Infared Photos Reveal Dubai’s Green Space

Dubai’s desert landscape isn’t exactly hospitable to plant life. Sitting on the Arabian Peninsula, the soil is sandy and poor, the wind and heat extreme, and it only rains about three inches a year.

But that hasn’t stopped Dubai from striving to become a “green paradise.” Over the past three decades, its gardeners have coaxed fountain grass, date palms, and ghat trees to take root in public parks, golf courses, and other places, even transforming the dead space beneath highway flyovers and cloverleafs into beautiful, patterned carpets irrigated by sewage water. Green space grew from just 4,300 acres in 1999 to roughly 17,000 in 2014, when officials announced a plan to increase it to 30,000 acres by 2025.

It’s perhaps the ultimate symbol of Dubai’s bid to conquer and control nature—one evidenced by countless headline-making projects, from the building of the Burj Khalifa, a 163-story exoskeleton-reinforced tower to the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island that required the dredging of 4.2 billion cubic feet of sand to construct. “Life exists only within things built by man,” says Paolo Pettigiani. “There is nothing natural. Every single thing has been thought, built, and moved by humans, from buildings to palm trees.”

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Pettigiani captured this over three sweltering days last August. He shot with a Nikon D750 converted to record the full color spectrum so that he could photograph invisible infrared light, which is strongly reflected by chlorophyll in plants (a technique he’s also used in New York, Berlin, and Venice). He isolated it using a filter, screwed in front of his 24-120mm lens, that blocked out wavelengths below 590 nanometers, letting in a small bit of visible orange and red light along with the infrared. In Photoshop, he tweaked color, contrast, and white balance to achieve the result you see.

The amount of greenery they reveal is impressive, especially considering Dubai’s less-than-ideal environment, but not as impressive as the colossal concrete, glass, and metal structures towering above it. Dubai is an oasis, sure, but skyscrapers still grow easier than trees.

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