I have taken photos in deserts before, but this was my first time with walking camels included. It is like taking pictures of wild animals: predicting the lighting and controlling the composition can be quite a challenge.
To shoot this scene, we went to Kumtag National Park (Xinjiang, China) twice to find an ideal location in this huge desert. First we went to a remote area with no tourists, hoping to avoid footprints in the sand. The sand dunes did not look good enough to photograph, though, so we moved over to the public area. The patterns of sand there were much more interesting and there were some beautiful sculptures that added drama to the pictures. So we decided to shoot over there the next day.
We arrived in the morning before sunrise. I immediately realized that it was too early to shoot because the desert looked flat without sunlight. But everything changed when the sun began to rise. The shadows were dancing all around the sand dunes, and the camels were moving too.
"There was no need for the 1.7× teleconverter anymore, but the camels kept walking and I had no time to change my lens."
The camels were too far away, so I added a 1.7× teleconverter to my 70–200mm lens, otherwise they would have been too small in the picture. Those camels were walking so fast in the desert, and after a few shots they were right in front of me. There was no need for the 1.7× teleconverter anymore, but the camels kept walking and I had no time to change my lens. I just took some close shots and waited until they walked away. Luckily, they walked toward the castle, and the sun lit their walking path. I took several shots on their way to the castle, but the composition of this image is the best.
The light and the camels were out of my control, but I was very happy that it all worked out so well and I that was able to capture that moment.
This image was shot in May 2013. I did not pay attention to it at first, but a year later, while I was looking through the photo album from that trip, this image caught my eye. So I started to process it. It was shot in RAW format with an aperture of f/6.3, 1/400 second, ISO 200 and white balance was set to daylight.
I made some basic adjustments in Nikon ViewNX 2, and then exported the image to Photoshop CS5 to finish the processing.
1) I first imported the RAW file into the free software Nikon ViewNX2. I decreased exposure compensation to –0.9, increased contrast to 33 and changed white balance to FL-G2.
2) I then converted the file to TIFF format and opened it in Photoshop CS5. There I first used the Healing Brush tool to remove some litter in the sand. If the Healing Tool could not manage the job, I used the Lasso tool and a Content-Aware Fill.
3) Then I adjusted Curves to add more contrast.
4) I also used the Dodge tool to emphasize the rim light.
5) To make the camels stand out, I made an adjustment layer and decreased the exposure a little bit for the background while keeping the foreground as it was.
1) Review your old photo albums. There may be some precious images that you did not notice before.
2) Familiarize yourself with the location you want to shoot. The better you know the location, the better your chances are to get a great picture. You need to know when and where the sun rises or sets, what you want to include in your picture and how to arrange the foreground, middle ground and background.
3) The best time to photograph deserts is within half an hour after sunrise or before sunset.
4) Try different lenses and angles (vertical and horizontal) to get different options of the same scene.
5) Use continuous shooting mode to capture animals without missing the critical moment.
6) Follow the light. Observe it carefully and use it to highlight your image.
I live in beautiful Colorado, United States. When I am traveling, hiking or skiing, the camera is my third eye to explore the wonders of the world and to capture the beauty of nature.