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10 tips for photography in a sandy environment

It was a super windy and cold day at Great Sand Dunes NP. Elevation is more than 8,000’. We caught a break in the clouds. A snowstorm hit later in the day.

After shooting for several days in White Sands National Monument and in 40 mph winds at Great Sand Dunes NP, I offer a few things to keep in mind when taking photos in these environments. You’ll find many of these apply to shooting photos elsewhere, as well.

  • Don’t change lenses if at all possible while out in the sand, especially if the wind is blowing. If you have two camera bodies take them both with two lenses you feel will give you the most bang for your buck.

  • Overexpose since your camera will automatically underexpose

  • Use a quality polarizing filter

  • Use your tripod. After huffing up even a mid-sized dune through deep sand it can be difficult to hold your camera still.

  • Pay attention as you wander among sand dunes, it can be very disorienting once you are out of sight of the road or parking lot.

  • For sunsets use a graduated neutral density filter to balance the sand and sky

  • Wear sunglasses, a hat and use sunscreen.  The sun gets you from above and reflects back up from the sand.

  • Drink a lot of water, which means you’ll need to take water bottles or a bladder-type system

  • Shoot either early or late in the day, not just for great light but to stay out of the intense heat you’ll find in the dunes during summer months.

  • And finally, from a photographic standpoint, be mindful of where you walk. The sand obviously holds your foot prints til the next wind erases them, so you want to avoid marring the area in which you’ll be shooting.