Black and white or color
I've been going back through some desert images from a couple of years ago for a client and came across this image of the Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley National Park. I have processed it before but never did anything with it really because I was never happy with the result. It looked too magazine oversaturated and far too golden for my tastes. The clouds were also super wispy which just took the eye everywhere and gave the image an overall lack of focus. I got to a point in processing this as I often do and I know lots of other photographers do where you ask yourself what works better in this case, black and white or color. Black and white is always closest to my heart but color commercially sells better and is more digestible for most people. Monochrome landscape shots also inevitably get associated with Ansel Adams and while that is in some ways flattering, it's also seriously annoying when you've really worked at your craft. I've included both versions for comparison purposes.
Stuck in the conundrum, I decide to blend the two which produces for me a decidedly better end result. The colors are more muted which adds a bit more drama and the slightly washed out feel is a much more accurate description of what it felt like standing there. I was tired after all and the reflection coming off of large dunes was blinding.
A bit of backstory, on that particular day there were two photography workshops present that accounted for around twenty-five people shooting and easily thirty or more unaffiliated folks. In order to get virgin sand that hadn't been trampled on, I trudged a good mile and a quarter over the dunes to get to this spot. It was in May so not terribly hot by Death Valley standards but not easy going with a forty pound pack either.
Where did that come from?
I'm going to start including the unedited RAW original snapshot for a point of comparison in my posts. I think it helps to add a bit of context to where I started and more importantly gives you a little window into the thought process of pre-visualization that is so critical to my work.
The side light on the dunes really accentuated the ripples which was what drew me into this composition. As I said before, the clouds being so wispy irritated me so I layered in a strong motion blur to create a sense of movement and time in the upper third of the image and as the large dune curves back to the left, I darkened the area behind it to give it more depth.
Dunes are unforgiving. You have to shoot it first and then proceed forward if you want a different composition or you end up with really difficult footprints to photoshop out. I've also learned the hard way to carry around a big plastic garbage bag with me whenever I'm around sand like this. Back when I was a Nikon shooter, I was changing lenses on my knees at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado and got sand inside the camera body. Kind of makes sense right, all that wind that shapes the beautiful dunes is constantly shifting things around especially within six inches of the surface. I don't think I ever entirely got rid of all of it. With a bag, you can set down your gear on it and in the wind it creates a nice space to change your lens away from the numerous flying particles that will muck up your sensor. I recommend the big thick lawn bags they sell for picking up leaves. They tend to not be charged with as much static as the kitchen bags and they can double as a small shelter in a pinch.
The map below gives you a general idea of where I was standing.
If you're lost and alone
Or you're sinking like a stone
May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground
Fun Carry On
Until next time,