impact through an image, Afzal infuses a more nuanced range of emotions to his photos.

“I always tend to pre-visualise my images and how they would turn out before I set out to shoot,” Afzal tells The National.

“Once I’ve locked what I‘ve envisioned, I scout the location and view the possible vantage points to shoot. Once I've shot it, I spend countless hours in post-production to bring it as close as possible to what I had originally envisioned.”

Afzal estimates that his final images are created through a combination of 20 per cent shooting on location and 80 percent in post-production.

Using a range of long-exposure techniques, he attempts to capture the his subjects from different perspectives and angles. He then experiments with various blending and compositing methods in post-production to align the image with his vision.

Afzal is showcasing his work at Gallery 4 in an exhibition titled The Future Past at The Foundry in Downtown, until October 30. Photo: Baber Afzal

“In some instances, I capture the perfect moment and enhance it, while in other cases, I enhance the surroundings to create the perfect moment,” Afzal says.

His career as a photographer began by chance. In 2007, while living in Islamabad, Pakistan, he decided to document a family road trip to the Margalla Hills with his sister’s Sony Cybershot camera.

“The light felt so clear that day,” he says, inviting him to capture the landscape and the spend the time needed to edit the images. "It made me fall in love with that process.”

Afzal hasn’t stopped working since. After purchasing a Canon 450D, he first photographed a dramatic sunset at Jumeirah beach. Since then, he’s captured more popular landmarks in Dubai as they exist, implementing his on-site and post-production techniques.

Dubai resident and photographer Baber Afzal uses a combination of on-site shooting and post-production techniques to create surreal images of the UAE. Photo: Baber Afzal

His range of work, particularly where Burj Khalifa is the subject, show Dubai's most recognisable landscapes through a different view.

“From an architectural perspective, it’s the way Dubai and the UAE have been designed and envisioned that makes them so photogenic,” he says. “I want people to not only be wowed by how stunning the cityscapes look, but to be taken aback by how far Dubai has come.”

Afzal's images of the UAE are the subject of his latest exhibition, The Future Past, at Gallery 4 in Foundry in Downtown.

Reflecting on the images, he says: “This series of visuals in this exhibition have been over 10 years in the making.”

“They highlight iconic perspectives of Dubai’s cityscape and how it has evolved over time since 2010. The ever-changing landscape of Dubai has also made it impossible to recapture the same cityscape again due to new skyscrapers that have come into existence. This makes some of the artworks one-of-a-kind”

These new works will also exist as NFTs, available for purchase through Afzal’s website.

Baber Afzal's The Future Past is showing at Gallery 4 in the Foundry Downtown Dubai until October 30.

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