Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Shooting the breeze

Like all photographers, I love sand dunes. Their subtle shadings and sensuous curves make them a classic subject in nature photography. I'm especially intrigued by their endless patterns within patterns, revealing new and surprising compositions on every scale, from wide-angle to macro.

Like all camera owners, I hate sand dunes. Their two basic ingredients – sand and wind – are a deadly combination for photographic equipment. Desert sand can be extremely fine, and can penetrate even the most tightly sealed lens.

Maybe that explains why the overwhelming majority of sand dune photos depict peaceful scenes of a serene and silent desert. Those scenes are beautiful, I agree, but do they really show what a sand dune is? Is it even possible to make a photo that shows the beauty and serenity of the dunes and the dynamic, often violent winds that create them? How do you photograph wind, anyway?

Late one afternoon last spring, I headed out onto the dunes in Saline Valley, hoping once again to capture that beauty and movement in a single photo. I started my walk in a light breeze, but within ten minutes it felt like a hurricane. The wind was like sandpaper on my face. I could barely open my eyes to see where I was going, and at times I had trouble keeping my balance. Photography seemed out of the question, but I really wanted the shot. I allowed myself a half hour and then headed back to the car, where I spent the rest of the evening cleaning my camera.

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