It’s one of the most iconic buildings in the city, embodying the culture and identity of Abu Dhabi, with its stunning, intricate architecture, and now, one man has set out to show off the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in all its beautiful glory. FACT’s Shabana Adam caught up with Julian John, from Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, to talk all about his talents for photography and his fascination with the Grand Mosque…

If you visited the community pop-up event, The Station at The Galleria on Al Maryah Island, chances are that you were left mesmerised when you came across the exhibition, Reflections by Julian John. His outstanding images of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque were featured in a showcase for all to marvel. Julian has spent four years photographing the architecture and intricacy of the Grand Mosque, in different light, medium, shadows and angles. In particular, his work draws on the reflections in both water and marble, to give a unique quality, and has received high acclaim in both the UAE and abroad. So, what we want to know is, what is it about this magnificent landmark that attracts him?



“For me, the building is a modern wonder of the world,” Julian says. “Every detail is perfect, from the mosaics to the domes and minarets and the carpets. I have served my apprenticeship photographing the Grand Mosque and when I look back on my earlier photos, I remember how challenging it was.

“I was delighted to have Reflections exhibited in one of the Capital’s iconic landmarks, The Galleria on Al Maryah Island. The waterfront shopping and dining destination is the ideal backdrop for the Abu Dhabi community to be able to see this collection,” he adds.
Julian’s photographs are beautiful, captivating, detailed and dramatic. He’s managed to capture the Grand Mosque in so many different ways that appreciating just how magical and picture perfect this building is, can be a never-ending feat. We can only imagine the amount of preparation, both technical and
environmental, that went into making these images possible. “There are so many variables that come into play such as weather conditions, time of day, and accessibility,” Julian explains. “The photo opportunities are immense, it can be overwhelming for a photographer. I tend to be very focused and disciplined. I will have a shot in mind before shooting,” he continues.mosque-1

The skies are usually more interesting in the cooler months with sunset and the blue hour. Timing and light are everything. I shoot at sunset because that is when I can bring out the colours that are not necessarily visible to the eye. I look for shadows and reflections, often including people in my shots to give a human element and a sense of scale,” Julian adds. Julia started off photographing the Grand Mosque with a very basic camera and has regularly upgraded
his equipment, now working with a Nikon D800, a full frame camera. This allows him to capture beautiful images in low light and offers excellent detailed
printing and framing images. His favorite lenses are the 70-200mm 2.8 and the 24-70mm 2.8, and when possible he uses a tripod, which enables him to get longer exposures and more details – something that is evident in these stunning images.

And so comes the big question – has he captured the perfect photograph of the Grand Mosque? Julian says: “The answer is a definite no and if I did, I would have to find something else to shoot – you can’t improve on perfection! I find it difficult to choose a favourite as I am ultra critical of my work, but currently the image I
love most is one that is flooded with spectacular warm light. One of my ambitions is to win the annual Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Photography Competition and I’m busy putting together the entry.” When it comes to photography style, Julian says that he wants his photographs to “stand out from the crowd” and for people to recognise his style and have an emotional connection to an image. “The thought of my images on people’s walls is one of the most thrilling aspects of being a photographer,” he says. “To think that someone is enjoying one of my pictures every day is amazing.”


Julian bought his first camera, a Nikon DSLR, in 2010, when he moved to Abu Dhabi and whilst planning a trip to Sri Lanka. “From the first moment I clicked the button, a passion was born and it soon became an obsession,” he recalls. “Abu Dhabi offers many opportunities for a photographer with exciting activities always happening around the capital.” For young and budding photographers, Julian advises to “find your focus and shoot what you love”. He also highlights the importance of investing time, energy, and dedication to the practice. “As with everything else in life, the more you put into something the more you get out of it,” Julian says. “I run a regular workshop for beginners and intermediate photographers and typically structure them in four sessions.” Learning from the man himself might just be the smart move here – photographers, go and get inspired! ✤


GO: Visit for more information on Julian’s workshops and photography