Socotra is one of the most stunning places on the planet to photograph. Its strikingly white sand dunes and breathtaking dragon blood trees certainly have a lot to do with it. But there’s way more to love about one of the planet’s most biodiverse islands.
I’m Daniel Kordan, a Skylum ambassador focused on capturing magnificent locations on camera and taking creativity to a bold new level. And today, I’m sharing my masterpieces from the top five photography spots on Socotra along with photography and editing tips to help you create images that are just as stunning.
1. Diksam Plateau
Diksam Plateau is the home of the Dracaena cinnabari. Also known as the dragon blood tree, it will immediately captivate your attention. And the story behind it will draw you in even further. According to legend, the first dragon blood tree was created from the blood of a dragon who was wounded in a battle with an elephant. But if you think that’s unbelievable, just wait until you see what you can do with the right photography techniques and the power of LuminarAI.
When to shoot: There’s something magical about shooting the Diksam Plateau at night, especially with no light pollution on the island and a breathtakingly clear atmosphere. Try to choose a week with no moon or with the moonrise deep in the night sky.
Luminar editing tips: Use Sky Enhancer AI to really bring out the Milky Way. And for even more vibrance and colors, try Dehaze and Golden Hour. You can also balance the color temperature in the Light tool to create a blue ambiance. And if you want to create a soft-looking, cloudy Milky Way, hit the Creative section and take advantage of the Glow tool.
2. White Sand Dunes
Your body says desert heat. But your mind says snow-capped mountains. You’re looking at the gorgeous white sand dunes of Socotra. Marvel at the breathtaking sight of gentle white lines of sand merging into a gorgeous turquoise sea. There’s nothing like it anywhere.
When to shoot: Consider shooting the white sand dunes after sunrise. With harder light, you’ll have a nice contrast with sand lines and textures. And during daylight hours, the sand will look pure white.
Luminar editing tips: To cool down the color, head to the Light tool and click the color picker. You can use it to make the sand appear pure and white. And under Curves in the Light tool, you can control the curves and set up white points with ease.
3. Eden Garden of Blooming Roses
I don’t have proof that this is the lost Garden of Eden, but it wouldn’t be surprising. There’s something incredibly tranquil about this purely magical spot featuring frankincense trees, a gorgeous natural pool, and some of the most unusual flowers on the planet — all overlooking a magical blue ocean.
When to shoot: Make sure you’re there around 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise to witness something magical — a purple sky. It’s an unbelievable time to shoot flowers. Try capturing your photos against the light so that the flowers really shine.
Luminar editing tips: If you want to add warmth and vibrance, use Color Contrast in the Color Harmony tool (Professional section). And for more impressive foliage, use the Foliage Enhancer in the Landscape tool (Essentials section). You’ll have an unbelievable flower image reminiscent of an idyllic summer.
4. The Village of Qalansiya
Upon first seeing Qalansiya, I wasn’t sure which was more beautiful — the beach or its people. The second largest settlement on the island, you’ll find Qalansiya right next to Detwah Lagoon, a protected area by the Arabian Sea. With one of the most picturesque beaches on the planet and warm, inviting people, there’s no shortage of wonderful things to photograph.
When to shoot: Begin your hike 30 minutes before sunrise. That should give you enough time to find a perfect spot and something impressive to capture, like a beautiful blooming bottle tree. Be prepared to meet locals along the way.
Luminar editing tips: In the Color tool in the Essentials section, you can desaturate the blue color that’s saturating the Aqua and Green. This will help make the blue sky a little paler and make the water appear more attractive. If your photograph has a tree, try the Dodge & Burn tool to enhance the light and shadows. And if you want to control little details like small waves or larger details like clouds, try the Details tool.
5. White Sand Desert
A desert within an island? Seeing is believing when you visit the Zahek white sand dunes and Aomak beach. These sand dunes aren’t huge, but they’re pure white and very soft. And they provide the perfect backdrop for a world of photographic possibilities.
When to shoot: Arrive at least three hours before you plan to shoot, since getting the perfect shot takes some preparation. Plus, there’s a lot to capture. About one to two hours before sunrise, you’ll still have hard shadows. You can shoot beautiful sand textures, which make perfect prints. And if you want to include people in your pictures, consider bringing a blue or red outfit. A woman wearing a dress with the white desert sand in the background can be stunning.
Luminar editing tips: To warm up the highlights of the dunes and cool down their shadows, go to the Professional section, open Color Harmony, and use the Brilliance tool — along with the Warmth tool in Color Balance — to add blue to the shadows. You can also use the Supercontrast tool in the Professional section to protect highlights and keep them brilliantly warm without the risk of overexposure. And with the magic of AI, you can texture your images, enhance them, and create the perfect print.
There’s so much to be in awe Socotra has over 800 species of exotic flora, and about a third of them are unique to the Socotra Archipelago. With plants taking on strange shapes due to Socotra’s hot and dry climate, 192 species of birds, a variety of reptiles, diverse marine life, and breathtaking scenery with rich, vibrant colors, Socotra really is every photographer’s dream. FAQs for the first-time Socotra photographer
How Do I Get to Socotra?
There’s an Abu Dhabi to Socotra charter flight available, but you can’t book your seat online. Instead, you need to partner with a local agency. It’s helpful if you go as a group, which is exactly what I did with fellow photographers.
You’ll also need a Yemeni visa to visit Socotra — something the local agency should be able to handle.
If you’re traveling there during the pandemic, beware of COVID-19 testing requirements. You’ll need a negative PCR test no more than 72 hours before your departure. Remember that rules are always changing, so consult a travel agency before making arrangements.
What’s the Infrastructure Like?
If you’re looking for American comforts, stay home. Socotra has zero tourism, so don’t expect fancy hotels. I stayed in a tent in the wilderness, bathed in natural freshwater pools, and cooked my meals on an open bonfire. That’s what you can expect for the most part. But keep in mind that the capital, Hadiboh, is littered with plastic and trash, so I’d avoid that area.
Is It Safe to Travel to Socotra?
The island of Socotra is a part of Yemen, which is torn apart from long-lasting civil wars. Socotra is isolated from the mainland, so it felt safe to tour through. And the people I encountered were wonderful. Lots of smiling kids. Nobody selling stuff to tourists. It was magical.