The desert is the natural element in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Deserts constitute over 1/5th of Earth’s landmass and around 80% of the UAE. Before moving to this country I had very limited experience in sand photography, but I expected taking shots in the desert would be extremely rewarding, primarily during the sunset hours thanks to the golden colors. The natural shades of the sand dunes create amazing sculptures, with lines attracting the eye and drawing fascinating patterns. Wide-angle and long focal length lenses are both suitable for this type of landscape photography, with panoramic shots often a logical choice.
The issue I often experience when shooting in the desert is the sky. In the majority of cases, the natural sky has been quite uninspiring lacking any element of interest, poorly saturated, and often hazy due to sandy conditions. I cannot state this is a universal truth, but that’s my conclusion based on what experienced so far. Take a look at the photo in this post. I took it in the Al Maha Desert (24°49’14.406″ N 55°39’13.35″ E) not far from Dubai, UAE. It’s a collection of 8 shots stitched together in Lightroom Classic. I used a Canon R3 and a 70-200mm f4 RF lens at 158mm, f8.0, and ISO 100. The resulting image is 350+MB in size. While I normally shoot landscapes with the Canon R5, I was expecting to capture some wildlife and that justifies the utilization of the R3. I like the foreground, but the sky in the original shot was an extremely uninspiring grey due to the high concentration of sand in the air and diffused haze. In the image shown it has been replaced with a peach black, nocturnal sky. Let me explain why I did it.
One positive element of shooting in the desert at night time is the limited presence of light pollution, especially when in locations sufficiently far from any human infrastructure. Based on this observation I decided to artificially darken the sky (extremely dull in the original shot) introducing a sort of Martian look into the image. In general, I tend to avoid any form of artificial manipulation of my photos. In this specific case, I thought this minor divergence from what my eye and my camera experienced in the desert was almost a necessary adjustment enhancing the rugged surface of the sand shaped by constant winds and the natural lines. The obvious and potentially unacceptable anomaly is the presence of some shades. That said, I think the dark element in the photo acts more as a sort of background rather than the sky, enhancing the details captured in the foreground. Therefore, replacing the almost monochrome original sky with a fake but more dramatic one seemed a more logical solution.
More desert photos can be found here.