When it comes to landscape photography, a desert scene is among my favourites. It’s up there with ocean photography as one of my favourites. The desert is not lifeless and storyless as is commonly believed. It has its quirks and techniques, much like every other type of photography. To help you get started with desert photography and make the most of your trip, I’ve put together this short article.

A Description of a Desert Landscape

The desert is a dry, lifeless landscape that receives almost no rain. Most plant and animal life cannot survive in desert conditions. Including human beings. Roughly 11% (or 20% if you count the icy polar desert) of Earth is covered by these dry regions. Mid-latitude deserts, trade-wind deserts, coastal deserts, rain-shadow deserts, monsoon deserts, and polar deserts are the various types of deserts.

In the Process of Desert Photography Prep

Safety is the top priority. There is a good reason why a desert is devoid of life. There is no moisture and very little cover. Such conditions render the warmest months of the year unfavourable for travel. For example, in Death Valley, temperatures can soar to an inhuman 57 degrees Celsius. Therefore, it’s a good idea to look up the average monthly temperatures in advance.

The local fauna also poses a threat to human safety. If you were stung by a scorpion, you might be too isolated to seek any help. If you want to know if there are any harmful animals in the area and what to do if you do, check out some tourist information websites. Here is a short list of things you’ll need for your trip into the desert:

  • Sunglasses, a hat, and sunblock
  • A scarf to drape around your neck (you may also wet it to help you chill off).
  • Wearing long sleeves can help prevent sunburn.
  • Plenty many water containers
  • Suitable footwear.
  • If you plan on staying in the sand for any length of time, you should probably avoid going barefoot.

Photography Equipment Needed

The photography gear list is very convenient with a few additions, as it includes numerous items that are required for any landscape photography trip:

  • A spare battery and SD card for your camera.
  • The three-legged stand.
  • An air blower. In most cases, I leave my air blower at home, where it patiently awaits my return. If I’m not going to the desert, then no. I apply it to clear the joints of my tripod and other inaccessible areas of sand.
  • What you need is a Lenspen. It’s a must in the desert, but I never leave home without it. If sand gets onto your camera, this will assist you remove it from inaccessible areas. The bayonet coupling is an illustration of this. The zoom lens’s movable ring is a further example.
  • The lens body is protected by a hard shell. You can probably find something that works as well as the one my wife created for me. A lens cap shields your eye from sand particles while you shoot. A plastic bag is another option.
  • A raincoat or an umbrella. What? In a dry region? Yes, it is to counteract the effect of wind on the camera.
  • Neutral-density and polarising filters.

Camera Lenses for Use in the Desert

Focus on filling the entirety of the available depth of field as you can. In a desert, any lens will produce stunning results. In the desert, a wide-angle lens is useful when there are fascinating patterns or structures to capture. On other occasions, telephoto is the better choice over wide-angle. Furthermore, you cannot replace one with another because each is unique.

You need at least 20-200 mm of coverage, but the wider the better in my opinion. I have 15-30, 50, and 70-300 mm on my full-frame camera. Moreover, there are times when 300 isn’t sufficient to construct certain abstract shots.

When I went to the desert two years ago, I used a wide-angle lens 90% of the time. On my most recent trip, I relied on my telephoto lens for 90% of my shots because I knew I wouldn’t get any keepers with my wide-angle lens. The reasoning will be discussed at a later time.

Subjects of Desert-set Photographs

The desert is desolate and lifeless, or so it seems. But first, it’s not so, and second, keeping things simple is where the magic happens. There is no shortage of photo opportunities. Some of these features are greatly enlarged, while others do not even exist in the real world. You won’t find any leafy trees here, but you will find a sand pattern that is unlike any other.

The most fascinating aspect of the desert is the countless patterns one may find there. Photographers frequently use these patterns as a foundation for desert scenes. On wide-angle lenses, they perform admirably in the foreground. In addition, they can make for some excellent single-image keepsakes. Many photographs of Death Valley feature cracks in the dry landscape.

Empty Sands

This kind of distinction fits in wonderfully with the desert’s minimalist aesthetic. Look for a dune with a clean, well-defined shape. One with an attractive arabesque pattern is preferred. Explore several shooting angles that don’t include any of the dunes in the background.

Fallen Trees

To create a message of loss and isolation through photography, all you need are some dead trees against a backdrop of dunes. All that has to be done to enhance the contrast is to clear away the little branches and humps that have accumulated around the trees.

Livestock and Flowers

Sand patterns will certainly be ruined by the rain. However, it may result in a flowering field. No, it won’t save the world, but it can bring life to a wasteland. Always remember to check the forecast before setting out.

Plans in the Dunes

Let’s pretend we’re in the desert right after a big storm has passed through. There are no longer any intact patterns, any remaining fluff, or any surviving blooms. I don’t know, should I just go home? No way! It’s as simple as upgrading. Use the larger dunes and their crests, shadows, and reflective surfaces to create intricate designs. We’ll need a longer lens for that. No longer do we care about intricate designs, but rather we require broad ones.


