At first sight, sand dunes may seem too vast and maybe even too dull to photograph. But that’s far from the truth. Michael Shainblum takes us on a remarkable journey into the heart of Death Valley National Park. His quest is not merely to chase the dunes but to seize the ever-changing conditions on the dunes and translate these fleeting moments into photographic works of art. He shares not only his journey and photos, but also some tips on how you can capture the dunes and turn them into remarkable photos.
Armed with his tripod, a camera, 100-400mm, and 16-35mm lenses, Michael set out to isolate the intricate patterns that the dunes offer. He tried not simply to capture a landscape, but also to narrate the story of the dunes through diagonal lines, texture, and sand ripples.
In the harsh, windy conditions of Death Valley, he relied on focus stacking to ensure the clarity and sharpness of his images. With his camera set to ISO 400, he varied the aperture from f/11 to f/16 to adapt to the sun’s activities.
Tips for photographing the sand dunes
Here are some tips for photographing the sand dunes that you’ll hear in Michael’s video. Make sure to also read his blog post for more details and some stunning photos he took.
Pay attention to the conditions: pay attention to the ever-changing conditions of the environment you’re shooting in, and dunes certainly do change all the time. Rather than merely focusing on the static elements, harness the dynamic aspects like lighting, weather, and movement to enhance your photographs.
Gear and settings: use the appropriate gear and settings for your environment, as you would for every other shoot. For example, in windy conditions, a sturdy tripod and focus stacking can help ensure clear and sharp images. Depending on the sunlight, consider adjusting the ISO and aperture accordingly.
Experiment with compositions: don’t hesitate to experiment with different compositions – isolate patterns, play with symmetry, and vary your perspective to keep your images fresh and dynamic.
Experiment with lenses: Don’t hesitate to experiment with different lenses. A telephoto lens might help isolate patterns and elements, while a wide-angle lens could capture a more expansive view of the landscape. As I mentioned, Michael uses a 100-400mm lens and a wide 16-35mm one, so the results are very different and all equally beautiful.
Anticipate and be present: since the light and the dunes themselves change throughout the day, be sure to stay present in the “here” and “now.” Instead of waiting for the “perfect” light or scene, practice mindfulness and capture the beauty of the present moment. If you ask me, it’s one of the great things about photography; it teaches you to be present and observe the world around you just as it is at the given moment.
Patience and perseverance: landscape photography requires patience and perseverance. So, walk around, observe the changes in your surroundings, and capture them as best as you can. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get the “perfect shot,” this only means you get to come again and rediscover this beautiful place. This leads us to the next point:
Revisit locations: If you have the opportunity, come back to the same location again. It allows you to refine your compositions, make necessary corrections, and better understand the play of light and elements in that location.
Finally, remember to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. Sometimes, the joy of just being in an incredible location will give you all the inspiration you need, on the one hand. And on the other, it might even outweigh the need to get the “perfect” shot and let you just enjoy the ride.
[Get the MOST out of your Landscape Photography Shoots with these Tips & Techniques | Michael Shainblum]