Every year, a city is built and destroyed in Black Rock City, Nevada.

Burning Man is a wholly unique experience — a place without any formal entertainment provided, but enough creativity and possibility to make the temporary city a form of entertainment itself. Art is created, then burned. The 10 guiding principles of Burning Man (among them: “radical” inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression) make it a haven for curious creatives and artists.

The strange, yet fascinating experience can be tricky to photograph if you’ve never been before, so we consulted Alina Rudya (@rrrudya) and got advice for all photographers heading to Burning Man later this month.

Get a press pass

Since Burning Man is a private event, you’ll need to get a press pass if you’re planning on photographing for commercial purposes.

If you’re only taking photos for your personal scrapbook or to hang on your wall back home, you’re in the clear. Posting on social media (for non-commercial purposes) is fine, too, but if you’re planning (or even considering) using your photos from Burning Man for any kind of for-profit work, it’s better to err on the safe side and get a press pass.

Choose your equipment wisely

As you’re packing for Burning Man, ask yourself this: Are you willing to sacrifice your expensive camera equipment, or would a smaller camera do the job?

Though she did have her DSLR with her, Alina found that simply having her smartphone was enough in most cases. Burning Man is such a unique setting anyway, you probably won’t need a several thousand dollar camera to capture your experience in photos.

Buy protective cases

According to Alina, dust is your number one enemy at Burning Man. Dust storms can appear out of nowhere and destroy your camera if you’re not prepared.

She recommends buying a plastic, protective case for your gear to protect it from the harsh environment in Black Rock City. At the very least, protect your camera with a plastic bag and lots of duct tape. You’ll thank yourself later.

Be prepared for the bonfires

The Black Rock City bonfires burn at night, and at dawn. Night photography can be a bit more difficult, so Alina recommends using a higher ISO, a tripod, and artistic blur to help take better photos.

Photograph the interactions

Burning Man is a spectacle in and of itself, but it’s also a massive community art experiment. The installations are strange, wonderful, and never the same. It can be easy to get caught up in photographing the art, but all you’re doing is documenting someone else’s work.

Instead, Alina suggests turning your camera on the people. Your pictures will be unique if you capture the interactions between the people (Burners) and the art itself. Keep an eye out for unusual situations and try to capture spirit of freedom at Burning Man. Get up at dawn and make the most out of the light. Pay attention to the people around you and try to create a story that will capture the true mood of Black Rock City.

Don’t over-edit your photos

When it came time to edit her photos back at home, Alina stuck with only minimal changes. She made slight corrections in Adobe Lightroom — adjusting the color, contrast, and sharpness if necessary. Otherwise, she left the images alone.

“With Burning Man photos you don’t need extra effects because it already looks like you’ve shot on the set of a sci-fi movie.”

In 2017, Burning Man will take place from August 27 to September 4. You can buy your ticket online.

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  • You don’t need to tape a camera or use plastic bags or protective cases. Modern high-end DSLRS (and professional film cameras) are generally weather sealed and durable. That’s part of why they cost so much.

    I had a Nikon d750 with a 24-70 f2.8 and a Leica M4-2 with a Canon 50mm f1.8 LTM lens. I had neither in any sort of case and they’re fine; it’s also not the first time I brought them to the playa. I had the Leica on a very dusty mostly off-pavement bike tour before Burning Man, in addition to lots of other harsh climates. During Burning Man, that bike tour and general use, I didn’t stash the cameras in a bag between shots, so they were exposed to dust 24/7 for 2 weeks.

    Leave the tripod at home. They’re bulky and you’ll be in other peoples’ way. Instead use a higher ISO for night shots. Keep in mind the larger burns are BRIGHT, as are some of the bigger flame effects, so shoot at ISO 12,800 for general night time, and something like 1600 for the burns.