Even Earth can look alien. Explore strange new landscapes with seven photographers as they share their adventures hunting surreal locations around the globe.

The great landscape photographer Ansel Adams once suggested that the best subjects are the ones that make you “feel, think, and dream.” Feeling and thinking are relatively straightforward, but inspiring dreams is more of a challenge. For landscape photographers, perhaps it isn’t enough to capture superficial beauty. After all, the most powerful images embed themselves in our subconscious. They are magical, unpredictable, and surreal.

Luckily, our planet is full of strange and wonderful places, some well-known and others more obscure. Some people travel around the world to discover landscapes that haunt their dreams; others find them in their own backyards. So, we asked seven photographers to take us on a journey to some of the most bizarre and awe-inspiring locations they’ve ever encountered. Below, they share their experiences and tips for others hoping to follow in their footsteps.

1. “Make sure to extend the golden hour a bit into daylight…”

Vitor Marigo

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Make the Most of Golden Hour

Image by Vitor Marigo. Gear: Nikon D7100 camera, Nikon 55-200mm lens. Settings: Focal length 200mm; exposure 1/320 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

My father always said Lençóis Maranhenses National Park was the most out-of-this-world place he had ever been to. He was one of Brazil’s first and most accomplished wildlife photographers and also my greatest inspiration. After he passed away, I felt like I should head there. Apart from my personal emotions, the place is indeed surreal. It looks like a desert extending as far as the eyes can see. But, there’s a small difference. It’s filled with thousands of crystal-clear rainwater pools!

Standing on top of those dunes, there’s no way to avoid thinking, “What planet is this again?” By the way, as I watched the latest Marvel movie Avengers: Infinity War, I noticed some of the scenes were shot at Lençóis Maranhenses. Even people in Hollywood know Lençóis Maranhenses looks like another planet.

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Protect Yourself at the Location

Image by vitormarigo.

Pro Tip

When it comes to photographing sand dunes, look for the times of the day when the sun is low on the horizon. That’s when you get the most beautiful gradient shadows and colors. Make sure to extend the golden hour a bit into daylight, which will naturally give you an almost black and white image, while keeping the beautiful low-light shadows. Also, these are usually sunny places with nowhere to hide, so make sure to wear a UV protected shirt and hat, and bring lots of water and sunscreen!

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2. “Preparing for a trip like this takes extensive planning due to the nature of the environment.”

Shaun Jeffers

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Plan Ahead for Your Trip

Image by Shaun Jeffers. Gear: Nikon D850 camera, Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 70mm; exposure 170 sec; f4; ISO 2500.

What’s the story behind this photo?

There’s no place quite like Ruakuri Cave in Waitomo, New Zealand. Being alone in the cave and staring up at the glowworms makes you appreciate the beauty the world has to offer. It’s honestly quite spectacular and difficult to put into words—very, very surreal! The idea that this tiny little worm is emitting green light and making a whole cave glow is amazing. The only way I can describe it is by saying that it’s similar to James Cameron’s CGI world of Pandora in the movie Avatar, but this one is real.

I’m drawn to a challenge, and when I started photographing glowworms back in 2015, there was very little glowworm photography around. It was unique, and I instantly fell in love with it. I’m constantly trying to find new and exciting ways I can shoot glowworms.

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Prepare for Harsh Locations

Image by Shaun Jeffers. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 14mm; exposure 120 sec; f3.5; ISO 3200.

Pro Tip

Be prepared to get wet and spend countless hours in underground caves, and remember to go with a qualified caver! This is without a doubt my most challenging photography to date. Setting up in the pitch black, chest-deep in cold water, is never an easy task. The longest I’ve been shooting in a cave is nine hours (in the same spot!).

To get to the part of the cave I photographed, you can either abseil down a 35-meter tomo (hole) or go in through small passages; either way, you’re in water most of the time, walking and occasionally swimming… with huge eels! Taking expensive camera gear through the water is a little scary, but I try to keep it as dry as I can.

