Desert landscapes include an exciting variety of plants, animals, and geology. They are the perfect location for landscape and nature photographers.
This article is full of tips and techniques to help you take stunning desert pictures.
Prepare Ahead for Harsh Desert Conditions
A safe and rewarding trip to the desert starts with careful preparation. The first thing is to choose the right time to visit based on your temperature tolerance.
Valley park is a popular desert location for landscape photographers. But it also holds the record as the hottest recorded temperature on the planet at 134° Fahrenheit (57° Celsius).
In January the temperature is often in the very comfortable 70° Fahrenheit range (20° Celsius). So timing is essential when planning a visit to the desert.
Depending on the time of your visit, consider several items for safety and comfort:
- A hat to shield you from the sun,
- Several bottles of water to stay hydrated,
- Sunglasses and sunscreen,
- A GPS (phones don’t work in many remote locations),
- A scarf to cover your neck,
- A long sleeve shirt to block out the sun,
- Pants with zip on/off leggings,
- Quality hiking boots.
Essential Gear for Desert Photography
Desert photography is similar to landscape photography. You have to pack the equipment you are sure you will need.
This can include:
- Lenses ranging from wide-angle to telephoto,
- A tripod,
- Cable release,
- Filters like a polariser or graduated neutral density,
- A focus loupe,
- A flash unit if you want to add light,
- Extra batteries,
- Extra SD cards,
- A multi-tool.
And make sure you have a garbage bag with you!
Many desert plant species have adapted defensive mechanisms in the form of needles. In some locations, the ground is littered with them. Camera care is important, and setting your bag on the ground or in the sand can create problems later. It is better to place it on the garbage bag.
We have a post on taking care of your camera when travelling abroad you can check here.
Choosing Lenses for Desert Photography
Wondering what lens you’ll need is a valid question. My opinion is, “whatever you can carry.” If you need to keep weight in check, limit your lens choice to fewer lenses with greater coverage. I carry a 16-35mm, 28-70mm, and 80-200mm as my three main lenses and they all get used.
The desert landscape consists of endless sand and sky. It’s natural to want to capture it all in one frame with a wide-angle lens. While there are plenty of subjects where this lens is a perfect choice, consider using a telephoto lens as well.
Remember, a wide-angle lens makes the foreground appear larger. A telephoto brings the distant background closer to the viewer by zooming in.
I captured the photo below at Badwater in Valley. The wide-angle lens emphasises the foreground while minimising the background. This is an excellent strategy for scenes that have interesting foregrounds and dull backgrounds.
A telephoto lens is also valuable when you observe a subject far away. Here, the foreground is not interesting, so it’s best left out while zooming in on a specific area.
Captured in Valley, this detail shot of distant hills needed a 300mm lens. It was the best way to get close enough and leave out the surroundings.