It all started with an email.
Dear Anna, I got your contact from Annett N. because I have to organize a photoshoot in Dubai, said an email that I received on 18th of January 2019. I have never met Annett, nor the person who sent me this email, so I was scratching my head in confusion upon opening it. The next line of the email proclaimed “I have been trying to organize this shooting for 6 months, but I have failed”.
Sounds quite dramatic already, doesn’t it?
“The working methods and formalities of working in the Middle East” were apparently so different from German ones, that there wasn’t any options for my sender, but failure.
Lastly, she was wondering if I would have time and desire to organize a shooting of a Container Truck in Dubai with her.
I honestly thought it must have been some kind of elaborated scam, since I didn’t have a track record of shooting Container Trucks, did not know Annett, and rather wondered why would someone inquire about my desire to shoot a truck… so I did the next reasonable thing to be done – used Google to search for the names mentioned in the letter. There seemed to be real people working in a very real German office, so my curiosity took over and I asked the lady from the Hamburg office what was the reason for her struggles and failure.
Do It For the 2020 Corporate Calendar
Turned out they did several container trucks’ photoshoots in the streets of major European and American cities for their yearly calendar.
But when it comes to Dubai, you obviously can’t just drive a truck around Burj Khalifa without any permits. For all you know, the container trucks are not allowed on those roads at all. As well as performing a photoshoot of such an event.
However, I felt her pain and decided to make the impossible happen just once again (as I always try to do for each one of my clients), and embarked on a journey of collecting the list of all permits required for this shoot to materialize. On top of a permit for each of the locations, we had to have a police representative with us, who would have to ensure the safety of traffic in the area.
Finally, with the help of a media company, we drafted a quotation for the shoot. The price of the services was eye-watering, and the photographer’s fee was honestly the cheapest out of them. But if they wanted this shoot to happen, there wasn’t any other options or shortcuts… so we finally agreed to proceed.
Shooting in Summer?
By this time July just started in Dubai, and I told my new German friends, that thought summer might sound like a lovely season in their part of the world, it definitely isn’t in ours… and on top the overheating conditions for all of us involved in this shoot, there is a possibility that we won’t be seeing the lovely lady Burj Khalifa in the background at all because of that summer haze (that we know oh so well by living in this city summer after summer).
Germans weren’t convinced and wanted the shoot to be happening, for which I had to put my foot down and tell them that they would be wasting their money unless we waited a couple of months. Back and forth, we have finally agreed to move this shoot forward to October.
For the record, I have to say that usually working with Germans, you’d imagine them being super-organized and on point for the planning part, however this wasn’t exactly the case with the people involved in my shoot. I tried to confirm the dates with them in September, and didn’t get any answer until the last week of October. November 2019 turned out to be such a busy month for me (I worked 26 days without any time off), so we struggled to fit the shoot in, but finally it was to be happening on 22-23rd of November.
Imagine, it took so long since January to arrange and confirm the dates. Then I didn’t hear a word from my German lady since 14th of November, until finally, 22nd of November an email found me well to inform me that she was now in Dubai.
Remember, 22 of November
I woke up that morning not knowing if there was going to be any shoot happening, but packed my bag and went to our meeting point anyway.
The plan was simple – the Container truck would be driving through Downtown Dubai three times followed by a car with the photographer, followed by the police escort, followed by the location manager with the company representative.
Upon my arrival to the location, I was glad to at least find the truck there. Along with the truck, there was a Nissan Sunny with an angry Jordanian guy drinking karak and smoking a few too many cigarettes for the time of the day situation. The weather was beautiful and rather chilly – it had been raining the whole week previously, but luckily the sky was clear and blue that morning.
In a moment, a Toyota Prado showed up with our magical permit to documents any kind of unspeakable things we wanted to do with this truck in the mentioned locations. Out of nowhere, the cheerful German lady appeared, totally starstruck by the magnificence of Downtown Dubai and generally having no clue as of what to expect out of this fabulous gathering. Finally, Mr Policeman also made an appearance and we could proceed to the execution of our vague plan.
On the technical side of things, I decided to shoot with 17-40mm lens mostly at 17 to include a lot of buildings in the scene. And though it would have been cool to try and shoot some rolling shots, I just couldn’t afford to miss a shot while trying to balance on roof of a corvette C6 driven by the loyal supporter of these shenanigans.
