Waves of Sand

My good buddy Ryan Buchanan and I met a few month back in Death Valley National Park for an awesome photo weekend. It was my second time in Death Valley, so the...
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My good buddy Ryan Buchanan and I met a few month back in Death Valley National Park for an awesome photo weekend. It was my second time in Death Valley, so there was still plenty to explore, in particular my favorite area - the dunes! We had used the late afternoon to scout a number of compositions, I had settled on this one, Ryan was a few dunes further north. Waiting for the light I had decided to compliment the composition with the 'famous' sunstar generated by the Canon 16-35, one of my favorite lenses. 10 months ago I had dropped it out my camera bag while on a trip in Glacier National Park and it snapped right of the camera in half, heavily missed for the remainder of the trip. Luckily the excellent crew at Canon brought it back o life, so I could produce this image. It still seems to work alright!!

I hope you enjoy!
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Contest Finalist in Image Of The Month Photo Contest Vol 15
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6 Comments | Report
Witmar October 29, 2016
beautiful picture
guidobrandt October 29, 2016
Thanks a lot Witmar!
AliAlzuhair February 07, 2017
Pretty work!
guidobrandt February 07, 2017
Thank you Ali!
Jerry74 February 15, 2017
Really nice shot. Shows the beauty of a hostile place like a desert.
randalpair PRO+
randalpair February 17, 2017
Great lighting/exposure and depth-of-field to illustrate the shapes and far extent of the dunes.
Akhtar November 12, 2017
Beautifully captured
agiftoflove January 04, 2018

Behind The Lens

I took this image at the Mesquite Dune field in Death Valley National Park during a photo weekend with my good buddy Ryan Buchanan.
This image was taken during sunset which proved out to be really nice during that evening. We had started exploring the dunes about 1-2hrs hours before sunset. I had found several promising compositions, but when I found this nice s-curve wave of the sand dunes I knew that this was the spot I wanted to photograph for sunset. I checked with my Photo Apps and compass and it was cool that the sun aligned with this composition.
I love to shot into the sun although it comes with a lot of challenges: first there is the dynamic range that you have to overcome and then you need to combat lens flares and the like. Contrary to a lot of photographers, I have stopped using any neutral density grad filter as I struggle with color cast with my filters and find them difficult to use. I take several exposures with the camera and blend them later in Photoshop using layers and masks. To avoid sunflares I also takes several exposures and for some I cover the sun partially with my finger or lens cap so I don't have any flares for that part of my image. Again I blend this in Photoshop using layers and masks. It sounds initially complicated, but with a bit of practise and watching tutorials on the internet it becomes easy. I also shot this image with my Canon 16-35mm lens which is famous for its sun stars. Stop down to any aperture greater than f16 and you'll get a nice sun star like in this image.
I used a Sony A7rII as my main body and a Canon 16-35mm f2.8L II lens, using a Metabones adapter. I used to be a Canon shooter but have switched to Sony about a year ago for their cameras with bigger dynamic range. I am still using all my Canon lenses (in fact I recently bought the fantastic 11-24mm). For landscapes this combination works really well. For steady images I rely on my Really Right Stuff tripod, ball head and L-plate - it's not cheap but the quality and customer service is just fantastic.
I travelled to Death Valley the first time about two years ago and immediately fell in love with the place. In particular the sand dunes are amazing - incredibly exhausting to climb up and down, but they offer so many different varieties for compositions. You can try different focal lengths, go panoramic, intimate, abstract - the possibilities seem endless. So when I am there I am always trying something new.
For this image I had placed my tripod and camera just a few inches over the crest of the dune, so to get the image sharp throughout I had to take several images at different focus distances. Again I handblended as mentioned above I handblended the images using layers and masks in Photoshop. Prior to this I inspect each image for dustspots and perform basic adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw before loading them into several layers into Photoshop.
In my camera bag
I usually carry my Sony A7rII, a 16-35mm and 24-70mm in my bag. This is complemented by either a 11-24mm or 70-200mm lens depending of what subject I am photographing. I love zoom lens due to their flexibility and these days modern zoom lenses are equal if not better than prime lenses. Depending on the accessibility of the location (short walk from car park or longer hike) I adjust my contents so I don't kill myself with weight. A remote shutter release, some lens cloth and a Rocket blower are always in the bag as well. I always carry my Really Right Stuff tripod with a BH-55 ball head - this combo is so rocksolid - I have shot images in high winds and the tripod was just so steady!
My advice foremost is to arrive early at the location to scout the whole pace and find the most promising compositions before the light goes off. Many times I left it to late and ran around like a 'headless' chicken trying to 'find the image'! Give yourself plenty of time and try out various compositions. Try different focal lengths, different heights, etc. In particular with wide and ultra-wide lenses, moving the camera a few centimeters can have dramatic differences in compositions. For wide angle photos also remember to 'go close' and have an interesting foreground. The leading curve of the dune in the foreground above was only less than a meter away. Many times, when photographing a new location, I don't find the composition or the images that I am happy with - that happens and the trick is to go back and practise, practise and practise!

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