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The Challenge of Desert Photography - United Arab Emirates

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

As most landscape photographers are aware, weather conditions can always cause havoc in the field. Come rain or shine, its important we try to 'get out' in all conditions no matter how challenging. I recently embarked on a trip to the UAE desert knowing full well there was a dust storm due to hit the region, but these conditions can sometimes be the most rewarding times to shoot (probably because, most photographers aren't stupid enough to go out in these conditions...). However, I grabbed my newly cleaned gear and set off in the early morning light.

This image was taken in the midst of a desert storm in Dubai and the choice of attire (shorts) was certainly a bad move ! :)
Sand Blasted 2019

I don't tend to shoot in the desert at sunrise or sunset as these are the most popular times for other photographers to shoot. I love overcast / flat light conditions, because this offers the ethereal aesthetic that I look for and reduces the contrast in the shadows. Don't get me wrong, I love a desert scene with high contrast lines and soft fading coloured light, it just goes against my style and edit which tends to follow an almost 'pastel expression'.

So I arrive at the chosen destination, which is a very small secluded desert, containing very few trees and undergrowth which suits my minimalist approach. At this point the wind is howling, I'm wearing shorts (big mistake) and I'm looking out of the car window regretting my decision. I make a call and change my 24-70mm for my 70-200mm lens, knowing a lens change in this weather would be impossible and felt more focal length will give me more options. The above image (sand blasted) was the first composition I found and the image doesn't fully reflect how much sand was blowing around in the atmosphere! I opened my camera bag for a second to retrieve a cloth and an air-blower and within seconds the compartments were filled with sand. My arms, legs and face were getting sandblasted (a natural exfoliation) and I wear contact lenses, so I was doing my best to cover my eyes with my sunglasses. That said, the final image was super soft and in high resolution, you can see the sand kicking off the dunes, but the tree stands proud and sharp which emphasises it's presence. The image reminds me of a seascape long exposure, where static objects can hold a strong stature in the milky soft waters.

My next location was another lone tree on a desert plain flanked by dunes. This tree is more of a sapling and on further inspection I noticed that the bark on its lower trunk had been sandblasted off. The environment is so harsh for life, searing heat in the summer months (45+ Degrees) almost freezing evening temperatures in the winter months and relentless sandblasting. The sand was being blown across the plain and creating the bands of colour that you can see in the image. As the ground was flat, the moving sand was only a foot above ground level and created a strange visual effect, like a hazy river of different coloured sand particles. Partnered with the stormy overcast skies, the singular tree seemed to come alive and resonate the act of survival.

Intimate, 2019

Not far from the locations I was visiting, there is a cycle track, no prizes for guessing, I didn't see a single cyclist?! But the cycle path intrigued me, as it looked like it was heading into oblivion due to the almost mist like conditions that the sand was creating, plus the waves of sand that were being blown across the black tarmac offered a unique opportunity. This was my favorite frame that I took, you can see the orange 'glow' in the sky the particles in the atmosphere have created with an element of blue from the two cycle track signs.

So was it worth it? When I returned home I was rewarded with a collection of diverse images and a massive camera clean up job :) But on a serious note, it always pays off to head out in times when you feel the conditions might not be favourable. These are the times that can produce unique captures and some of the biggest rewards. I've included a small selection of other images below that were taken at different times that I visited the region, but with overcast skies that all produce a painterly effect that I crave.

I offer private workshops to locations like the above, please feel free to enquire via:

Thanks for reading.... !


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