- The shutter speed was set to 1/400 of a second to keep things sharp, even higher when we had to drive faster.
- My aperture was F8 to keep the background sharp.
- I tried to keep the ISO in the manual range too, but there was too many “now we are in the shadows, now we are against the sun” so I put it to Auto.
- Another important point is to remember to use the polarizing filter for a shoot like this one, because of the sun reflection on the truck. In certain angles you wouldn’t have been able to read the name of the company at all without this filter. It is a big shiny metal box in the end.
With the Police Sirens
Having a police guy with you is quite helpful in case you suddenly lose your truck when it takes a wrong turn at the traffic light… then you get the full value-for-your-money-spent on the law enforcement support and can zoom through any traffic with the flashes of the siren to get back on track. But somehow it is also quite addictive, and you don’t want to be driving anywhere without the lovely support of the officer in the red shoes.
Though in the beginning our Policeman was quite gloomy and didn’t say much, showing boredom towards our whole shoot, after he executed a few power moves and blocked a bunch of traffic for us, he started to enjoy participation in the action and even suggested we go shoot next to the Zabeel Palace with the Downtown View.
Where Germany meets the Middle Eastern Mentality…
The Jordanian location manager, Khaled, while relentlessly motoring his Nissan Sunny with all the 4 windows open, found it necessary to enlighten the free ears of our German PR representative with 37 years of his life experience in the UAE, to tell her everything there was to tell about Dubai and the local life, showering her with saucy details and the unavoidable cigarette smoke.
We also had walkie-talkies to communicate to each other, which worked 60% of the time, but regardless of that, the truck driver was probably the most disciplined and organized participant of this whole adventure. He tirelessly changed lanes and sped up and slowed down to the amount of the requests he could hear on the “radio”.
By midday, we all got properly sunburnt, windswept, adrenalined to the height of Burj Khalifa, with a thousand of shots to look through, so we decided to call it a day.
The plan for the second day was to start off with the “Truck Driving Through The Desert” shots, and then move to shoot the Meydan Bridge Part.
Day 2 of The Big Truck Adventure – The Mighty Desert
You probably noticed that the Dubai city has expanded in the recent years, taking over the surrounding desert, and we now have to drive further and further away in search for a picturesque dune.
Our shoot was planned to be happening on the “Bab al Shams” road. Today, it is “infested” with cyclists of all types and kinds, but in 2019 it wasn’t yet as bad. However, another “problem” we ran into was that the desert there have become quite full of greenery due to frequent rains in the region.
Our German friends wanted that deserty desert of Liwa type, great big dunes, no plants, no road lamps, no electrical pylons, but we only had a permit to shoot in Dubai, so we had to do with what was available – the Al Qudra desert.
That morning, everyone was mostly on time apart from the Police Representative. For this location we didn’t really need him, but I am glad we had him as he was quite an amusing addition to our shoot: trying to teach the German Lady some Arabic words and racing with my husband his Police BMW versus our Corvette. We’re still in touch, as he likes to send me religious sheikhs inspirational talks at 2 am from time to time.
Get Off My Bridge!
The next location was to be the epic and the marvelous Meydan Bridge – the sunset spot. We have arrived quite in advance of sunset and had time for some selfies, ritual dances with a tripod, and other kind of nonsensical activities to keep us warm since it was quite windy up there. As it was progressively getting darker, we had more and more influences and wanna-be vloggers showing up and getting into our shots, but this is where the beauty of having a police support on site shines in full power. At my request, all of those undesired elements were kicked out and we were left with our moment of glory – the golden hour into the blue hour truck shots on the bridge.
If you ever tried to capture Dubai sunset, you are probably aware that instead of the “hour” which is supposed to be golden and blue, we literally have about 15 to 20 minutes until full darkness. No time to bum around, time to work.
So that’s the photo that made it into all screen-savers of the infamous transportation company shot with passion and desire, if you wish.
Unlikely you ever imagined that a shoot of one truck would turn into such an adventure, but these are the kind of shoots I live for. Otherwise life would be awfully boring.
If you enjoyed this story, consider reading about my adventure to the Edge of the Wolrd in the Mighty Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or My Insights on Creativity during 2020 lock-down.
Thank you and don’t forget to subscribe to read more stories in the future.
P.S. ah yes, there is the second-second part of this story about how I went to shoot portraits in their office. Let me know if you’d like to read about that as well.