Outside Ghubaiba station

Photo walk: Learning to use the lenses

Outside Ghubaiba station

I was out and about in Deira and Bur Dubai last weekend for my first photo walk with Helen Shippey, a Dubai based photographer whom I’ve ‘met’ and became friends with in social media. We bumped into each other on our visit to Al Tamimi stables. Lovely person online, lovelier person offline.

Each of the participants of the photo walk had their own goals in joining but mine was to familiarize myself with using the two lenses I have.

The photo walk started at the abra station at the Bur Dubai side and at around 3:30 pm when all the participants gathered, we took the abra (a small motorboat that crosses the creek) to the Deira side.

abras at the creek

This old side of Dubai is a treasure trove of photo opportunities, that’s why I joined this photo walk. I’ve been here so many times and had taken a lot of photos in the past but never when I was alone – just me and my camera. It’s always with family so all my photos are ‘chance’ photos, taken during child chasing breaks.

abra at the creek

I took the two lenses that I bought recently: my Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens and Nikon 35mm prime lens. I was excited to take these babies out and looking forward to the outcome.

Crossing the creek presents a wonderful opportunity to take photos of these small moving motor boats. I attached the bigger wide angle lens and started to click away.

abra at Dubai creek

abra at Dubai creek


I think I have taken lots and lots of photos of abras so I wanted something different. Like, take close up shots of people, for example.There are so many interesting characters in Dubai – from that abra driver who manipulates his motor boat day in and day out, to that Pakistani guy peeking through an old wooden boat that carries cargo between UAE and Iran, to that local girl sitting all by herself, nothing but her eyes seen under that burqa at the courtyard of the old spice market to the very aggressive (and at times annoying) spice and what nots vendors in Deira souk.

However, many do not like their photos taken, so we’re restricted to take photos of scenes and things (but one must be careful not to take photos of locals in the background, especially ladies, without their permissison!).

spice souq

I learned a lot during the two hour photo walk session. One is that I need more practice, especially with using the new lenses. Which appropriate lens to use, under which available (light) circumstances, etc.

And I learned that there are things which shouldn’t be taken with a 10-20mm wide angle lens: buildings up close. The image distortion is dizzying. I know this lens is great for wide landscape to “get the bigger picture” so it’s certainly not for buildings and cramped spaces.

It would work for these.

abras at the creek

abras at the creek

But not for these!

wide lens distortion

Oh God, no.

wide lens distortion

Vertigo, anyone?

wide angle distortion

I am still playing around with the depth of field of the 35mm prime lens and happy with the result but could be wonderful to take a face of a person against a nice backdrop!

depth of field

I also learned that it’s not easy to keep on changing lenses…moments could escape you easily. But I would still insist you get a prime lens.

A big bonus of using prime lenses is that they’re usually ‘faster’. This means they have a larger maximum aperture, which enables quicker shutter speeds. ‘Faster’ lenses aren’t just good for avoiding camera-shake and freezing the action in dull lighting conditions, another big advantage is that you can get a much tighter depth of field, enabling you to isolate the main point of interest in a shot by blurring the background.

Additional read: What is a prime lens and why use one?

I didn’t take too many pictures during the photo walk as much as I expected I would. I am not sure why, maybe because I am too familiar with the place that I got used to it and suddenly, they weren’t that “picture-worthy” enough for me or I was just discouraged with some of the photos taken with my wide angle lens – it’s not a bad lens, it was just not apt for crowded places like the Deira souk, I suppose. I also felt I can’t capture some scenes perfectly using the more restrictive 35mm prime…which brings me to realize I might need a more flexible lens like the Nikon 24-70mm  (someone stop me from this lens obsession!! This is an expensive hobby!!).

The 24-70mm is a versatile lens can be used for many different kinds of photography needs – from wide-angle landscapes and panoramas, to portraits and events. Why didn’t I buy it? IT IS EXPENSIVE!!

Back to the photo walk…

rule of thirds

Helen also talked about composition. Composition is the pleasant arrangement of elements within a frame which give the most powerful ability to attract the eye, and to keep it exploring within the frame for as long as possible. That’s why I didn’t take too many photos because I felt, simply feeling that there is a picture to be made, and just snapping away from wherever I’m standing, is the best way to take bad pictures. I didn’t want to ask myself later “What was I thinking?”

Again, maybe too much familiarity of the place might have put me off into going into a clicking frenzy.  Maybe when I choose to join another photo walk, it would be a place new to me so I can see it with fresh eyes and hopefully find more interesting things to shoot.

I walked with Helen towards the Metro station when the session ended and we stopped to see the sun just setting in the horizon. I was too lazy to take out my SLR and used my iPhone and put “composition” into action. I like how this turned out and glad we stopped by to take this shot. And this is one of the important things she pointed out during the photo walk: to stop and look for beauty wherever you are and then capture it.


*photo taken with an iPhone 5, filter added via Instagram app*

It was quite a tiring day, but fun nevertheless. Helen is very warm and welcoming and open to all questions about photography. You can connect with her through Twitter and Instagram or follow the Shippey Photography Facebook page for updates about future photo walks.

