5 Tips for Capturing Sand Dune Photography

Landscape Photography Tips by Michael Shainblum


In this quick landscape photography video, I share my 5 favorite tricks and tips for going out to photograph sand dunes. Some of the tips include gear, scouting and searching for compositions. I also share some of my favorite Sand Dune images on the screen. These images were captured in Death Valley National Park, California. I really hope you all enjoy the video! You can also check out the written tips and a collection of my favorite Sand Dune Landscape Photography below.

TIP# 1: Go For A Walk (Scout Around)

This tip applies to most of landscape photography. Dunes can be a little chaotic and a bit daunting to photograph. It feels like stepping onto a giant puzzle with no one way to solve it. They can be a big test of one’s creativity. Getting a good shot of Sand Dunes takes time and takes patience. I scout for days observing different patterns, shapes, and arrangements of dunes. I’m not necessarily doing this to find the exact shot to capture later on, but I do this more as practice to train my eye to recognize the shapes, and open up my creativity so I’m prepared when new compositions pop up in favorable lightning. If you are having trouble shooting dunes, trust me, take more time to scout. It’s not that you CAN’T find a composition, it’s just that you haven’t found one YET.

death valley landscape photography - sand dune photography
5 tips landscape photography – sand dunes

TIP #2: Try Using Telephoto Lenses

Telephoto lenses have been my favorite for photographing the dunes. They really allow you to pick out little compositions within the scene to focus on. They also help to compress the layers quite a bit. Now, of course, it’s worth playing with a wide lens to see what you can create, but if I was given the the choice and could only bring one lens with me, it would be a telephoto.

death valley national park landscape photography – sand dune photography

TIP #3: Watch the way the light moves, and the transitions between Light and Shadow

Watch those edges of contrast where the light meets the shadow. You can create some beautiful shapes this way and some wonderful contrasts of color. It is also important to watch these areas to see how the light is moving. One minute there could be an interesting shape and then within a moment, it could be gone. Vice versa as well. As the sun moves across the sky and the shadows shift, different compositions could appear out of nowhere. It’s important to be vigilant on the dunes and observe the light. Also you don’t have to stop shooting the dunes when the sun is below the horizon – diffused light on the dunes can look incredible as well.

landscape photography sand dunes
sand dune photography, 5 tips landscape photography

TIP #4: Embrace The Sand

You and your gear are going to get sandy. There is literally no way around this. You can pack your gear in plastic and not open the camera bag once, but I guarantee you will still find sand in places. Embrace it as part of the experience – I just prepare myself to eat sand for lunch and dinner. As long as protect your camera sensor from sand (i.e. don’t change lenses on the dunes), the sand will break out of the gear over time, and (in my opinion) the few hours to days of cleaning sand out of the focus ring of my camera is worth the breathtaking images you capture out there. And bonus – windy sand storms on the dunes produce amazing conditions like below.

landscape photography sand dunes
sand dune photography, death valley national park

TIP #5: Shoot The Dunes Under Any Conditions

You don’t have to rely on conditions for great sand dune photographs. Is it nice to get puffy storm clouds and a rainbow overhead – of course. But even on bright blue bird days where it feels impossible to get an image, there are many opportunities. In fact, I have gotten some of my favorite sand dune images on clear sky days (like the one below taken right after sunset). Dunes are fun under any lighting conditions, so definitely still go shoot around even if it’s looking less than ideal for landscape photography.

death valley landscape photography - sand dune photography
5 tips landscape photography – death valley national park


  1. good tips. Agree completely. play with Light and shadow. Don’t fret, keep searching! Comps are there. Just change the way you are looking. See something different. Don’t search for the exact image you saw another get. Change your perspective. Get YOUR shot. Practice comps with your phone before pulling out the big guns. Save points on your gps/phone. Add notes about light angles. what seasons and sun/moon/milky way angles would yield best results in notes app. Don’t change lenses in high winds. Carry multiple bodies with telephoto and wide angles. scout scout scout. Carry a lightweight umbrella for shade when scouting. and lots of water! Neck gaiter and old snowboarding goggles with clear lens for the win! no sand in the eyes. No unneeded skin exfoliation from hours of being sandblasted.

  2. Kaltham Ali

    HI – Awesome tips thanks alot- appreciate if u share with us ur editing for sand dunes.

  3. Wow your photos are AMAZING! Just beautiful… Never thought of taking photos of sand dunes until now! Thank you for the article and the wholesome tips! 馃檪

  4. Wow Michael, these are an awesome set of images a videos! You are a source of inspiration for me and many others I am sure. Would you mind sharing which set of dunes (Panamint, Eureka, etc.) within Death Valley you have had the most success in shooting? Thank you!

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