Learn How To Take Better Phone Pictures In The Desert

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You’ll come across lots of amazing views everywhere you turn in this Valley, and it’s only natural to want to preserve these memories in the best possible way. After all, the anticipation, saving, and planning that come in advance of this kind of a trip calls for it. However, nobody wants to wander in the desert with two SLRs slung over their shoulders.

All that equipment in the camera bag will result in a heavy, often cumbersome load that only serves to slow you down. The good news is that today’s smartphones come well-equipped to document your experience, and you don’t have to carry a bulky camera kit to take some incredible travel snaps. However, taking quality pictures in the desert, especially with a smartphone, can be tough.

You don’t want your photos to appear uninteresting, or flat. When shot correctly, photos taken in the desert can look professional even if an amateur photographer shot them. Do you want to know how to take better travel photos with your smartphone camera? Here are a few tips and tricks to help you become the proud owner of some artistic photos.

Look at the Background

Most of the times when we take photos with our mobile phones, we completely forget about the background and focus solely on the subject. Neglecting the background when taking a photo is a terrible mistake as this one aspect of photography that has the potential to make or break the picture. It’s common to see well-taken photos spoiled by a bunch of electrical wires running overhead, parked cars, or an ugly garbage bin.

When it comes to taking photos in the desert, the background is critical. You need to make sure that you capture the vast beauty in the background or you will end up with an ordinary picture. Before you take a picture with your mobile phone, take a look and check if:

There’s an object running on top of the subject.

      • There’s something that cuts through the subject.
      • There are people walking around in the background.
      • The background is busting with activity.

If you take a few seconds to focus on the background, you will end up with a better picture. Move a few feet away if you find that there’s something that cuts across the subject or compromises the quality of the image in any way. If the background is busting with activity, perhaps wait until activities die down before you take the photo. That’s the only way you get to capture the unique serenity and majestic beauty of the desert in a photo.

Take Pictures in the Portrait Mode to Focus on the Subject

Back in the day, the only way you could get a bokeh or blurry background in a photo was via a pricey DSLR. Well, those days are behind us now, and smartphone cameras now have a portrait mode, multiple lenses, and a large memory. Smartphone manufacturers have given detailed explanations of how it all works, but let’s be real; our only concern is how good it makes our selfies look.

When you use the portrait mode to take a photo with your smartphone, you can blur out the distracting or unwanted elements in the background; there are plenty of those in the desert. This technique easily transforms your photos into artistic portraits, especially if your goal is to focus on the subject of the photo. Take some time to read about how the two lenses on your dual camera phone work to achieve this effect.

Take the Photos from Multiple Angles

Photography is all about storytelling – taking good pictures enables you to tell a story. When you take a million pictures at the same angle, you only end up with the same number of crappy pictures on your phone. Stand in different positions to create variations. Shooting from different angles will make your images distinctive and give them a bit of a personal touch. Try the following angles when taking desert pics:


. Smartphone cameras have a built-in panorama mode that allows you to go wide when taking a photo. Why settle for a standard 4×6 shot when you can go wider and capture the vast beauty of the desert?

      • Climb up high to get a vertical angle. Go uphill or any other high place in the vicinity capture the landscape below you in a stunning view. Some of the beauty in the desert can only be captured from above.
      • Shoot from below or under things. You can capture some great images in the desert when you shoot from below or under objects, say plants. Position your camera so low to the ground such that it faces upwards, to the sky. This angle is the best when you are taking close-ups.

Adjusting the angles as well as framing transforms your photography. Regardless of the number of times it has been taken it will look more interesting and unique if it’s shot at different angles. Some angles will result in better images than others thereby giving your photos a varied perspective. Overall, it will help you tell a good story about your experience in the desert.

Images taken without a point of interest end up looking dull and uninteresting, even in the desert. You can avoid all that by finding a point of interest when shooting in the desert. It could be people, a palm tree, a sand dune, or even a shrub. Just taking endless pictures alone will not make your images stand out.

Get the Correct Light

The type of light, depending on the time you are taking the picture, affects the quality of your pictures. If you want to bring out the color of sand, go for the red late afternoon light. The soft light gives the sand a beautiful glow which helps you avoid taking dull, ugly pictures. For the best results, take your pictures early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Here are a few more key points to help you capture better images:

      • Add a monolithic structure to your frames. Scale is a key factor in desert photography. Breathe life into the picture by adding various elements in the foreground for scale. It could be a camel or a cactus; it will help make your images more interesting.
      • Shoot perpendicular to the direction of sunlight. Pointing your phone camera perpendicular to the direction of sunlight will help you get the details, both shadow and light. A shadow will help add more depth to the image.
      • Avoid taking pictures with your back to the sun. When the sun is close to the horizon, that’s in the morning and the evening, don’t shoot with your back to the sun as there will be full illumination, hence no shadow. The result is a picture that lacks depth – flat and uninteresting.
      • Make good use of reflection. The human eye is attracted to reflections.They aren’t hard to come across in the desert since we have so much sun, so look for out-of-the-box places to find one. Shiny surfaces, water bodies like pools or fountains, and even sunglasses might work.

Pro Tip: When taking pictures, don’t shoot square. Most seasoned photographers will never do that. The reason for that is that you can never readjust the framing of your image when you shoot square. Shoot from a wide angle and crop into a square.

Protect Your Camera

Taking a quality picture with a smartphone is not an easy feat. It gets much worse when you are taking pictures in the desert. Remember that the dust and extreme temperatures can also affect the quality of pictures taken with a smartphone camera. The high temperatures can damage:

      • The lenses of the phone camera.
      • Internal electronics/other parts.
      • The body of your phone, especially the screen.

If you find that the temperature outside is too high, wrap your phone in light-colored clothing whenever you are not taking pictures to protect it from sand and dust particles. Your images will look better when the lenses are free of any dust or sand particles. The weather in the desert can change from calm to windy and extremely dusty in a short time, so be careful.


Edit your pictures – you can do that straight from your mobile phone. There are so many smartphone apps you can use to edit your photos, both on Android and the Apple store. The most popular ones are Snapseed, A Colour Story, and VSCO, among others.

Taking good pictures with a mobile phone is a skill that’s not so easy to learn. Use the tips above to make sure that the next time you make a trip to the California Desert and don’t feel like bringing your camera kit with you, you can still record the beautiful memories with your smartphone camera. It may take some time, but remember that practice makes perfect!

Have you taken some desert shots that you want the world to see? We can help with that. Share your pictures with us. Tweet us at @XPLORzine using #XPLORzine.

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