Sand Storm, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley

Sandstorm, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley

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Read my February 9 blog for more about this amazing evening on the dunes.


For nearly an hour my workshop group played in relative peace on the dunes, but about fifteen minutes before sunset the clouds dropped and our window of calm slammed shut. Just like that sand was everywhere, invading every camera, clothing, and exposed body orifice. After a few minutes of extreme photography packed up and started traipsing in the diminishing light in the general direction of the highway. Not only was the visibility limited, the tracks we’d just left and that might have guided us back to the cars had already been all but erased. But despite the difficulty it was impossible to ignore the photo opportunities brought by these new conditions and most in the group continued shooting until we were off the sand.

Looking east I saw the crest of Red Top, the tallest of the Death Valley Buttes, poking through the blowing sand, hovering like a spaceship above the dunes.  I moved around a bit until I found a complementary foreground of aligned ripples and curved ridges. Wanting to ensure that the exquisite sand at my feet was sharp I closed down to f16; to capture the steady stream of sand blowing parallel to the dunes I experimented with ISO/shutter combinations before finding the effect that worked. (And said a prayer of thanks to Gitzo and Really Right Stuff for keeping everything stable.)

Contrast the color of the sand between this image and the image in my February 9 blog. The earlier image was partially warmed by rays of unfiltered sunlight breaking through gaps in the clouds; today’s image is entirely illuminated by cool, diffused light spread by the thick clouds overhead. It’s a good reminder that color isn’t simply an inherent quality of an object, but rather is a function of the object and the light illuminating it. While white balancing a scene to ensure a fixed color cast might be great for a wedding (God forbid you get Aunt Mabel’s dress wrong), it can rob landscapes of the very qualities that make them special.

Incoming Storm, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley

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