Pictured: [1] Shaun Jeffers [2] Shaun Jeffers

Setting up the camera is a difficult process, as you have to do it while in the water with nowhere to rest your equipment. I’m usually with another caver, so they can assist with setting up. Once set up, the tripod is usually fully submerged, with the camera just sitting on the surface of the water, so it can be a little risky.

Preparing for a trip like this takes extensive planning due to the nature of the environment. The main things are making sure my wetsuit is clean and protecting my gear in multiple dry bags. Take towels; cave moisture soaks everything, and you are constantly wiping the front element while shooting.

These New Zealand caves are often sacred to the local Iwi (local Maori community), so make sure you have permission to go exploring and taking photographs. Glowworms are delicate, so be careful not to damage or disturb them in any way. The caves themselves can be millions of years old, and protecting them is very important.

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3. “Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy that beautiful view.”

marcin jucha

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Don't Forget to Have Fun

Image by marcin jucha. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35 f/4ED VR lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; exposure 4 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

When it comes to colors, fauna, and flora, there is no other place like the rose-tinted lake Laguna Salada in Torrevieja (Las Salinas de Torrevieja), located in one of the most impressive natural parks of Valencia, Spain. Last year, I was traveling with my dog around Europe full-time for seven months.

What started as “just another day” on the road ended up taking us to the most surreal place we had ever seen. I knew straight away that I needed to come back for the sunset, and I was right. What I didn’t know, however, is that despite it being February, there were millions of bird-sized mosquitoes waiting for us!

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Enjoy the View

Image by marcin jucha.

Pro Tip

If you’re looking for lesser-known spots that have great photographic potential, you need to speak to the locals. Nobody else knows better areas and hidden gems; always smile, be polite, and respect local culture and laws. And of course, make sure you leave the place “untouched” for the next photographer, visitor or even generation to come.

Unfortunately, these days, social media trends are pushing photographers to “get that shoot” at any cost, and they go way too far by disrespecting local laws and, in many cases, leaving their “ footprints” in nature. My main tip would be: don’t be too desperate to get the perfect shot. Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy that beautiful view. Oh, and don’t forget insect repellent!

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4. “The best time to photograph the Wave is in the midday sun, when the whole area is evenly lit.”

Barna Tanko

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Utilize Natural Light

Image by Barna Tanko. Gear: Sony A7 camera, Sony 28-70 F3.5-5.6 lens. Settings: Focal length 28mm; exposure 1/400 sec; f5.6; ISO 50.

What’s the story behind this photo?

After two weeks of waiting out the rain, I was number thirteen on the seventh day at the Wave lottery in the Kanab Bureau of Land Management. It is one of the most sought-after natural landscapes in the United States, and there is a lottery in place since the region is considered to be a wilderness area. Only twenty people are allowed to hike in daily. Luckily, my number came through.

I was selected and was going to hike to the Wave for the second time with my Vizsla dog, Blaze (yes, dogs are allowed on the hike). I packed two cameras, just in case: a Canon 5D3 with the 16-35F2.8L lens and a Sony A7 with the 28-70F3.5-5.6 lens.

Once we reached the Wave itself, I was pleasantly surprised; the bottom of the formation was filled with rainwater, creating a small temporary lake. The water was completely still, acting as a mirror, and the Wave was reflected upon its surface, creating awesome images from the landscape in perfect symmetry.

What struck me most about this occasion was the rarity of the water’s presence. After several trial shots, I lay on the ground with my camera just skimming the surface of the water. This was a riskier move to make, but the outcome was exquisite. With no wind and clear blue sky all around, the picture came together.

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Prepare for a Hike

Image by Barna Tanko

Pro Tip

The hike itself is a few hours long and not difficult, with several interesting formations to photograph along the way before reaching the Wave itself. Take your time; there is much to see and enjoy. Given the hot weather, I recommend taking along plenty of water, so pack accordingly. The best time to photograph the Wave is in the midday sun, when the whole area is evenly lit.

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5. “Do not take branches or pieces of bark from trees, and leave behind only footprints in the sand.”

