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Photographing deserts usually delivers very dramatic and beautiful landscape images. But it can also be challenging to prevent your photos from appearing flat and uninteresting, on top of the harsh conditions which can cause havoc with your camera.
Here are a few tips on how you can improve your travel photography of desert photos:
It’s no secret that photographing early morning or late afternoon provides a wonderfully soft light which can make any image look much more interesting. This can be even more vital in the desert where the low angle of the sun can really bring out the lines in the sand, and give the whole image a wonderful warm glow. But be mindful that your shadow isn’t intruding into your image, and if you are going to be using a slow shutter speed make sure you use a sturdy tripod.
One of the main challenges of photographing the desert is to avoid having images that look 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. By adding a point of interest it helps to draw the viewer’s eyes to the subject in view rather than trying to process a vast scene.
One of the things I love about photographing in the desert are 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. Sometimes it’s worth looking down and just capturing a small bit of detail, instead of trying to capture the whole scene. Simply crouch down and focus on the detail in the sand and you can create a completely different prospective of the same scene.
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 is also worth capturing images that can tell the viewer a story. It might be a local man walking his camels, 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. But be aware of where you are planning to photograph; the last thing you would want are footprints in a scene that you are trying to portray as untouched.
Another challenge photographers 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-visualize the shot and work for it. I had driven on this road in UAE (Unite Arab Emirates) 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 was rewarded with this shot, which highlights the vast emptiness of the desert.
Unfortunately sand can be extremely destructive to cameras so you should take extra care in the desert because even on the calmest of days the wind blows sand, so don’t take any chances. Just one small particle of sand getting into your camera can cause havoc. Always wrap your camera in a cloth when you’re not using it and try not to change lenses (I always take two cameras to the desert). You could also use a UV filter on lenses to protect the glass. I would much rather have to replace a cheap filter than have to repair a scratched lens glass. Remember to clean your camera as soon as I you get to the hotel room as the particles of sand will still be on the outside of your camera.
Deserts can be the setting for some stunning landscapes and provide a wonderfully diverse set of images. From a photo that depicts the vast beautiful wilderness to an intimate environmental portrait of a local, it’s incredible the array of different photos that can be captured in the same scene.
Now it’s your turn. Share your photos, thoughts, and tips below.
Editor’s note: if you don’t live near a desert keep in mind these tips might also apply to a beach setting or anywhere you can find large sand dunes.