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How to Photograph Deserts

I think the question I get asked most by fans of my work is: “how do you stay healthy when you spend so much time around deserts?” It is more than understandable – they’re not exactly linked with perfect health!

In this tutorial, I’ll be answering all the usual questions from staying healthy and the challenges of being a dyslexic photographer, to composing your images to make sure that every shot you take is the cherry on top.

Audience

When you find yourself on a job, camera in hand on a baking day, you can often forget who you are shooting for. With every image you take, consider who will be seeing it, and adapt. Without reverting to clichés, you can’t expect to have your cake and eat it – sometimes you will be commissioned for styles you don’t like to shoot in.

As a basic rule, for commercial or editorial, sometimes it’s worth stripping it back, keeping it simple and not getting lost in complexity. Whereas for prints and individual commissions, that’s your chance to really lay the icing on thick, where you can explore your creativity to its fullest and produce something completely different.

Remember, every client is unique, and you can’t expect them to want your preferred style every single time. 

doughnuts
Commercial work shot on an 85mm lens, 1/250, ISO 1000 at f/1.8

Composition and lighting

This will sound like a cliché, but know your subject before you start to shoot it. A good portrait carries story, emotion, and deeper meaning. The best portraits can turn something near-expressionless and be interpreted in a thousand different ways. Why should photographers of any other discipline treat our subjects any differently?

For me, I find myself looking for the small details. I’m known for a minimalist, abstract direction, where it’s often quite difficult to tell exactly what I’m photographing. I like to think my work is popular for this exact reason, it’s evocative even without the wider context.

ice cream
Desert photography takes great skill and a lot of practice – the proof is in the pudding!

There is no set rule on how to compose your image; whatever works for you should be what you choose to do. Anyone who says otherwise really takes the biscuit!

Read More on Nature TTL: Rule of Thirds in Photography: Composition Tips

Challenges

There are so many challenges working in this industry. Personally, I prefer to work alone – too many chefs and all that! – but I know many who work as part of a full team. It’s important in those situations to make sure everyone knows their role, with a subject as changeable as a desert, you need to be as efficient as possible.

The best advice I can give is to plan as much as possible. A desert is unforgiving, and turning up without an idea of what you want out of it will be the biggest mistake you can make.

Of course, sometimes all you want to do is put the camera down and eat, and I can’t recommend that enough. As much as they make pretty subjects, deserts are made to be eaten!

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Something strange about this article? This was our April Fools post for 2020!

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