All Eyes on Abu Dhabi is a story in DestinAsian where a guy named Chris Hill spent ten years dreaming of Abu Dhabi and finally made it. You, however, do not want to wait another second to do the same because DestinAsian magazine has lured you away from your comfy old homestead and dropped you straight into a desert, one with a wilderness of windswept sands that whisper your name and a view of the city’s shimmering lights and stunning architecture.
This desert has camels, funny-looking puppies, and a fascinating history — Martin Westlake shows you exactly what you’d be missing if you didn’t explore all this in Abu Dhabi; suddenly, you’re not quite willing to settle for the pictures any longer.
In February of 2020, the Jakarta-based photographer and the editor in chief of DestinAsian Magazine, the aforementioned Chris Hill, were on their way back to Jakarta from Tunisia and decided to stop off in Abu Dhabi. Martin has been working with DestinAsian since 2001, and when Chris suggested a slight detour, he was definitely on board.
The magazine is published in Jakarta where I’m based and I am good friends with Chris. We’ve traveled together on several assignments in the past, to Oman, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
Martin has been capturing editorial travel images since the ’90s and has previously lived and shot in the Middle East, making him a master planner and perfect for the job. Arriving in Abu Dhabi with a full itinerary and shot list, he and Chris allowed for a small amount of time to finalize the plans before getting down to business.
We had full assistance while at the resort, but when we went to shoot in the city of Abu Dhabi, it became difficult getting access to shoot locations. At some locations, like the Louvre and the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, DestinAsian hadn’t received permission, so I couldn’t shoot with my tripod, which was challenging for interiors.
In the desert near the resort, however, the PR department was on its game, assisting in setting up shoots on location quickly and on-demand. The camel trainer and handler were requested and secured in fewer than 24 hours. This occurred again when Martin and Chris came across some Saluki dogs at the resort. Martin quickly requested a shoot for some portraits with the pups.
Having spent 30 years as a photographer and world traveler, Martin has mastered the balance between planning and improvisation. However, according to him, he still takes every opportunity to learn something new. Working nearly nonstop during the week in Abu Dhabi, his solo pre-dawn excursions were followed by long days exploring with Chris and working through their list. When he talks about the project, though, he can’t help but exude a profound appreciation for the experience.
Abu Dhabi was lovely — it has a very different ‘vibe’ than Dubai. I love architecture and design, so it was inspiring to visit the Louvre (designed by French architect Jean Nouvel), and the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque was stunning.
Martin’s appreciation for these locations shines through his photography. Despite – or because of – his lengthy experience traveling throughout the world, he consistently portrays these locations as exotic experiences, bursting with wonder.
I left this shoot with about 140 GB of RAW data to go through. On the return trip, I had a bit of time to turnaround the images. The first step was to send a wide edit of selects, around 200 JPEGs.
Out of those 200 images, 20 were chosen for the final layout, and one was selected for the cover, a surprise to Martin.
We didn’t set out to shoot a front cover on this shoot, but the selected cover image definitely worked well at inspiring that wanderlust.
To read more about Martin and Chris’s time in Abu Dhabi, head to destinasian.com/magazine.
Editor in Chief: Chris Hill
See more of Martin’s work at martinwestlake.com.
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