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  • June 26, 2018
  • 13 min to read

Exquisite Patterns in Sand Photography: What You Need in the Desert

Exquisite Patterns in Sand Photography: What You Need in the Desert

A few words about the desert, dunes and barkhans.

When we think about a desert, most of us immediately picture a sorching climate with hot rays of sun beating down on our heads and drenching us in perspiration. The more imaginative mind may draw a mental image of endless expanses of yellow sand, bare of any form of vegetation or greenery.

The endless ombre tones draw in your eyes and pull them towards the contrasting white hot of the steel-blue horizon, and it’s as though you’ve come to a place where time has ceased to exist. It’s a feeling of time having stopped. And you stop with it, hypnotized by the beauty of this endless hinterland, wanting to freeze the moment .It seems the time stops. And you stop for a moment. The beauty of landscape hypnotizes you and the desire to frozen the moment is becoming stronger and stronger. 

In fact, a desert landscape is generally characterized by rarefied and extremely impoverished vegetation, sands, bright sun, temperature changes throughout the day which you perceive with every part of your body, and environmental extremes.  The temperature plays on the contrast here: it can be so hardly hot during the day, and, at the same time, it can be so cold at night. 

This area rarely will be being watering. Rains in the desert don’t come often. In some deserts on our planet, precipitation can drop every few years or so. 

What’s so special about desert landscapes?

Although many characteristic features and common traits will show up if you carry out a typical ‘desert’ keyword search on the world’s most famous search engine, deserts can nevertheless differ vastly one from another--they are each as unique as fingerprints.  

In some, you see nothing but endless sands in all directions, while in others the surface consists entirely of rocky soils as hard as asphalt; many are bare as a moonscape, and yet others are filled with huge thickets of cacti or expanses of joshua trees and scrub. Deserts are not monotonous, as their usual stereotype tends to convey, but are each exceptionally distinctive   with fascinating features and vistas to observe and photograph.

Obviously, the main interest for photographers tends to be the enormous breadths of sandy surfaces, stretching for many kilometers and often varying in tint and hue. The most common desert colour is shades of yellow quartz, but you can also find black volcanic and sparkling white sands.

The backup plan

You don’t have to travel to a remote desert to capture the beauty of undulating sand patterns. Sand dunes are a beautiful natural feature to shoot and can be found in far more easily reachable locations--on beaches, near freshwater ponds, or in national parks, and can still convey a feeling of real desert texture and ambience.

Crescent-shaped dunes known as barkhans are another interesting desert phenomenon.   These particular dunes are in fact located in true deserts. There are about three dozen different varieties of barkhan, each with their own distinctive attributes. 

Dunes and barkhans often form stunning minimalistic landscapes, which compel you to want to capture their evanescent beauty.

Takyrs are also a typical desert feature. They are patterns formed of dried plates of clay, outlined by cracks in the dry surface of the desert floor. They are are not as dramatic or hypnotic as sand dunes, but they give off a true desert feel and can serve to make your desert photos more diverse and interesting.

Equipment, care, and tips for desert photography

When setting out to shoot in the desert, keep in mind that a serious problem for the photographer is the intense heat. Due to hot sun and low humidity,  heat stroke or dehydration is a real danger. In many torrid wilderness areas, daytime temperatures reach highs of over 50 degrees celsius in the shade.  Enduring the rigors of daytime desert photography can be a true challenge.

The desert is not a beach, it's a serious and unforgiving environment. First and foremost you should always bring enough water with you. If you are going into the desert by car, make sure the engine is in good working condition, the water in the radiator has been filled and the cooling systems are working properly. 

Once in the desert you will be moving through hot sand, which is much more difficult to manage than walking on a flat, hard surface. You will need to wear comfortable, practical shoes. In a desert there is always the risk of getting lost, because you are surrounded only by expanses of featureless sand or endless scrub, not to mention large rock formations and canyon dips in some deserts, which confuse direction and obscure visibility. In addition, unexpected and violent sandstorms can reduce visibility to just a few feet ahead of you. Therefore, it’s highly advisable to go into the desert either with an experienced guide, or armed with a compass (know how to use it!) and a reliable, working GPS.

Another issue issue is care of your photographic equipment. For filming in this area, you should use a mirror or advanced compact camera in a secure, protected bag. Don’t forget to protect your camera from the sand which can relentlessly work its way into the interior of your device.

Use a protective filter. It is recommended to change the lenses during shooting as rarely as possible, so as to prevent sand from getting into the internal compartments of the camera’s mechanism.  

Optics can be used in different ways. It depends on what you are planning to photograph. It’s generally desirable to have a wide-angle lens for shooting broad desert landscapes, and a telephoto lens for those cases where the subject of the photo is far away from you.

Remember never to shoot straight into the sun on desert shoots--the intensity of desert sun rays can easily damage your lens.

Aside from the beautiful desert land expanse, pay attention also to the desert sky, the beauty of which is renowned. If you are lucky, you can also capture some eerily unearthly desert panoramas, creating the impression that these are photos from Mars and the Moon. This effect can be achieved by photographing areas of the desert which have a unique surface tone, due to the presence of specific minerals or other deposits which colour the ground and surrounding formations.

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