All photos taken using Nikon D5300 unless otherwise stated.

Playing tourists in Dubai

creek boats

Back from the two day weekend and I am so tanned, exhausted but happy to have toured around Dubai and Abu Dhabi, proudly pointing the this and that that puts Dubai (and Abu Dhabi) in the map to our guest who came all the way from Japan. One of the best things about having guest come over to visit us in Dubai is being able to become tourists ourselves.

Reconnect with the city.

Stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

We were excited – the last we have done this was way in the year 2009 but days leading up to our guest’s arrival, we were asking ourselves, where will we take him? Where will we have our lunch? Fancy, local themed dinners? Is the beach good enough at this weather? Where are the places that would excite a tourist?

Expat or not, it’s very to get lost in the mundane of everyday life. We are on our 8th year in Dubai and suddenly, the city that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors just became “normal” for us. Biggest malls, tallest building this and that, they all became bleh.

Nothing shocks us anymore.

But we ultimately made up a plan, a simple itinerary. The weather is leaning towards hellish summer already and we do not want our guest to get too exhausted. After picking up our friend from his hotel, we drove to a part where he can see the lineup of buildings on Sheikh Zayed road. We drove up to Ras Al Khor, near the bird sanctuary. Yeah we got a good view of Dubai’s skyscrapers but there must be better places. Do you know which ones?

Next we drove to the beach. Nagano, Japan, where our friend lives is still cold. We were sure he would welcome this wholeheartedly.

burj al arab beach

I know I did. When I saw the water, I wish I could stay and swim. It was perfect. The water temperature was perfect (it was a bit cold when we went to the beach at Ras Al Khaimah a couple of weeks ago). It was lovely digging through the soft, velvety warm sand .


We drove out on an early Friday morning and what a joy. It’s like we owned the roads. Our friend was overwhelmed at the great weather – it was a bit hot last Friday but there was breeze and the cloudless blue sky! He says we’re lucky to enjoy a weather like this. And we thought, yes! See, sometimes someone has to point out the good things for us to re-realize the good things about living in Dubai

peaceful friday

Looking up at the sky, we also needed to explain what this gigantic golf ball is doing on top of this building! This is the Etisalat building, a telecommunications company owned by the government. All Etisalat buildings have this golf ball like thing at the top. My husband said it’s actually an antenna.

It was picturesque Madinat Jumeirah next. I never get tired of this view. It’s like our little Venice in Dubai, always picture perfect, all throughout the year.

Madinat Jumeirah

Souk Madinat Jumeirah was quiet and empty on an early Friday morning, probably the best time to be there so you can take a lot of photos without people getting in the way (if you prefer it that way, of course).

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

souk madinat jumeirah 2

Our guest has a desert safari booking with pick up at 3:30 pm so we really didn’t have time to explore everything. But we have to include a little tour of old Dubai. My husband dropped me and our guest at the Bur Dubai side of the creek, at the textile souk. The textile souk was bustling with shoppers even if it was Friday. I found it amusing when the sellers are blurting out their best Japanese language greetings towards us. They probably learned in the streets, dealing with tourists every single day for years on stretch. Or they could have Googled.  

textile souk

We didn’t buy anything at the textile souk but went on towards the abra station to cross the creek to the gold souk…but first, let me get my coconut water. Years of living in Dubai and I have not tried to buy my coconut water from these local shop vendors selling fresh coconuts (from India/Sri Lanka). Shame. 

coconut water

After drinking all the coconut water, I requested the man to cut open my coconut. Who would want to waste that coconut meat? I have to have it! It was nice and reminded me of my time in Thailand and in the Philippines.

It was time for our abra ride. (We wanted to go to Dubai Museum but it was closed on Friday morning too)


I took this video in 2010. Nothing has changed, it’s the same scene when crossing the creek. And the fare to cross the creek is still the same at 1 dirham. This is how it looks like.

Our guest was thrilled. I could tell from the expression of his face.


We safely crossed the creek to the gold souk, passing this green mosque.

green mosque

There were more shops closed than open at the gold souk. The place will only pick up by afternoon, around 4 pm on a Friday. 

And then it was lunch time, after looking at dining options, we decided to go to Gazebo Restaurant at Deira City Center. Gazebo is a popular Indian restaurant we really love and we’ve taken friends and guests here and all of them loved it. Our guest will have Arabic fare at the desert safari camp that night so we didn’t have Arabic themed lunch.

We took our friend to the desert safari pick up point and wish him good luck. I’ve been to desert safari three times and the last one was terrible. It involved involuntary projectile vomiting. Sorry, TMI.

Playing tourists in our own city was actually fun. It made us see the little things we otherwise ignored , it makes us see Dubai in new eyes, as others see it. Day 1 done, a longer day on Day 2 to Abu Dhabi!

