6 Tips for Photographing Deserts

6 Tips for Photographing Deserts


Deserts can make for very dramatic and beautiful landscapes but it can also be challenging to avoid your photos appearing flat and uninteresting. Here are 6 tips to help you on your way.

1. Catch the Right Light

Photographing The Desert 1

It’s no secret that photographing in the early morning or late afternoon provides a wonderfully soft light for your images which helps you avoid making them look flat – and the desert is no exception. The soft light can give the sand a beautiful glow and in the above photo, the red late afternoon light has really brought out the colour of the sand. As always, if you are going to be using a slow shutter speed make sure you have a tripod.

2. Point of Interest

Photographing The Desert 2

Photographing The Desert 7

One of the main challenges of photographing the desert is to avoid images looking uninteresting. After all, just photographing endless sand isn’t going to make your images stand out. Instead, try to find a point of interest such a shrub, a sand dune, a palm tree or even people. The images below would have looked pretty dull had they not had a point of interest in them.

3. Lines and Patterns

Photographing The Desert 4

One of the things I love about photographing in the desert is the wonderful sand lines that the wind creates. These can look fantastic in photos as the shadows behind them can really make them stand out. So sometimes it worth looking down, instead of trying to capture the whole scene. Simply crouch down and focus on the detail in the sand.

4. Tell a Story

Photographing The Desert 5

When photographing in the desert, it’s tempting to always photograph the landscape. The dramatic sand dunes are usually what wow us when we look at pictures. But it’s also worth capturing images that can tell a story. It might be a local man walking his camels like the photo above, some footprints in the sand or an animal sleeping in the shade of a tree. This can add variety to your collection and avoid your images looking too similar.

5. The Unusual

Photographing The Desert 6

One the challenges we photographers always face is how to capture images which look diverse and unusual. Sometimes this happens by luck but the majority of the time you have to be prepared to pre-visualise the shot and work for it. I had driven on this road in UAE several times during my stay and always wondered what it might look like in the vastness of the desert from further away. So one day I walked up the biggest sand dune I could find – which was no easy task – and I was rewarded with this shot which highlights the vast emptiness of the desert.

6. Look after your Camera

Photographing The Desert 3

Unfortunately sand can be extremely destructive to cameras so you should take extra care in the desert. Even on the calmest of days the wind blows sand so I always wrap my camera in a cloth when I’m not using it. I also always have a UV filter on lenses to protect the glass but in the desert this is even more imperative. I would much rather have to replace a cheap filter than have to repair a scratched lens glass. I never change lenses (I would take two cameras if necessary) and clean my camera as soon as I get to my hotel room.

Read more from our category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

Some Older Comments

  • Vicki Bryant September 22, 2013 10:51 pm

    You can get some great sand photos at White Sands New Mexico. Beautiful part of the USA!

  • Ronaldo R Cruz September 17, 2013 06:27 pm

    Informative guide, many thanks

  • Juan Castillo September 16, 2013 11:25 pm

    Absolutely great advice. Now I want to go on a desert shoot :).

  • Jim Singler September 15, 2013 04:45 am

    Great tips. Makes me want to head to a desert. Too bad I'm in St. Louis, MO USA.

  • Gary Kirchmar Photography LLC September 15, 2013 02:22 am

    Lovey work, just wish we had a dessert here in Montana. All the same principles though. Great work !!!

  • marius2die4 September 14, 2013 07:54 pm

    Lovely article!

  • Mridula September 13, 2013 04:02 pm

    The point of interest bit is the most useful one for me.


  • Mei Teng September 13, 2013 10:12 am

    Love photo #2. Great set of tips.

  • Bobby Sites September 13, 2013 02:34 am

    As a fellow photographer, some great tips there. I usually visit photo editing sites to give it a bit more life. You can find the best editing sites at http://coolwebsites.co . I regularly go there, not just for photo editing sites but some cool stuff too.

  • John Jessup September 13, 2013 01:54 am

    If one can do all these great things and combine them with a genuinely blue sky it's even better. Unless of course you can get some nice sunrise or sunset cloud which is rare in deserts and helps to make that 1st shot so spectacular.

    We are lucky here in Southern Africa which some say has the bluest sky anywhere. Altitude, we're mostly on a massive plateau at over 1500m, + no pollution I guess are the reasons. Namibia is particularly spectacular for desert photography although in recent years climate change has given them more rain than usual and the Namib,which used to be white and treeless as far as the eye could see,nowadays has a type of grass covering which does not detract much from the mystique of the place and is good for the odd pristine antelope or ostrich which make for spectacular subject matter on the vast and beautiful nothingness.

  • Antonio Mérida September 11, 2013 09:27 pm

    Magnífico!! Saludos.

  • Essex wedding photographer September 11, 2013 09:03 pm

    Love number 2, great tips as always :)