Desert Shapes

Posted by in Photography

When I recently decorated my office with some framed prints I was facing a difficult choice: What are the photographs that I would hang on the wall behind my desk? After all, those are pictures I would be going to look at all day. I decided for desert views.

I love deserts. Deserts are a photographer’s dream – that is: unless sand ruins your equipment. The play of light at dawn and dusk interacts with the shapes of dunes and mountains. The clear sky and the lack of light pollution allow for breathtaking starlight at night. The odd shapes of desert allow for interesting angles. Emptiness can be so beautiful!

Most of the pictures you are going to see in this series are taken in Morocco. But before I take you to the Northern rim of Sahara desert, let me show you two photographs from Namibia:

Road to Walvis Bay, Nambia.

Road to Walvis Bay, Namibia.

I wish I had today’s equipment back in 2006 when I travelled Namibia. Instead, the two pictures shown here have been derived from low-quality scans of diapositives. When we approached Walvis Bay on the arid West Coast of Namibia a light sand storm transformed the area into a surreal scenery that could have been the set of an apocalyptic movie.

The most breathtaking desert shapes of Namibia can be found in Sossusvlei, where red sand dunes rise up to a height of 380 meters:

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia.

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia.

Let’s move on to Morocco. It is important to keep in mind that not all deserts are sand deserts. In fact deserts come in all sorts of shapes. The most simple is a flat plain full of nothing. They are easy to travel on as you can just speed across it:

On the way to Erg Chegaga, Morocco

On the way to Erg Chegaga, Morocco

Empty space allows you to focus on the sky:

Near Skoura south of the Atlas range, Morocco.

Near Skoura south of the Atlas range, Morocco.

Focussing on the sky is especially rewarding at night (the yellow light on the left is light polution of the nearby city Zagora):

Night sky near Zagora, Morocco.

Night sky near Zagora, Morocco.

In other areas desert comes in the form of mountains. The following area at Tizi-n-Tazazert resembles Canyonlands in the USA, only the colour is different:

Tizi-n-Tazazert, Morocco

Tizi-n-Tazazert, Morocco.

Now let’s get to the “classic” dune landscapes.  A good spot to enjoy dunes is in Erg Chegaga. This sand desert in South Morocco is located close to the Algerian border and one of only two Ergs in Morocco. We arrived there right on time for sunset:

Sunset in Erg Chegaga

Sunrise is equally amazing:

deserts-4477

Sunrise in Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Photographing dunes is actually more difficult than you might think: Since they reveal their shapes best with hard shadows, it only works well during the magic hours at sunrise and sunset. Often, the view from the highest dunes make them appear smaller than they are. From lower points the view is limited. Finding the most beautiful spot half way up the dunes in a very short time window can be exhausting: After all you climb piles of sand in which you sink in and slide down with every step you walk up. Here are some of my best frames:

Wind-shaped dune, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Wind-shaped dune, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Dune formation, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Dune formation, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Dune formation, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Dune formation, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Dunes, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Dunes, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Dune formation, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Dune formation, Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

Dunes of Erg Chegaga, Morocco

Dunes of Erg Chegaga, Morocco

Watching all these empty spaces we should not forget, however, that deserts often reveal traces of life:

A bird's trace in Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

An animal’s trace in Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

And sometimes you can also spot animals:

A bird in Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

A bird in Erg Chegaga, Morocco.

And finally we, the humans, also leave our traces:

The author driving on Lake Iriqui, Morocco (photo by Yvonne Masny)

The author driving on Lake Iriqui, Morocco (photo by Yvonne Masny)