Pre-Dawn Color

Ripples in the Mesquite Sand Dunes

Last month I visited the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park. I wrote about my Moon photography on the dunes, but I’d also like to share some of the photographs I made around sunrise and sunset.

Mesquite Dunes Before Dawn, Death Valley National Park

When photographing sand dunes, I like to emphasize the texture of the sand and the ripples of sand across the dunes created by the wind. The best time to do that is close to sunrise and sunset when the sun is low in the sky. At those times the sunlight skims over the top of the sand and creates shadows in the ripples, which adds contrast and brings out the shape of the ripples. In the middle of the day, the ripples of sand are blasted with light from above, so you lose the contrast and texture.

Sunset on the Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park

The other thing I love about the sand at these times is the pattern of curving lines it creates. Here’s another photograph I made around sunset that really shows those lines.

Ripples on Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park

The challenge of photographing the sand dunes in Death Valley, in particular the very popular and easily accessible Mesquite Dunes, is that they are covered with footprints! You have to hike out for a while to get to cleaner dunes, and even there you will find at least one or two foot paths. It is still possible to find clean areas for a composition, however. When I was at the dunes last month, what was really needed was a good wind storm to clear away the footprints and refresh the dunes. On one of my trips a few years ago, I was there during just such a windstorm, and it presented its own challenges! But the ongoing winds allowed me to make a photograph like the one below, where I captured a larger panorama of the area without having to worry about footprints all over the place.

I love visiting the sand dunes of Death Valley. In both calm and windy conditions, they offer lots of great opportunities to create beautiful photographs.

Tranquility on Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park