The Graffiti Wall at the MAD nightclub on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Behind the Lens, the MAD Graffiti Wall

The Brief

When I first received the brief for the project I pretty much scanned the email, Photographing artwork is mostly just a fairly straight forward technical exercise so I wasn’t expecting anything too challenging with photographing a graffiti wall.

The client wanted to produce a reproduction of the graffiti artwork for the entire wall of their office; ok no problem, we need to make it really high resolution. The building is 15 meters high; ok it’s a little tricky to get the angles right but no real drama. The client only wants half the artwork to be photographed; sure. The building is round…. Wait a second…round?

I could see why they left that little detail to the last paragraph. The next page was a google map location and a rather crude collection of iPhone pictures of the building which confirmed that the building was most definitely very round.

The Recci

So I jumped in the car and zoomed up to Abu Dhabi to go and have a look at the ‘o1ne’ nightclub on Yas island, just across the road from the Abu Dhabi F1 Circuit. The club has changed management since with the new name ‘MAD” but the graffiti wall still remains a feature of the club.

When I first arrived my initial thoughts were; apart from oh no, the building is round; that there was a lot of lamp posts and parking covers obstructing parts of the building. After I picked my jaw up off the ground I decided to phone Noi, my trusty superstar retoucher.

“Hi Noi. I have a job for you, we need to produce a mural of a graffiti wall”

“Ok no problem”

I thought I would hit him straight away with the punchline “the building is round!”

“Ok no problem”

Not quite the drumroll reaction I was expecting but thats what I love about Noi, he’s not really phased by anything. So we began to chat over the solution for shooting the graffiti wall.

My plan was to photograph it in lots of little pieces. The wall was actually made up of a multitude of smaller panels. If I found the best angle for each panel allowing one image each, when we laid them all out in post production the curvature in each shot would be minimal. I was going to have to photograph some panels at far from ideal angles so there would be a lot of warping to make them all fit together. I counted the number of panels and figured out that we needed 3 rows and 26 columns. I allowed quite a but of overlap to make it easier to balance the colours between all the frames. Thats 78 individual pictures to make up the image which should certainly be enough resolution.

The Shoot

On the day of the shoot I started working early. The side the client had chosen was in the shade in the morning but parts of it would become a problem quickly as the sun moved. The last thing I wanted to do was photograph half the graffiti wall in the sun and half in the shade. I’m sure even Noi might have given me a hard time about that one. I started with the problem areas and worked backwards photographing in vertical strips. The plan was to create a grid in the post production and warp the corners of each shot to fit the grid pattern. That way some the strange angles I was having to photographing from at would be easy to compensate. It also allowed me to correct my verticals and produce a nice flat squared graffiti wall.

I remember having to photograph several of the panels by standing on the bumper of my car to get above the actual canopy of the parking covers. I think the security guard was just baffled by what was going on as I worked my way around the car park for the next two hours.

The Post Production

Feeling a little nervous about dropping 78 raw files into Noi’s lap, I processed the files and did a lot of the warping myself. This left Noi the task of doing all the tricky blending work. Whilst the exposures were all pretty close subtle changes in the light meant that some panels needed to be tweaked to blend together properly.

The light on one side of the building semicircle to the next also needed to be adjusted to give us an even image. Noi also needed to photoshop out the small windows in the building which the client decided last minute needed to go. The doors of the building and the shrubs were left in which was my preference because it gives an idea of the scale of the graffiti wall.

You can have a closer look at the finished image below. The file we delivered to the client measured a whopping 0.6 gigapixels.

The Graffiti Wall at the MAD nightclub on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

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