Photographer Michael Shainblum was blessed with beautiful skies and soft sunlight. He captured Death Valley National Park’s captivating sand dunes, from dawn to evening.
Shainblum visited Death Valley National Park, which is located on the California-Nevada border. The light conditions at the time brought him harsh sunlight and contrast. This was completely opposite to his latest visit, which took place in the early hours of the morning with a softly lit sunrise.
Soft Morning Sunlight
The pastel colors in the first location were particularly attractive because the dunes reflected pre-sunrise sunlight, which left shadows with a slightly purple hue. Shainblum used burning and dodging to create contrast in post-processing. This created a mixture of warmer and colder tones.
Shainblum patiently waited to see the sun rise in the sky. He doesn’t normally do long horizontal panoramas but in this instance he decided to stitch four horizontal shots to give a wide view of the dunes. The sun was still quite soft and direct so he didn’t have to wait too long.
Abstract patterns and shapes in the sand
Shainblum began looking for patterns and shapes in the sand in anticipation of sunset later that day. His telephoto lens was well-suited to capture this theme because it compresses.
Shainblum’s favorite image from the trip was that of a rolling dunes that dip in the middle, creating the optical illusion of a split or mirrored image. This illusion is further enhanced by the square crop.
Dramatic Edge Light at Sunset
Shainblum captured the light flare just before the sun set and illuminated a series of dune shapes. The flare softened the photo and also created a natural gradient from the top to the bottom.
Shainblum took the same shot but adjusted the angle to avoid the sunset. This allowed Shainblum to capture a close-up view of the dunes in the evening as the light made a transition from dark to light.
Shainblum believes that sand dunes are a place that has always had something to offer, no matter how many times they have visited it. The landscape is open to wide compositions, regardless of how harsh or soft the light is. It also offers the possibility for close-ups that are filled with unique patterns and sand formations.