Check out my old posts in 2009 about Wandering around Dubai like a tourist part 1: Dubai city tour and desert safari, part 2: Trip to the Springs community and part 3: The Souks.

Crossing Dubai creek by Abra

I needed to go the ‘other side’ of Dubai – other side with reference to where I work and live, that is. Dubai is divided into two areas by a natural water inlet called The Dubai Creek: Deira (old Dubai) and Bur Dubai side (new Dubai).

I needed to go near Bur Dubai bus station where car parking is almost non-existent and weekday traffic classically a nightmare. What I did was take a bus to the abra water taxi station in Deira Old Souk and rode the tradional wooden boat called “abra” to cross the creek.

Here’s the current abra route map, from the RTA website (click to enlarge, if you’re interested):

abra route

It’s November already so the weather is nice. It was a great ride, I even took a video while on it.

The ride lasted but less than 10 minutes and costs 1 dhs (US$0.27) one way.

Riding an abra while in Dubai is not to be missed – it’s a great break from all that huge commercial malls and other touristy stuff. However, note that there are no safety provisions in that small wooden motor boat other than a mere couple of round orange life saving devices for 20 people on board. No seat belts, no individual life jackets!

God forbid – I can’t swim so I make sure to befriend the person beside me, especially if he looks like a swimmer. I mean, he must be!

Wandering around Dubai like a real tourist: Day 3, The Souks


Today, I am to accompany my friend at the Riviera Hotel. I chose this hotel for her because of its proximity to the Gold, Textile and Spice Souks (Souk is an arabic term for market) and of course because of the superb breakfast. The hotel rate isn’t bad either.


We left home at 11 am and got on a taxi to take us to the hotel. Our room is not ready yet so we left our things and walked to the Gold Souk. We took the back street where the alleys were a little bit dirty – with small stores and saleman calling out “Pashiminas, madam” or “Pure silk, from Kashmir!”

My friend grabbed my elbow and said,

“This is not the Dubai that is in the guide books!”

Well, that’s point of this tour! I love to take my guests to the less hyped parts of Dubai. The less opulent, more of the old Dubai part of Dubai, to the streets that represents the rest of the population other than the rich, luxurious expats in Jumeirah.

The original gold market still glitters.



Yellow gold is not all the color that you can see in Gold Souk. I find this green mosque fascinating.


I took a bigger photo of it sometime in 2007:


Spice souk:


After almost going blind looking at all the gold at the gold souk and getting dizzy with the spice scents, we took an Abra ride to cross the Dubai creek to reach the Textile Souk.


Abras are traditional small, wooden boats used to cross Dubai creek. It costs 1 dirham (USD27 cents) each person, one way. I say it’s not only a very cheap means of transportation, it is a very cheap way to learn a lot about the culture and way of life in Dubai. But of course you wouldn’t find the rich Western expats and their families getting on Abras everyday – just lots and lots of Indian/Pakistani men!

To get on an Abra, you need to go to the Abra Station. In Deira area, there are two stations, one near the Spice/Gold Souk and the other one near Riviera Hotel/ Deira Twin Towers. On the opposite side, there are two stations as well: one near the textile souk and the other one near Bur Dubai bus station.

The Abra station is bustling with activity from early in the morning until late at night. One suggestion: you might need to bring a handkerchief to cover your nose as the fumes from the motors are quite strong (and irritating to some allergy prone people, I suppose).


We made it to the textile souk after the abra ride. You can find everything in the textile souk, not just textiles. There are shawls, shoes, carpets, belly dancing costumes, undies, souvenirs and shirts going at $1.

My female companion couldn’t resist but she insisted that it was the shoes calling out to her and she was helpless!




These shoes are beautiful, all right, but I don’t really know how, when and where she can wear the 5 pairs she bought (when she goes back to Japan)!


I have to cut Day 3 short and put part two in the next post. Next up, is a tour of Dubai Museum, our Dhow Dinner Cruise, a separation anxiety and the headache of the year!

You can read about Day 1 & Day 2 if you are in the mood for armchair travelling.

more on Dubai Creek

There are lots of things to see along Dubai creek. By the creek is where you can catch a glimpse of old Dubai. We got on an abra with everyone else and headed over to the spice souq and gold souq.

This is what an abra looks like:

abra passengers

~for 1 dirham (less than US$1), you can get on an abra and cross the creek~

Bur Dubai side of the creek

Most of the passengers in an abra are men so females might feel a little bit uneasy but I can guarantee, they never bite! Crossing the creek in the primitive way unless of course you want to swin across was a great experience for us – –  least there were no traffic compared to when crossing Maktoum Bridge! (We were in another abra when taking the above photo)

Another charmer along Dubai creek: 

The National Bank of Dubai building, situated near the creek is a unique structure. Its wall finishing reflects the water, making it look like a large LCD television.

National Bank of Dubai

~afternoon in the creek~

I’ll be posting more about the creek while we discover bits and bits of it in the coming weekends. Don’t get bored of the creek photos!

You can find other Dubai creek posts I wrote here and here.