City Night Lights

Capture ever changing cities by Beno Saradzic

Multi-award winning Beno Saradzic is a Slovenia-born time-lapse cinematographer, photographer and visual artist who is currently based in Dubai, UAE. Following 18 years as a 3D computer animation specialist, he started exploring new creative avenues in 2008, which led him to discover the worlds of photography and time-lapse cinematography.

Dozens of his photographs and time-lapse films have featured across local and international media and publications. His work is recognised for its use of light and composition, drawing strong influences from the classics of cinema and traditional art, and is defined by his love for architecture, engineering, science and the beauty of nature.

We spoke to him about shooting his current hometown and how to capture the many faces of a changing city.

Shooting Abu Dhabi from fresh vantage points

As a passionate cityscape photographer, I’m always on the lookout for fresh and exciting vantage points. In most cases, this takes me to the rooftops of the tallest skyscrapers I can access. So I was really excited when I saw the incredibly tall towers of the World Trade Center in Abu Dhabi when they started constructing them.

The shorter of the two, Trust Tower, has 60 floors and rises 278m. The taller one, named Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid is the tallest building in the capital of the UAE. It has 92 floors and rises to a dizzying 381m.

I knew there were no balconies on these towers where I could shoot from in the future. The only way to shoot was to get on top when both structures topped-out, but before they were glass-clad. My aim was to shoot with a clear and unobstructed view from the highest vantage points in the town in order to show Abu Dhabi the way no one had seen it before.

Gaining access

Gaining access to the construction site of a skyscraper of course wasn’t easy; I used all of my connections and contacts in the construction and architecture fields and after a good week of phone calls and emails, I got my exclusive date at the peak of Abu Dhabi. I couldn’t be more excited.

An amazing shoot

The first shoot happened on the evening of 28th March 2011, at the tip of Trust Tower on the 60th Floor. I’ve lived for decades in Abu Dhabi and I’ve never seen it from such an altitude.

The vibrancy of the neon colours, the mad rush of traffic through the commercial district, the crazy density of the built-up area and the militant order of the urban planning really left an impression on me. I should also mention the high winds and cold night while I was shooting. I thought my ears, nose and fingers were going to break and fall off. What an amazing night!

The ultimate weather conditions

Any UAE based photographer knows about the elusive and mysterious fog which makes its appearance once or twice a year. It forms in the desert at night and rolls towards the shore in the early morning, swallowing the city on its way before disappearing momentarily with the warmth of the morning sun.

This fog is very dense when it lands and it causes a lot of problems at the airports and on the roads, but for cityscape photographers, it is the ultimate weather condition. I had planned to capture the city submerged in fog for a long time but always without luck. Either I’d have the permit to shoot from the rooftop when the fog was nowhere to be seen, or I’d be stuck in it on the ground when I didn’t have the permit to access the roofs. My luck finally smiled on me on 24th Jan 2013 at sunrise when I captured Abu Dhabi as the fog rolled onto its streets. I snapped it from the 92nd Floor of Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid and it was worth all the effort and pain that went into its planning and execution.

To date, this remains my absolute favourite cityscape photograph

Capturing different sides of the city

Both photographs are taken from nearly identical vantage points, yet captured at different dates and times, they show entirely different faces of the same city; its dynamic, pulsating, vibrant side and its sleepy, dreamy if not surreal one. All it takes to see the city with two diametrically opposing characters is to catch it by surprise. Usually, this means getting up early in the morning, while everyone is still sleeping

I remember looking up the tower from the walkways and not being able to see the tip of the building. I thought to myself: "this better be worth it".

Getting the shots

Shooting from construction sites, especially from skyscrapers is very challenging. I was subjected to tight security and safety measures imposed by the construction company and that was long after all other formalities have been cleared.

I had to follow-up weather forecasts on a daily basis, several times a day in order to plan the potentially foggy conditions and then coordinate those with my shooting access.

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Coming next: Seeing the world without a viewfinder.

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