Sand dunes are some of the most visually stunning subjects you’ll find in the desert. In a land that’s dominated by sharp cactus and pointy rocks, dunes provide some relief with their smooth curves and soft sand. So, naturally they make good subjects for photographs. Here are a few tips for photographing them:
#1 – Watch where you walk
Avoid walking through the middle of dunes, since that’ll mess up those nice lines in the sand and ruin any opportunity to photograph the dune. Instead, walk around dunes, or only walk through dunes you know you don’t want to photograph.
#2 – Look for shadows
One of the most simple ways to add strength to a dune photo is to include strong contrast between a sunlit sand dune and the shadow behind it. The easiest way to do this is wait for sunrise or sunset when the sun is low on the horizon and casts long shadows. Then, just look for dunes that run North or South.
#3 – Look for layers
Many dune fields are surrounded by large mountain ranges (which actually help create the dunes), so you can also create some nice images by layering the dunes with mountains in the background. This works especially well when the mountains are much darker or lighter than the dunes (providing some nice contrast).
#4 – Avoid putting down your camera bag
Even on seemingly calm days, a lot of sand tends to move around in dune country. So, if you put down your camera bag on the sand, you’ll likely get sand in all the small crevices of your bag (and if your bag is open, the sand will likely end up on your camera or lenses). This is a real pain to clean, so hold your bag or hang it from your tripod when you’re taking stuff out.
#5 – Avoid the biggest dunes
When you first see a large field of sand dunes, you might think of always heading to the largest dunes in the field, but these don’t always make the best photographs. The biggest dunes are often the most visited, so they’ll likely have human footprints all over them. If you’re looking to photograph some undisturbed dunes, then head out towards the edges of the dune field.
#6 – Switch your lenses before venturing into the dunes
Last week, I talked about the importance of being careful when and where you change your camera lenses. With all the sand that’s constantly blowing around in dune country, it’s a good idea to avoid changing lenses out there. So, before you head out on a hike in the dunes, make your best guess about what lens you’ll be using out there and mount that lens on your camera.
What did I miss?
If you have another tip for photographing sand dunes, please share it with us by leaving a comment below. Thanks! 🙂
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of Southern California.