5 Tips for Capturing Sand Dune Photography
Landscape Photography Tips by Michael Shainblum
In this quick landscape photography video, I share my 5 favorite tricks and tips for going out to photograph sand dunes. Some of the tips include gear, scouting and searching for compositions. I also share some of my favorite Sand Dune images on the screen. These images were captured in Death Valley National Park, California. I really hope you all enjoy the video! You can also check out the written tips and a collection of my favorite Sand Dune Landscape Photography below.
TIP# 1: Go For A Walk (Scout Around)
This tip applies to most of landscape photography. Dunes can be a little chaotic and a bit daunting to photograph. It feels like stepping onto a giant puzzle with no one way to solve it. They can be a big test of one’s creativity. Getting a good shot of Sand Dunes takes time and takes patience. I scout for days observing different patterns, shapes, and arrangements of dunes. I’m not necessarily doing this to find the exact shot to capture later on, but I do this more as practice to train my eye to recognize the shapes, and open up my creativity so I’m prepared when new compositions pop up in favorable lightning. If you are having trouble shooting dunes, trust me, take more time to scout. It’s not that you CAN’T find a composition, it’s just that you haven’t found one YET.
TIP #2: Try Using Telephoto Lenses
Telephoto lenses have been my favorite for photographing the dunes. They really allow you to pick out little compositions within the scene to focus on. They also help to compress the layers quite a bit. Now, of course, it’s worth playing with a wide lens to see what you can create, but if I was given the the choice and could only bring one lens with me, it would be a telephoto.
TIP #3: Watch the way the light moves, and the transitions between Light and Shadow
Watch those edges of contrast where the light meets the shadow. You can create some beautiful shapes this way and some wonderful contrasts of color. It is also important to watch these areas to see how the light is moving. One minute there could be an interesting shape and then within a moment, it could be gone. Vice versa as well. As the sun moves across the sky and the shadows shift, different compositions could appear out of nowhere. It’s important to be vigilant on the dunes and observe the light. Also you don’t have to stop shooting the dunes when the sun is below the horizon – diffused light on the dunes can look incredible as well.
TIP #4: Embrace The Sand
You and your gear are going to get sandy. There is literally no way around this. You can pack your gear in plastic and not open the camera bag once, but I guarantee you will still find sand in places. Embrace it as part of the experience – I just prepare myself to eat sand for lunch and dinner. As long as protect your camera sensor from sand (i.e. don’t change lenses on the dunes), the sand will break out of the gear over time, and (in my opinion) the few hours to days of cleaning sand out of the focus ring of my camera is worth the breathtaking images you capture out there. And bonus – windy sand storms on the dunes produce amazing conditions like below.
TIP #5: Shoot The Dunes Under Any Conditions
You don’t have to rely on conditions for great sand dune photographs. Is it nice to get puffy storm clouds and a rainbow overhead – of course. But even on bright blue bird days where it feels impossible to get an image, there are many opportunities. In fact, I have gotten some of my favorite sand dune images on clear sky days (like the one below taken right after sunset). Dunes are fun under any lighting conditions, so definitely still go shoot around even if it’s looking less than ideal for landscape photography.