Well, I’m back, yippee!
After a long period of absence from DS, it’s really good to be writing a sharing photographs here again. My recent travels took me to Western Australia, via Doha, the subject of this post. Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve written more during the trip and it was my intention to do so, but a shaky internet connection, photo-related technical issues and accumulating laziness got the better of my communication skills. So, my apologies for the relative mutism and my heartfelt thanks to my co-authors for holding the fort so admirably in my absence with glorious accounts of Scotland and the psychology of photographic nirvana, among other topics.
Doha certainly deserves more than stopover visit lasting but a few hours and the tourism board may not approve of my in-between-flights take on their lovely city. It certainly does its best to advertise the numerous activities tourists and visitors can enjoy if they chose to make the colorful the city a destination rather than a transit point.
But, the reason for my travels was situated in Perth and Doha was only an on-the-way airport for us, this time again. After this second visit, I certainly feel like spending more time there in the area but this post is all about proving that, rather than spend a few hours in the (very nice) airport, you can grab a cab and enjoy safe exotism very conveniently.
My last visit dates back to 2010, when an infamous Icelandic volcano canceled my flight back from Malaysia and diverted my trip home to the capital of Qatar.
We had walked the tourist hot-spots as well as the more modern part of town across the bay. That part of Doha seemed sandy, incomplete and unfinished, at the time. A huge construction site that showed plenty of promise but lacked a cohesive feel. Today, the intense construction continues but the puzzle feels far closer to being a complete picture.
Also, it had felt like a very isolated area, quite dry (obviously) and barren. A flight during the day time (we had arrived and left at night) quickly proves this assumption wrong, with quite a few other cities within a stone throw.
And it’s certainly a great destination for photographers, given the light (filtered by sand in the air, particularly when the sun is low) and the great array of sights spread out over a small area. My guess, after these two visits, is that a photographer would spend at least 3 days exploring the various areas in and immediately around Doha and that a week is closer to a realistic estimate for a photo-oriented trip that would place you at the right locations at the right time for best light.
The city center (most appealing area for the first-time visitor) is conveniently close to the airport. So even a short stopover will provide ample opportunity for interesting photographs. Getting a visa from the airport immigration office costs $28 (in 2016) and takes a few minutes to obtain. The taxi ride will set you back another $15 / 20 minutes and will take you straight into the heart of things.
If you have over 5 hours on your hands, it’s really worth considering a hop to the city (2 hours to obtain the visa and for a return trip to the center, 2 hours on site, back 1 hours before your next flight). If you’re planning a trip with a connection in Doha, it’s worth making it longer rather than shorter, as I have now done twice. And check conditions before leaving the airport to make sure you have ample time in your schedule to catch your next flight!
One reason for mentioning all this is that Doha seems to be a notable exception to one of my more personal laws of the photographic universe: the most popular tourist destinations make for crappy photographic opportunities. Not so here and just a few minutes in the souqs will reward you with amazing scenes, such as the gold craftsman above who kindly let me grab a portrait during his work, the Corniche and museum of Islamic Arts also. If you can spare more time, crossing over to the other side of the bay to the modern part of town will delight the architecture-minded photographer. Still more time? I hear that the Pearl and the dunes are really worth your while, but I cannot confirm this first hand.
If a trip to the city itself is out of the question, the airport itself is a very interesting (no, make that abfab) building well worth your photographic attention.It is a stunning architectural achievement and you could easily miss your flight by letting your inspiration run wild here 🙂
The airport comes, however, with a very serious caveat. During my transit there, I was approached “vigorously” by armed guards who took my passport and interrogated me about what I was doing with a camera. All ended well, and the guards confirmed that photography is allowed inside the airport. But, seeing a lone bloke walk about without luggage, eyes rivetted to a camera justifiably rose suspicion about my intentions. And the event scared me sh@tless! You have been warned.
Apart from that, I believe Doha welcomes photographers provided you do not photograph restricted military, industrial and official monuments. This is not always easy because, as a tourist, you never really know what is off limits and what is OK (although military installations pretty much shout out ‘go away’ anywhere in the world). Apparently some malls ask photographers to refrain inside their walls but there seems to be some tolerance. In a foreign country, any foreign country, I’d really stick to the displayed rules, whatever others are doing. Your mileage/bravery may vary.
Some online forums warn against photographing local women. I had no idea about this during my visit and no one objected to my (discreet) photography. But it seems advisable to ask before making a portrait, if only out of courtesy. I’ll do better next time!
To close, here is a random gallery of Doha photographs which, I hope, will inspire you to visit this most exotic of cities. Be seeing you. Next up: Western Australia 🙂