As a photographer, photographing the White Sand Dunes was an absolute dream. While there are a handful of dunes across the United States, only one is white, which makes this place so unique. Imagine miles of untouched dunes that allow you to explore, create, and capture.
During our visit to the White Sands National Park, we spent the day there during the bright blue hours and then as the sun set behind the mountains. So, we had plenty of time to play with different compositions and lenses.
Here are some of my tips for getting the best photos of the dunes....
Capturing The Dunes At The Right Time Of Day
The White Sands are maybe one of the most incredible places to shoot because they really look during all hours of the day. Because the white sand appears genuinely white, it will reflect the tones of the sun. When the sun is overhead, the sand looks as white as snow. As it transitions from golden hour to blue hour and beyond, so does the sand. As the sun sets, the ripples and shadows start to surface, and the mountains light up with bright colors before it settles with the softest pinks and purples.
Because the park closes at sunset, the only way to get the full, un-rushed experience is to grab a permit, take a tent, and set up in the backcountry camping area. However, if sunset isn’t an option for you, then the daytime with the bold white on a bright blue backdrop will still make for an incredible photo.
Wide To Compressed
We found that using our wide-angle worked the best to showcase the depth of the dunes. However, I absolutely loved how the telephoto compressed the dramatic turns and hills of the dunes together. The wide angle sometimes left the dunes feeling flat. As the saying goes, the best kind of lens is the one you have! Even an iPhone would work, but if I had to pick one – it’s the 70-200 mm for me.
Composition - Which Way To Face
The dunes will look incredible in all directions. Still, we found the best compositions facing South/West towards the San Andres Mountains because the wind blows west, forming the dunes.
Bring Some Life To The Photo & Add A Sense Of Scale
Because the dunes are giant, it’s slightly easier to see the full range with a subject. In my opinion, most compositions benefitted greatly by having an element to provide that sense of scale. Find something to add a little life to your shot, whether it be yourself, a friend, a dog, or a cactus.
If you are traveling by yourself, whether you are using an iPhone or a camera, there are plenty of ways to self-shoot so that you can get a photo of yourself that you’ll remember. What you’ll need is a tripod and remote clicker or intervalometer. Most new camera models actually have an interval timer built in.
I’ll show you what that looks like on my Sony Ar7 iii. To set that up, go into your camera’s settings, and look for the interval timer.
Go Some Distance
During the day, the dunes are flooded with people wandering and sledding down the dunes, leaving footprints behind. If you want pristine, untouched sand, head back about another half a mile. We found the best spots starting from the backcountry camping lot and heading south.
Capture What Is Already There
Add some variation to your shots. The White Sands has a diverse ecosystem with shrubs, trees, and bushes; you don’t have to go far to find them.
Look For The Patterns
Wind constantly changes the landscape at White Sands, creating all kinds of fascinating patterns – from repeating geometric to crazy weird. You can only see many of these once the sun is low in the sky, so morning or evening is when the patterns really start to shine for photography.
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