Photographs of desert landscapes have often been considered some of the best landscape photography ever captured. There are different types of desert landscapes, many of them differing from the general notion of an expanse of sand.
The landforms you find can be rocky, and sometimes even icy, each with unique textures that make them wonderful to photograph. Photographing in the desert demands creative thinking that allows you to get a glimpse of the sheer number of possibilities that are hiding in plain sight.
Related: Abstract Landscape Photography
Preparation for Shooting in the Desert
A trip to the desert, while being extremely rewarding, can challenge your safety too. So preparation is the key. The first thing to do before shooting in the desert is to determine the ideal time for you to visit it, depending on your tolerance for temperature.
Depending on when you visit, here is a list of items that you must definitely consider:
- Protection for your camera, lenses, and other accessories
- A sufficient number of water bottles
- A sun-hat
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- A scarf
- A shirt with long sleeves that cover your arms completely
- A GPS device because a lot of phones won’t work in remote locations
- Good quality boots for hiking
- Pants that have zippers for detachable leggings
Desert Landscape Photography Gear
Understanding what gear to carry is very important when trying to do desert landscape photography. The following is a list of essentials that are very useful to have with you.
- A camera
- Extra batteries and SD cards
- Wide-angle and telephoto lenses
- Cable release
- A flash unit (in case you want to add light)
- A graduated neutral density filter or a polariser filter
- A focus loupe
- A multi-purpose tool
In general, it is recommended to carry as much as you can carry comfortably because there is so much to photograph in the desert that you can never have enough equipment.
Desert Landscape Photography Composition
While the desert landscape is full of amazing subjects to capture, it can be hard to find a good subject and compose a great shot for first-timers to the desert. To begin with, some of the same strategies and principles used in landscape photography can be used here.
- Leading lines
- One-third placement
- Forced perspectives
These form a great way to look for the ideal subject and compose it well.
While the desert seems barren, with not a lot to photograph, by simply changing your perspective, you can find beautiful shots that you can’t get anywhere else. These are a few things you can look out for that make for excellent pictures.
- Sand patterns
- Dead trees
- Dune patterns
- Lone dunes
- Wildflowers and grass
- Contrast in terrain
- The wind
- Abstract geometry
Best Light for Desert Landscape Photography
It is often considered by photographers that the desert light is some of the best light you can find in any landscape photography.
A low angle of the sun offers excellent lighting, especially early in the morning and late in the evening. If you visit the desert during the winter, you will find that the days are shorter, and the sun is positioned low in the sky for the majority of the day. This is an advantage that gives you lovely lighting for a long period.
Backlighting, when applied to the appropriate scene, can create an enchanting effect. You will generally find a lot of cacti and grass that look spectacular when the sunlight hits them from behind. You will see the plants stand out against the background as the sun begins to set, the backlighting illuminating the edges of the plants.
A mistake that a lot of beginners make is that they put their camera away once the sun sets. However, this time of the day gives wonderful opportunities to get silhouette shots.
Astrophotography in the Desert
Since there is no light pollution whatsoever in the desert, it is the perfect playground for astrophotography.
Here is a list of the equipment you would need, specifically for night photography/ astrophotography:
- Full-frame camera (ideally)
- Cable release so there is no need to touch the camera
- Tripod for steady, long-exposure shots
- Wide-angle lens
Your ISO setting will mainly depend on the maximum aperture of your camera and lens. ISO 1600 at f/2.8 for 15 to 30 seconds is a good place to start.
The magic and beauty of the desert can easily be captured if you just pay a little attention to preparation and planning, optimal timing, and essential gear. We hope this article has opened up some avenues for you to explore the exciting world of desert landscape photography!