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In the Desert
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In the Desert

Deserts can be wonderfully rewarding for photographers. We tend to visualize these austere landscapes as vast, arid wastelands, but in fact, most are rich with life.

In the more barren desert regions, geologic and graphic components are so minimal—sand, rock, sky, and plants—your compositions will often verge on the stark and abstract. To exploit the visual simplicity of such environments, focus on the details that reveal the harsh nature of the place: ripples of wind-driven sand cresting into nomadic dunes, fractured patterns of cracking mud in dry watering holes, the delicate trail of lizard tracks leading from rock to rock. Textures abound here, too, and you can really make them "pop" with low-angle light from the side or rear.

In regions that get some water, the shapes and textures of tenacious forms of plant life may be the main attraction. In the saguaro forests of southern Arizona, for instance, the fanciful profiles of the giant cacti make dramatic silhouettes against a sunset sky. In spring, especially after a wet winter, the desert floor often erupts into a tapestry of colorful blooms. Planning your visit for peak blooming periods requires research and sometimes flexibility, but the satisfaction is worth it.

Remember that when shooting in the desert, you must be prepared for the somewhat hostile environment—heat, nasty insects, sharp cactus spines, and rough footing can be torture if you're not prepared for them. The desert heat can be brutal at midday and the light is not attractive; save your energy and your batteries for the low-angle light of early morning and later afternoon. Always bring more water than you think you'll need (a minimum of a gallon per person, per day for light hiking), and carry a small umbrella to protect you from the sun.

Next: "Canyons"