Taking Great Photos in the Dunes

Anyone can take good pictures at White Sands-if you have a camera, film or digital, a way to push the shutter and lots of batteries. It's such a unique, fascinating place that it can't be helped! Great pictures, however, require the same techniques and way of looking at things that pros have learned.

(**Note - Commercial photographers and filmers need to obtain a special use permit at least one week prior to their shoot.)

Sunset on the dunes

NPS Photo

Time of day

Most professionals know the golden hours are around two hours after sunrise and the same before sunset. Every day is different. Sometimes there are crystal clear views of the surrounding mountains, sometimes awesome cloud formations that change hues by the minute. The Sacramento Mountains to the east are especially beautiful just after the sun dips below the horizon. They are bathed in a pink afterglow followed by the rise of the earth's shadow. Set your ISO high enough to keep your shutter speed at 125th of a second or higher, and take a deep breath before pushing the shutter.

Pristine sand dunes

NPS Photo

Look for untouched places

If you want the complete experience of the dunes, find an area with little, if any, human presence. Open your senses to the vastness around you. It not only relieves stress, but also helps you see the world in a different perspective and light. Speaking of light, take your camera off auto at least part of the time and experiment with different exposures. The dunes are highly reflective and give a false reading to your camera sensor. The interdunal areas are great places to find animal tracks and rugged, gnarly plant growth.

Claret Cup Cactus

NPS Photo

Change your point of view

* Climb high! Hike to the top of the highest dune around-the highest ones are toward the end of the road-and look around you.

* Get down! Drop to your knees and look up. Low-angle yuccas against the sky are a favorite of mine. The delicacy of the dune grasses is another.

* Get close! The patterns left in the sand by wind blowing grasses and leaves are fascinating. Sometimes you will find the tiny tracks of a darkling beetle (better known as a stink bug) just waiting to be recorded; sometimes you find the actual beetle.

Did You Know?