20+ Breathtaking Desert Photoshoot Examples and Tips

Desert wedding and engagement photos are a unique way to capture the beauty and romance of your special day.  While there are a few desert wedding venues around the world, the most common of desert photoshoot are for engagement photos or elopement weddings.

From a photographer’s perspective, deserts offer stunning backdrops, full of visual interest and creative options, for your wedding photos, and they can be a great alternative to more traditional locations like beaches, parks and other nature scenes.

Types of Deserts for Wedding and Engagement Photos

Not all desert photography is the same, and the look depends on the type of desert.  Scientifically, there are many types of deserts, such as hot and dry deserts, semiarid deserts, coastal deserts, polar deserts, subtropical deserts, rain shadow deserts, cold deserts and others.  However, from a photographic and visual perspective, we’ll categorize them into three primary backdrops: 1) Dry sand dunes with expansive views and little to no vegetation 2) Deserts with plant life such as trees, cacti and other vegetation, and 2) Deserts with Rock Formations.  See examples below:

1. Dry Sand Sand Dunes

Dry sand dunes, such as Glamis in Arizona or the Sahara in Africa, create beautiful, clean, and interesting opportunities for photographers.  See the example below.

pye jirsa engagement photography
Image by Lin and Jirsa from Glamis

2. Deserts with Plant Life

Common with Rain Shadow Deserts like in Palm Springs or in many areas of Arizona, deserts with cacti and other drought tolerant plants present a distinctive look in photos.

loews ventana wedding amrit photography
Image by Amrit Photography

3. Deserts with Rock Formations

Cue the Westworld Theme Songs!  Common in western states like Arizona and Utah, rock formations are unique, interesting backdrops for photos with character and life of their own.  We’ll talk more about these later in the article.

marlies hartmann desert photography
Image by Marlies Hartmann

Why Desert Desert Photoshoots Are Unique and Interesting

Here are a few reasons to choose a desert landscape for your wedding or engagement photos.

1. Interesting Patterns and Compositions

Sand dunes can present compositional opportunities like negative space, leading lines, and more. Deserts can also offer a sense of vastness and scale that is difficult to find in other landscapes.  For example, in the photos below, see how the photographer kept the couple small in the frame and utilized a lot of negative space in the composition.  In addition, the clean, simple textures and shapes create a minimalistic feel to the image as well.

tanya parada desert engagement photography
Photo by Tanya Parada
david mendoza desert photography
Photo by David Mendoza

2. Incredible Sunsets for Your Desert Photoshoot

Sunsets in the desert can provide for some of the most beautiful colors.  According to Atlas Obscura, “In environments with more water vapor in the air, this results in sunsets that are more watered down, or pastel-colored. But in the desert, drier air means more vivid color wavelengths are able to shine through.” See some examples of colorful red and orange sunsets below.

marlies hartmann desert photography
Image by Marlies Hartmann
Justin haugen desert wedding photography
Photo by Justin Haugen
marlies hartmann desert sunset photo
Photo by Marlies Hartmann
rey benasfre wedding engagement desert
Photo by Rey Benasfre

3. Beautiful Rocks and Formations

The desert landscape is often coupled with incredible natural rock formations.  The texture, warmth, and unique shapes of these rocks create visual interest and personality for wedding and engagement photos.  See how our incredible photographers used these opportunities in the images below.

kevin holding desert wedding photography
Photo by Kevin Holding
jos tree engagmnet photography red rocks desert
Photo by Jos and Tree

4. Unique Vegetation and Plants for Desert Photoshoots

Cacti, Joshua Trees, and other drought tolerant plants have a character, vibe, and uniqueness that you can’t find in any other types of scenes.  Some of these plants can only be described as otherworldly, with distinct shapes, spikes, and textures.  See some of these examples below.

timothy eyrich photography desert
Photo by Timothy Eyrich Photography
david mendoza joshua tree desert photography
Photo by David Mendoza
elizabeth lloyd desert wedding engagement photography
Photo by Elizabeth Lloyd
jason vinson desert wedding photography
Photo by Jason Vinson

Soft Portrait Lighting (at the right times)

Desert lighting can be very harsh during the daytime.  But later in the day, the desert landscape can create beautiful soft light for portraits.  Why?  The neutral, often lighter tan and brown tones of the desert create beautiful bounce light that is perfect for filling in shadows.  See some of the examples below.

dan dalstra desert photography

Photo by Dan Dalstra Photography

jessie dallin desert photography
Photo by Jessie and Dallin

Incredible Dusk, Blue Hour and Nightscape Photography

Deserts are often far away from big city lights, so you can often incredibly clear views of the stars.  While capturing night skies with subjects that aren’t blurry isn’t an easy task, the right photographers, such as the ones we have in our community, can create magic with these opportunities.  See some of the examples below.

mhart photography home header glamis
Photo by Marlies Hartman at Glamis
marissa joy daly desert wedding photography
Photo by Marissa Joy Daly
jared gant desert photography
Photo by Jared Gant

Tips for Your Desert Photoshoot

  • Timing is everything! – Deserts have little to no shade, so expect terrible lighting in mid day sun.  Plan your session for the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Prepare for harsh weather – Be prepared for the dry and hot weather.  That might mean bringing an umbrella to use in between shots, having plenty of water, and choosing locations that don’t require a lot of walking.
  • Watch your footsteps in the sand – Footprints in the sand are difficult to smooth out, so plan the shots ahead of time so that you don’t walk all over the sand in areas that are in the frame.
  • Don’t get stuck! Have the proper 4 wheel drive vehicle and generally stay on the roads.  Driving off the road will often get you stuck in the sand, and most desert locations aren’t close to tow trucks.

Conclusion & More Desert Photoshoot Examples

The desert is a unique landscape for wedding photos. Whether you’re going out for a portrait session or you’re having your full wedding out in the desert, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for incredible, one-of-a-kind photos.  To end the article, we’ll showcase a few more examples of beautiful desert wedding photography from some of the best photographers in the world.

timothy eyrich deserts
Photo by Timothy Eyrich in Arizona
justin hauge desert wedding photo
Photo by Justin Haugen
dan dalstra golden hour desert
Photo by Dan Dalstra
kevin holding desert california photo
Photo by Kevin Holding
jessie dallin engagement photo utah desert
Photo by Jessie and Dallin
jos tree desert wedding photo
Photo by Jos and Tree
tanya parada desert engagement
Photo by Tanya Parada
marissa joy daly desert wedding photo
Photo by Marissa Joy Daly
jason vinson desert photo
Photo by Jason Vinson

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