Techniques For Photographing Deserts

If there is one subject that will deliver incredible results with every shutter of your camera, it is the Earth. Specifically the desert.

With endless terrain that is always changing, intriguing animals, and more than unique plants, there is plenty to keep you inspired,

Techniques For Photographing Deserts

Desert photography can be one of the most rewarding types of photography. So long as you know how to do it right.

From photographing the Las Vegas horizon to the dunes of Dubai, you want to know how to get the perfect photo every time.

We have the techniques that you absolutely need to perfect for taking desert photography. You will know everything from what weather you need to take a panoramic shot.

Let’s get into it!

Bring The Correct Equipment

As a professional, you are probably prepared for long days waiting to get that perfect shot. Although, without the right gear, your efforts are useless.

Here’s some of the most important equipment you need to get that perfect shot of the desert.


Techniques For Photographing Deserts - Lenses

Wide Angle & Telephoto Lenses

When it comes to photographing the desert, the lens choice is just as important as the camera you use.

Now, the lens you choose to use is completely personal as the landscape of the desert is expansive.

A telephoto lens offers a wide shot which is great for large landscape shots of the desert.

However, anything that you can pack without taking up too much room or being too heavy will work.

Along with your lens, ensure to bring a lens hood. This will help minimize the glare from the sun which is going to be one of your biggest obstacles.

UV Filters

UV filters should be applied to your lenses in order to better shield your sensor from strong light and your lens from the sand.


Techniques For Photographing Deserts - Lighting

While the desert offers its own, unique lighting, you may want to consider bringing some equipment to enhance nature’s effects.

Flashes & Light Stands

Working in the desert means working either with or against the sun.

You are going to need some powerful lights and flashes such as anything with 200-500 watt seconds of power that is portable and easy to assemble.


Techniques For Photographing Deserts - Accessories


Unless you want to be standing in the same spot, physically holding your camera until the perfect moment comes along, you are going to want to bring a tripod.

They have various uses such as providing extra stability and of course, allowing you to take a load off when waiting for the perfect moment.

When packing your tripod, make sure it is light and small enough to carry for long periods of time.

Cable Release

Especially when shooting at night or with a slow shutter speed, a cable release will help you further stabilize your desert photography photos and prevent blur brought on by unsteady hands.


This may seem insignificant but with sand flying everywhere, a towel is going to be your best friend. It can also help to protect your camera from the sun in times of high heat.

No Shooting At Midday

Once you have scheduled the date and location of your shoot, you have to determine which time you are going to begin shooting.

The desert is at its hottest temperature at midday meaning you do not want to be shooting at that time.

Aside from the blazing sun, you will have a range of other obstacles when shooting at midday in the desert.

Aim for a cool sunrise or sunset shot and really look for what the landscape has to offer you.

Panoramic Shot

Techniques For Photographing Deserts - Panoramic Shot

When you reach your location, you will be met with more space than you know what to do with.

A panoramic shot is a great way to utilize the landscape and makes for an epic shot to have as part of your portfolio.

A popular method for panoramic photography is the Brenizer Method.

With the help of Ryan Brenizer’s panoramic technique, photographers can add a really surreal sense of depth to pictures by giving them an impossible-to-achieve shallow depth of field.

Don’t Be Scared Of Flash

While the desert will offer a brilliant array of natural light, allowing you to play with shapes and shadows, using the flash can add an extra element to your results.

Especially when shooting at night.

Even in the middle of nowhere, you can take photographs that look like they were taken in a studio using a portable lighting setup and a little creativity.

This simple change can provide the biggest effect to your photographs that may even make your winning shot.

Pay Attention To The Weather

Techniques For Photographing Deserts - Pay Attention To The Weather

The desert is known for its less-than-welcoming habitat as the sun is forever beating down. But you do have other weather conditions that could ruin your shoot.

Sand storms and thunderstorms are common in the desert and can be less than ideal for shooting.

You are going to want to pay great attention to the weather forecast of the location of your shoot.

We can tell you right away that the best times to travel are generally in the spring or fall when the temperature is cooler.

It’s a terrific place to start, but even then, you’ll need to take precautions to keep safe.

Neglecting to check the weather can lead to a wasted trip or even having you caught in a sandstorm. Neither of which is an event you want to occur.

Scout Your Location

No matter the time in which you plan to shoot, always take a trip beforehand to scout out the area. You’ll benefit from this in two ways.

You can determine where to fire after becoming familiar with the area for safety’s sake.

Second, planning out some of your photos and creating more imaginative, enticing compositions will be made easier with the help of site scouting.

No one wants to show up to their location and it is either not suitable for the shoot or you have to spend hours deciding on a concept and image ideas.

Being prepared is the key to making a desert photo shoot go smoothly.

Focus On Silhouettes

Techniques For Photographing Deserts - Focus On Silhouettes

We all know that deserts offer some of the most glorious sunsets and sunrises for photography.

However, having something in the foreground will help bring more depth to the image.

Silhouettes of trees, plants, animals, or people make for a great subject to highlight the brilliance of the sunrise or sunset.

To get the best silhouette:

  • Your perspective should be adjusted so that the majority of your subject is visible above the horizon.
  • Adjust your exposure to the sky to really capture the intense colors of the sun.
  • To accentuate the silhouette even more, increase the contrast and deepen the shadows and blacks during post-production.
  • Position your subject of choice to be outlined by the sun’s rays.

Capture The Stars

You simply cannot go to the desert and not capture a shot of the stars.

With no city lights, the stars are at their brightest in the desert. Now, you can just shoot straight up and get pictures of the constellations and the Milky Way.

Or you can bring in subjects such as rocks and plants to give your image structure.

Another great option is to get out from behind the camera and to become your own subject. Providing you with a moment you won’t forget.

Night photography does involve some other techniques such as using a flash and adjusting your camera settings.

Spend some time getting to know your camera settings before going on your shoot.

Know Your Deserts

Techniques For Photographing Deserts - Deserts With Sand Dunes

Lastly, know your deserts! There are many types of deserts and each one will provide different terrain, subjects, and problems.

Deserts With Sand Dunes

These are what we think of when we think of the desert. Hills of sand going on for miles that look surreal and soft.

These make for incredible panoramic shots or even wedding photography.

Deserts With Plants

Not every desert has cacti and plants. But the ones that do provide a sense of life and give you lots of room to play and be creative.

Discover new shapes, lighting, and textures that are going to transform your images. Really play with the life the desert has provided being careful of snakes and other poisonous plants.

Deserts With Rock Formations

Rock formations are extremely common in the desert as the landscape is often left untouched. Meaning you have a large area to explore and utilize for the perfect shot.

Final Thoughts

There you have it! 9 incredible techniques for capturing the perfect desert photograph.

Going out to the desert for that ultimate shot can be daunting, the weather is unpredictable and the landscape is less than welcoming.

Remember to be prepared for anything and if the conditions are less than enjoyable, pack up and head home.

We always recommend shooting in the spring or fall when the weather is cooler and the environment is more forgiving.

With the tips above you can now head out and work on getting those epic desert photographs that are going to elevate your portfolio!

Laura McNeill
Scroll to Top