Making of White Dunes

On the last day of my trip to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, I set out to find the iconic Yuccas to shoot. I walked more than 20 minutes in the desert looking for one, but a bush in the distance eventually captured my attention instead.

When I reached the dune, about an hour before sunset, the angle with the sun was just right, the background clouds were very promising. Just the right amount of clouds, in a good position, with the enticing hope to be lit by the setting sun just right.

I carefully prepared the composition over about half an hour of testing and refining the framing.

I tried to avoid as much as possible the messy background on the top left of the frame while giving center stage to the beautiful bush in the foreground and the leading ripple lines in the sand. 

Again I was looking for simplicity, a strong composition to convey one single concept clearly.

I set up my composition and I waited. 

The waiting was in many ways the reward, the wonderful pristine white dunes all around me, the peaceful sound of the wind to underline my contemplation of the beauty of this location. Everything else that would come after the waiting would only be the cherry on top.

The build up to taking the final image was gorgeous, with an amazing strong and yellow side lighting casting a very defined shadow at right angle with the camera. But the real show was just about to begin, when the sun went down and a magenta, soft and diffused light bathed the entire national park for just few minutes.

Only the time to take a bunch of exposures.

Upon downloading the images on my Macbook for processing, the initial impression of what later would become White Dunes was less than stellar. As much as I tried to avoid the messy background, the small plants in the distance were still in the frame and ruined for me the entire image that, in my view, was about clarity and simplicity. Something overall was off with the image, I could see some of the strength, but somehow it didn’t pass the bar to work further on it.

I put it aside to come back at a later time and worked on other images from the rest of the trip instead.

I went back to working on White Dunes several times in the next few weeks. I chose to exposure to blend together, one focused on the foreground and one on the background, to achieve front to back sharpness.

My post processing work mainly targeted the top left background to clone out the little messy plants in a clean way. I also spent several long and tedious hours cleaning the bush in the foreground from countless imperfections and scouting the entire sands for anything that would break the patterns. What was left was leading lines and soft pastel colors.

And my feeling about the image changed dramatically.  

I kept going. To soften up the sky, I added a touch of Orton effect to the top of the image, which gives a dreamy-like quality to the overall look and emphasizes the pastel colors. The top-right portion of the sky itself proved to be especially difficult. It required a lot of work and finesse to keep the brightness in check and even across the entire sky.

White Dunes is decidedly high key in nature to evoke peace and positivity, while the gentle dunes in the background echo the softness of the color palette, also reflected in the beautiful unimposing colorful clouds in the sky. Everything in the image came together strongly through sheer work on polishing the details with the goal of extracting the essence of the message from the image, without changing its core nature

White Dunes is a good example of why we are not good judges of our images. I certainly am not a good judge of my images, which is why I often go back to old exposure to make sure I didn’t miss any thing of value.

If I had left White Dunes in my catalog following my first impressions, I would have missed an image that would eventually end in the International Photographic Competition Loan Collection, become Photo of the Month of the Landscape Photography Magazine and keep collecting awards around internet. I was very lucky this time to be in the right place at the right time and to stick to the final image.

Have you looked at White Dunes in the store yet? It's available in Limited Edition fine prints and canvas.

Check it out now by clicking on the image above.

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