Francesco Dazzi

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Leave Nothing Behind

Image by Francesco Dazzi. Gear: Nikon D90 camera, AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f13.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Located in the southern part of Namibia, inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park, Deadvlei is one of the most evocative places on the planet, worth the trip to this remote area of Africa. It was once an oasis of acacia trees fed by a river. When the river changed its course following the movement of the sand dunes, the landscape turned into what we see today: a vast depression with a white background, surrounded by high orange dunes dotted with dead acacia trees with almost black trunks.

These three colors offer incredible contrast, and the trees draw Gothic shadows on the bottom of the vlei. Total silence completes the intense sensorial and spiritual experience, encouraging immersion in a peculiar reality that can only be found here. This place is very isolated. There is no mass tourism, so it is a place where you can find tranquility. It is easy to spend a lot of time exploring all the shapes and shadows that this place offers.

Pictured: [1] Francesco Dazzi [2] Francesco Dazzi

Pro Tip

Deadvlei is easily reached by a short walk in the middle of the dunes from where you can park off-road vehicles. I advise you to go in the morning, when the sun is not yet high and the shadows are evident. The environment is pristine, so it is imperative to have the utmost respect for nature. Do not take branches or pieces of bark from trees, and leave behind only footprints in the sand.

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6. “Plan for the right season.”

John Crux

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Plan for the Right Season

Image by John Crux. Gear: Nikon D800 camera, 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 Nikkor lens. Settings: Exposure 1/40 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I was moved by the immense scale of the rice terraces in Yuanyang, Yunnan province, China, and how they’ve drastically transformed the surrounding landscape. I’d seen a lot of rice terraces before, but none on this scale. It’s the result of over a thousand years worth of farming by the local Hani people, all built just using basic traditional farming tools.

My favorite image is of the Laohuzui terraces (Tiger mouth terraces). Initially, the sunset was not as great as I’d hoped, as there wasn’t much color reflected off the water in the terraces. I was on the verge of calling it a day when the sun broke through the clouds with a big ray of light. It was a perfect way to end my nine-month trip in Asia.

Pictured: [1] John Crux [2] John Crux [3] John Crux

Pro Tip

Plan for the right season. If you get there soon after the autumn harvest, the terraces are filled with water, and combined with sunrise/sunset, they will give some colorful reflections. If you’re planning on shooting the terraces from the official viewing platforms, make sure to show up early to catch the sunrise and sunset. You’ll need time to set up a tripod at the front before the scores of Chinese tourist buses arrive.

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7. “Like a lot of photographers, I only take landscape photos early in the morning and late in the afternoon.”

Laurens Hoddenbagh

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Work with Daylight

Image by Laurens Hoddenbagh. Gear: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II camera, Canon 24-70 mm 2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 30mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f13; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I like to take graphic photos of surreal landscapes like the Sahara in Morocco and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. When I first visited White Sands many years ago, I missed the info that the park closed rather early. I took photos until the sunset, and as soon as darkness set in, it was very difficult to find my way back to the car. Everywhere I looked, I saw only white.

Finally, I found a road and started walking to where I thought my car was. A ranger found me and brought me to my car. He told me that the park was already closed, and they were looking for me everywhere. That was a good lesson for me. Since then, I’ve always had a compass with me. Now, I also have an app to help me find my car, and I always bring an extra power bank for my iPhone. This particular image is from a later trip to White Sands.

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Take Safety Precautions

Image by Laurens Hoddenbagh. Gear: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II camera, 70-200mm 2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 200mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f13; ISO 100.

Pro Tip

Like a lot of photographers, I only take landscape photos early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Walking in vast areas like the Sahara and White Sands without sunlight is difficult, so prepare accordingly. In sand dunes and similar landscapes, I usually drive to the end of the road and walk until I find an area where no other people have left footsteps.

7 Photographers on Shooting the World's Most Surreal Landscapes — Know Where You Are

Image by Laurens Hoddenbagh. Gear: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II camera, 70-200mm 2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 200mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f16; ISO 200.

Top Image by Barna Tanko.