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Astrophotography from Expo2020 Dubai UAE         by Samy Olabi

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It started nearly a year ago with an impossible idea,

“Shooting Astrophotography from inside the Expo2020 ”

The experimental project was planned carefully, the shooting was done over multiple nights , using advanced skills & techniques to capture the star movements and Nebulas from the center of Expo2020 in Dubai , UAE, which is one of the busiest and highly light polluted cities in the region and the world for its famous skyscrapers and city lights.

This idea aligned  "Heavens and Earth” A Journey through Space and Time from the United Arab Emirates” with the most anticipated event of the year for the UAE and the World……..

The Making of

I am a construction Management Consultant , and despite all the rush and stress that emerge from such a job , I happened to give my astrophotography passion a space every while and then , and to keep my self engaged  , I always look for new ideas and projects to develop and work on.

I shot miniatures with the night skies , I stuck mirrors , antiques , toys and even fossils  

In the middle of the deserts and mountains to break the trend. Check out the previous articles about that.


And for every project , any project , there are specific steps and phases;  Initiation ,Planning , execution and conclusion. And each stage is having its own tools and techniques to finally generate the deliverables successfully. Sounds like project management has got into my way of thinking in every aspect in my life, and I guess this is the case with most of pathetic engineers such as myself.


Location and Light Pollution :

The first step was to assess the location of the Expo and as evident from the light pollution maps pf Dubai , it is a bortle 8 spot


The Location is highly polluted with artificial lights from within and from all directions with the least impact on the southern and south eastern parts and I will try to use this to my privilege.


Compared to : moderately dark location where I usually shoot most of my Astrophotography work around


But still relatively darker than the Dubai central areas


I decided to focus on the pavilions towards the south of the Expo and I chose Terra - The Sustainability Pavilion, which is all about the environment and it actually made a beautiful resemblance with nature and with my specialty.

The next step was to decide what are the astrophotogrphy targets that I will want to include with such foregrounds , and since the execution of the project was decided to happen in November , the most dominant night object in that period is Orion constellation.

And her comes the 2nd important element of the planning stage , which is the Target , timings and directions  I always use a collection of apps and software simultaneously to plan my shooting properly and for this project I used the following :

  • Clear outside for weather planning / Weather Forecast / Moon Phase

  • Stellarium and sky guide for target planning.

  • Photopills for directions and timings






In addition to Orion which rises at that time later at night , there was a beautiful conjunction at that time between the moon , Jupiter and Venus right after the sunset. This was more than enough for me to generate different composition and versatility to the project.

The next thing was choosing my equipment , I am a night scape photographer and I always use DLSR and mirrorless cameras and lenses , I always like to keep it simple in the most possible way.  I decided to use my Nikon Z6 with a 24-70mm with a special filter adaptor that will allow using dual band filters. I have few filters from IDAS hutech that I use in all my astrophotography and such filters emphasize the nebulosity in the night sky objects and reduce the impact of light pollution.

 This cannot go alone without a star tracking device , that will match the earth rotation to (eliminate it) an enable to break the 500 rule and allow for long exposures that reached up to 15 seconds on a focal length of 70 and 200 mm. I used my good old portable tracking mount (Ioptron Sky guider pro)

I packed two more cameras with me , the D810A and D850 and I took a variety of focal lengths from 14mm to 200mm to complement the shooting with some time lapses , star trails and a variety of compositions. Finally I had my 360 Insta camera to play around while shooting.



Over two nights during November , I started shooting after Sunset to late after midnight.  For the Orion shot , I used the stacking technique and I shot 400 photographs with 15 seconds exposure and ISO 1250 , and later on I used the Sequator and deep sky stacker to stack all the photos into one single details emphasized photo with a significant reduction in noise.

After those two night , and using the 3 cameras , I shot a total of 4,320 photos . I spent more than 20 hours of post processing and video editing to conclude this beautiful experience.

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