I haven’t yet managed to capture a snapshot of a mirage. If you know what you’re doing, finding and killing it is easy. The one catch is that you have to do it in the desert when it’s extremely hot outside, and that’s something I avoid doing whenever possible. In a sandy setting, your odds of success are naturally higher.

The desert landscape is different from any other terrain because it is so geometrically complex. A telephoto lens is required once more for this purpose. Discover a pattern, whether it’s rhythm, repetition, or a lovely curve, and focus on it. The scope of this opportunity is limitless. When the lighting is altered, previously hidden structures and forms become more apparent. You can spend all day doing geometry photos. Focus stacking is a technique that can help you get sharp images throughout an abstract zoom scene, like the one below.

The Winds

The wind should be given its section in the canon of desert photography. Photos taken in high winds can be both stunning and hazardous to your camera. Unless there is a real storm wind, it might be difficult to photograph sand particles in flight against dunes of a single colour. Taking a picture of the wind on a contrasting background, such as a blue sky, is a piece of cake.

Different Terrains

The desert is vast, but it’s not infinite. There must be a conclusion. This edging is also an interesting photographic subject. The beauty of the sand is secondary to the uniqueness that makes it so impressive. Make use of the drastic contrast provided by the two settings. The sand and the sea provide the best contrast because they are opposites. The combination of sand and mountains is another great one.

Describing a Desert Story

We’ve talked about the best desert shooting targets. However, there is more to this story. There are other elements to consider outside the subjects themselves, which can provide a narrative. I’ve touched on a few of these relics, but here’s the complete catalogue:

  • Rough timber
  • Animal remains
  • Footsteps
  • Paths and prints left by animals
  • Plant death
  • Plant roots leave imprints on the sand.

Desert Photography is All About Timing and Light

There are two situations where nighttime in the desert is stunning. The first occurs during stargazing, and the second is when the night sky is so brilliant that it serves as a makeshift lamp. Otherwise, the desert is boring to me before dawn or after dark. You can get a few shots off while the sky is still bright enough, but it won’t do much for the textures.

Therefore, I like to begin taking pictures just before sunrise and continue until the sun goes down. You should time your visits to typical landscapes such that they occur during the golden hour. The desert is no exception; the best light occurs in the early morning and late evening. You can shoot all day and still notice the textures in the sand since the dunes are so dispersed and their slopes are at such a wide variety of angles. The shapes in the sand and the Sun will lead the way.

Darkest Hour

In all candour, the blue hour in a sandy desert is an uninteresting time. Everything has a lackluster sheen since the contrast is so low. Skylight does exist, but it is insufficient to fully reveal the building’s intricate details. Photos will require extensive processing to expose hidden details. Good editors will naturally know what to do. You’ll need to adjust the contrast on a local scale in several different places to uncover the details already present.

There will be times when the clouds are a vivid shade of red or purple, or when the skylight is striking the reflecting side of the dune with great intensity. In this scenario, reasonable photographs can be taken.

Black-and-white is another option here. Increasing the contrast too much can highlight undesirable colours and artifacts. In a binary system, such a problem disappears quickly. This pattern increases the dramatic effect without sacrificing any of the striking hues.

Golden Hour

For several reasons, I find that the Golden Hour is the best time to capture the desert environment on film (whereas the Blue Hour is ideal for shooting seascapes). Any dune or hump casts a shadow, and as the Sun rises, the shadows begin to shift. It’s important to act quickly since the perfect pattern you see may only last a few seconds.

The sand is orange-red in the dawn light, and it is warm and glowing, especially on the crests. In addition, if you shoot into the sun, the shadows will fall where they shouldn’t, highlighting the features. Because of the Sun’s inclination, little patterns are highlighted, and you should begin with them because their shadows will vanish first.

Desert Day Photography

Landscape photographers often choose to forego shooting during daylight in favor of waiting for the golden hour. In any case, it fails miserably in the desert. Even if the morning and evening are beautiful, don’t pass up the chance to take some stunning photographs.

Due to the absence of shadows, daytime hours are avoided. Indeed, we can’t make out too many individual dunes, but it’s also true that the dunes’ slopes can be at any angle. So, if you want lots of shadows, make sure the slope is perpendicular to the direction the light is coming from.

The mirage, caused by hot air ascending over the sand or rocks, is another example. You require distant objects, which get hazy and unclear when exposed to this air. You may see real colours during the daytime as well.

The Last Word

The desert is both stunning and difficult to traverse. Some additional precautions concerning travel safety are necessary. The best part about photographing the desert is the abundance of tales and potential shot subjects. It’s effective in any climate and may immediately get the creative juices flowing.