Rooftopping and Capturing Fog in Dubai

In September 2016, a very unique opportunity came up – a rooftopping workshop with Daniel Cheong and Dany Eid in Dubai. I did not hesitate for long before signing up and got the first chance to take photographs from the rooftop of the Cayan Tower in Marina, over 70 levels above the ground. The rooftopping session was followed by a practical digital blending workshop led by Daniel Cheong, which complemented my prior knowledge. I highly recommended the workshops of Daniel and Dany. This experience convinced me that I would try to access Dubai rooftops again. I only needed to wait for the right time, hoping to mix the rooftopping opportunity with the occurrence of low dense fog covering buildings in the city.

Dubai Marina from the Cayan Tower
Dubai Marina, JBR and JLT from the Cayan Tower

Jumeirah Lakes Towers from the Cayan Tower
Jumeirah Lakes Towers from the Cayan Tower

When I saw the fog outside my window in early December 2016 I knew it was the moment to flourish. I immediately began the search of recent fog shots through Instagram and started messaging people who posted them. I acted as a complete stranger asking people for their trade secrets. It paid off. I received tremendous help and gathered great contacts among travel bloggers and photographers. They gave me very useful tips and I started the implementation the day after.

Downtown Dubai from DIFC
Dubai Downtown from DIFC

Dubai Downtown Sunrise from Shangri-La Hotel
Dubai Downtown during sunrise from the Shangri-La Hotel

Typically, the phenomenon of the low dense fog covering Dubai in early morning hours occurs twice a year – during the change from the summer to winter and from the winter to summer. In December 2016 we had at least six days when the thick fog appeared, so I could not dream of a better chance to catch it. And I also learnt why these shots were considered elusive the hard way. It involved an endless number of emails and phone calls to go after permissions to book access to good viewing points on specified dates when nobody could be sure in advance the fog would even appear. One day, we managed to get access to the viewing deck of the Shangri-La Hotel in Downtown, which is on the 42nd level. We were present at the location at 5.30AM in the morning as all the weather indicators suggested the fog would be there on that day. It was, but all we could view from the 42nd floor was a complete whiteout, which remained until around 10AM, making our photography session a failure. Between 29th December and 1st January we woke up at around 5AM every morning after carefully checking the weather forecasts the night before. The fog appeared in four consecutive mornings during that period, but there was only one day when it was low enough to allow us to take pictures from a level lower than 70th floor. And we were luckily in the right place at the right time.

Dubai Downtown during sunrise from the Shangri-La Hotel
Dubai Downtown during sunrise from the Shangri-La Hotel

Dubai Downtown from the Shangri-La Hotel
Dubai Downtown from the Shangri-La Hotel


Dubai Downtown from Business Bay in early morning

Sheikh Zayed Road from Level 43
Sheikh Zayed Road from Level 43

‘Fog hunting’ tips: To increase your chances, I would recommend booking a hotel room in the Shangri-La hotel for a couple of days during the fog season, which would give you access to the viewing terrace in the mornings without having to go after the permission. This is what Elia Locardi has done and got spectacular results as the view there is amazing, not only for the fog photography, but also for the nightscapes. Another location that can be accessed is the viewing terrace of Burj Khalifa on 123rd and 124th floors, but visit it only for the sunrise session that is available during the weekends only (it starts at 5.30AM).

Sheikh Zayed Road from Level 43
Sheikh Zayed Road from Level 43

Dubai Downtown from Business Bay
Dubai Downtown from Business Bay

Also, it is important to select the right time of the year. From what I have seen, it is unlikely to experience any fog between May and July. In 2016, there were spectacular foggy mornings in March, April, August, November and December.

Rooftopping locations in Dubai:

  • Burj Khalifa
    I recommend going up to the viewing deck of Burj Khalifa during weekend sunrise sessions (every Friday and Saturday) that start at 5.30AM. The cost of the ticket is 125 AED per person and you will avoid the crowd early in the morning.
  • Cayan Tower (workshops)
    I only had one chance to reach the rooftop of the Cayan Tower during the workshop session with Daniel Cheong and Dany Eid. They continue to offer these workshops, so please check up their website and Facebook page for details.
  • Level 43
    The viewing terrace on 43rd floor is a rooftop sky bar. You might be allowed to use a tripod if you ask their management for permission prior to visiting.
  • Shangri-La Hotel
    If you stay in the hotel, you will have access to the deck on 42nd floor, which offers one of the most spectacular views of Downtown Dubai.

How to predict the fog:

  • Watch the dew point and temperature – when they match, the probability of fog increases. AccuWeather is a good source of data.
  • Humidity should be high. When I experienced fog, it reached 99%.
  • The BBC weather forecast is quite accurate in predicting fog.
  • This phenomenon occurs rarely, but from what I have seen the highest chances are in between October and April. December 2016 was spectacular with at least 7 occurrences in one month.
  • You have to be up very early on the morning. In most cases, the fog will be gone by 8am and can start as early as 3.30am (it once started at 2am and lasted until 8am).
  • The higher you can position yourself the better, preferably above the 60th floor. I experienced foggy mornings when I was at the location on 42nd floor and there was zero visibility with the whole area covered with thick fog.

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