Behind the Scenes: How to Photograph the Jordanian Desert

Here's how National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths got this stunning shot in the Jordanian desert while on a recent assignment.

For veteran National Geographic Travel photographer Annie Griffiths, a chance to return to the red deserts of Jordan is like an invitation to come home.

“I’ve been photographing the Middle East for more than 20 years,” she says. “But I love returning to Jordan. Jordanian culture is the most welcoming culture on earth. ‘Welcome’ is the first word a little kid learns here, and if they’re in a tourist area they will learn it in German. In English. In French. It’s very sweet and touching.”

The photograph here, shot by Griffiths in the first week of November 2016, is of a Bedouin and his camels. It was taken at the end of a day, when the shadows had begun to lengthen. The caravan was headed toward Wadi Rum, a remote desert sharp-eyed film buffs might recognize as the location for Matt Damon’s The Martian.

“Wadi Rum is a vast valley where the sand is very red, with exquisite sandstone rock formations that look like candles, partially melted and squooshed,” she says. “It feels so wild and beautiful. And it’s got such a yummy history. It’s where T.E. Lawrence hung out to go wreak havoc on the Turkish railway.”

Griffiths chose a wide-angled lens, a Canon 27-70mm, to capture both the guide and his plodding charges, as well as the sweep of the extraterrestrial horizon while bobbing atop a camel.

“What a wide-angle lens allows you to do is create intimacy against a backdrop,” she explains. “If you’re physically closer to something, it makes the viewer feel closer too. So, when a wide-angle is used right, that intimacy just happens. The viewer might not know why, but they feel closer to the image. A telephoto lens is about distance, but if you’re close to [your] subject a wide-angle lens will make a viewer feel closer, too. It’s so simple it’s almost laughable.”

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As for straddling a camel, Griffiths offers a one-word warning: “Don’t.”

“It’s very important to not ride a camel like a horse,” she says. “Camels are so wide, you’ll never walk again afterwards.”

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