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Mojave Desert, Part 3: Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Sand Texture in the Mojave Desert
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I think I could photograph the ripples in these sand dunes for days and never get bored. That’s why I did a lot of it on this trip. I also find that shooting in the square film format and using my camera handheld (as opposed to my usual tripod method) makes photographing this sand texture all the more fun. The ripples are simultaneously perfectly ordered and utterly random. They’re like the grooves in your fingerprint - each one is different and yet they all look pretty much the same at first glance.

The most interesting thing about these ripples and textures is that they are formed entirely by wind alone. It’s nothing more than a side effect of a natural weather phenomenon. It’s simply remarkable that this is what mother nature creates when she’s left alone. And like an etch-a-sketch, each one of these sculptures is shaken clear and re-formed with passing time. They are transient and temporary, a fact that makes photographing them all the more special.

At the Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve, you’ll find faint layers of black sand mixed in with the more common beige variety. I presume the black sand comes from the volcanic rock of nearby cinder cones which has been eroded down to granules and transported by the wind onto these mammoth piles of sand. The real interesting part comes in how the wind separates the black sand from the beige sand. It seems one of these types of sand is heavier than the other. This fact is evident all over the dunes where a strip of black sand will crown the top of a crest or line the valleys of sand ripples like a black highlighter drawn along their edge. The result is a multi-colored painting of sand and wind that even the finest artist couldn’t create.

I personally like these types of compositions. They aren’t in-your-face like my more typical epic landscape photography, but their subtlety and near-abstractness is perfect for interior decorating. I plan to compile some of these images of sand texture into a triptych - 3 compositions side-by-side or one on top of the other to form a beautiful wall art piece that brings the texture of the Kelso Sand Dunes indoors. Or maybe I’ll do 4 compositions arranged 2x2...perhaps 6 arranged 2x3...maybe even 9 arranged 3x3.

I think we’re going to need a bigger wall...

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert, Part 2: Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography
Black and White Landscape Photography in the Mojave Desert
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I didn’t shoot a ton of black and white landscape photography on my most recent trip to the Mojave Desert. I’m not really sure why - I suppose the colors were just too delicious to desaturate at the time - but despite my slim-pick’ns on the monochrome front, I really, really love sand dunes in black and white. The contrast and lines are just superb for monochrome photography.

Right off the bat, most of the compositions here will look quite familiar if you saw my last post from this Mojave Desert trip with my color landscape photography. Once I set up a shot for color photography, I tend to try the same exact composition in black and white because it’s easy to do and I like having both options. I always tell myself that I’ll pick one later - the color or the B&W - as the final select, but I always find myself torn between the pretty colors and the rich monochrome shots. That’s why both usually end up on my website. I also often shoot the same composition in both horizontal and vertical framing. It’s good to have both varieties when making a fine art piece or trying to fit a picture into a magazine or book.

Each of the shots here were made at sunrise looking northwest. I was fortunate to get relatively clear skies on one of the mornings which allowed the unobstructed sun to bathe these dunes in a strong, harsh, directional side lighting. When you’re trying to highlight sand textures and shapes in the dunes, you need harsh light. If the light is softened up too much by a thin cloud layer, the texture just disappears under the flat lighting. And if the sun is too high in the sky - like at noon - the shadows aren’t going in the right direction to bring out the details. It needs to be side-lighting and it needs to be strong directional light. So, thank you, clear skies.

I don’t remember for sure, but I’m pretty sure I used a polarizer in most of these photos, a red #23A filter on all of them, and a split ND filter on most or all of them. Without these filters, the contrast would have been lackluster. And without solid manual metering technique, I would have botched the whole thing.

I have to say, the more I look at my landscape photography from this trip and other trips to the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert, the more I like the black and white versions. Does that mean I’m getting old?

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert, Part 1: Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography
Landscape Photography in the Mojave Desert
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You know me, I love the desert. When most people imagine the desert, they imagine a monochrome wasteland of barren terrain. But when I imagine the desert, I imagine a landscape bursting with color, unique land formations, and flora and fauna that you won’t find anywhere else. A place like the Mojave Desert is about as good as it gets for me. Open space as far as the eye can see, big skies, deafening quiet, and not to mention great off-roading. That’s why there are few things I love more than doing some landscape photography out in the Mojave Desert.

I think the desert just has a bad publicist. When a place is called “Death Valley” or “Badwater Basin” or “Devil’s Golf Course,” you wouldn’t know these are some of the most beautiful places on the planet. Then you throw in outlet malls and Podunk towns riddled with drug abuse, it’s no wonder people shy away from these areas. Plus the heat. People hate 100+ degree temperatures. But that’s 3-4 months out of the year. The rest of the year, these places have some seriously comfortable mild weather.

I guess it’s up to me and the rest of us cactus-huggers to turn the desert’s image around. I mean, come on, how can you not be in love with sand dunes and Saguaro cactus?

Unfortunately with the start of summer just around the corner, the heat out in these areas is getting into “unbearable” status. But luckily for me, I was able to squeeze in one last visit to the Mojave Desert at the end of January for a 3-day camping trip of landscape photography and some R&R with my two older brothers. The daytime temps were pleasant ranging from chilly to warm, but good God did we underestimate how cold it would get at night! Even in my high-performance sleeping bag I could barely sleep a wink because I was just too cold. Next time I’m bringing a space heater for my tent...and thicker socks...and a second space heater.

But poor night’s sleep aside, I came home with some decent landscape photography. I brought 3 cameras in all - my square format 6x6 Mamiya 6, my 6x7 Mamiya RZ67, and my panoramic 6x17 camera. That’s the beauty of driving to your location instead of backpacking - I can bring 40 pounds of camera gear. That just left the wind to contend with.

I’m breaking up my pictures from this trip to the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert into 3 parts. This first part is all my color landscape photography from the 3 days out there shot on Fuji Velvia film and Kodak Portra film. The next post will be my black and whites. The final post will be just my detail shots of the sand textures. I went nuts photographing the sand ripples so they’ll need their own post.

Rather than keep yapping, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Color Landscape Photography