Deserts can make for very dramatic and beautiful landscapes. But it can also be challenging to avoid your photos appearing flat and uninteresting. Deserts also have harsh conditions to deal with as well, which could cause havoc with your camera. So here are a few tips to help you when photographing deserts.


Catch the right light

It’s no secret that photographing early morning or late afternoon provides the best light. The soft light can make any image feel much more interesting. This is even more vital in the desert where the low angle of the sun can bring out the lines in the sand. The will give the whole image nice contrast and a wonderful warm glow. But be mindful that your shadow isn’t intruding into your image. Also, if you are going to be using a slow shutter speed make sure you use a sturdy tripod. You will not be able to handhold a camera steady enough in low light conditions.


Add a point of interest

One of the main challenges of photographing the desert is to avoid images looking uninteresting. After all, 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. Adding a point of interest will also help add more of a story to your image.

point of interest in desert photography

Concentrate on the details

One of the great things about photographing deserts is the wonderful sand lines that the wind creates. These can look fantastic in photos as the shadows behind them can make them stand out. Instead of trying to capture the whole scene, sometimes it’s worth capturing a small bit of detail. So don’t be afraid to crouch down and focus on the detail in the sand. This will give you a completely different perspective of the scene.

photographing details in desert

Try to tell a story

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, 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 is footprints in a scene that you are trying to portray as untouched.

tell a story

Look for the unusual

One of the challenges photographers face these days is how to capture unique images. Sometimes this happens by luck. But the majority of the time you have to try to pre-visualise the shot and work for it. For example, I had driven on this road in the UAE several times during my stay. I 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. – I was rewarded with this shot which highlights the vast emptiness of the desert.

photographing deserts

Protect your camera

Unfortunately sand can be very destructive to cameras. So you should take extra care in the desert. Even on the calmest of days the wind will blow sand so don’t take any chances. One small particle of sand getting into your camera can cause havoc to the sensor. Always wrap your camera in a cloth when you’re not using it. Weather sealed cameras are best to use in these conditions.

The biggest danger is when you are changing lenses, so try to avoid it. If you have two bodies use them instead. You should also use a UV filter on your lenses to protect the glass. I would much rather have to replace a cheap filter than have to repair a scratched lens glass.


Clean your camera

Don’t forget to clean your camera as soon as you get to the hotel room. Particles of sand would still be on the outside of your camera. So if change lenses they could get onto the sensor.


Deserts can be the setting for some beautiful landscapes. They can 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 you could capture in the same scene. Follow these tips when photographing deserts to ensure you capture some great photos.

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This article on photographing deserts and images are subject to copyright. Words and photos by Kav Dadfar (That Wild Idea). Copying or reposting of photos or article elsewhere is strictly forbidden. Please contact us if you would like to use this feature on your website.

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