White Sands National Monument the jewel of new mexico

Living life on the road has afforded me experiences I would never have had otherwise. My wife and I began our journey from Seattle through Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Our adventures continued through Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Each of these states has been unique and a few places have left an indelible mark on me. The Grand Canyon was one and so was my recent trip to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

As a photographer, this is like a child's playground. It's akin to being in the Sahara only the sand is a beautiful and pure white. Visually it's what would happen if you mixed snow and sand together.

I had been here a few times before so I knew what to expect and I was really excited to take my trusty X-T1 with me to capture the magic. On this day, I planned two trips; sunrise and sunset. The park doesn't open till 7am and the sun rose at 6am so it wasn't exactly a sunrise shoot but I was more concerned with capturing the angle of the low light on the sand ripples.

The play of depth, light and shadow made me chose this composition.

There is nothing unique about these kinds of shots but the experience is a singular one. It didn't matter to me that these shots had been done a million times, I knew through a combination of my own vision and the special personality of the X-T1's imagery, that something wonderful would emerge.

The frozen sand resembles snow.

For the morning shoot, I wanted to use the 10-24mm f4 superwide lens exclusively. I'm still becoming acquainted with the quirks of shooting with this kind of lens. Foreground elements are very important to convey depth and distance. I also shot most of these photographs at f11. Having a wide depth of field would help to convey the scale of the place. I tried to find patterns in the sand that would accentuate the wide angle of view while being careful not to let the distance disappear into infinity. The most important thing, though, was to capture the spectacular play of the light.

More plays on texture, form, light and shadow made it all irresistible to shoot.

I was really pleased with the performance of the lens. One thing I can say that's very different about my shooting experience using the X-T1's EVF is that there are fewer surprises when I view the images on my computer screen. When I was using an optical viewfinder on my Canon 5D Mark III there were a more misses than I would like. Seeing the shot before clicking the shutter almost exactly as it will look when processed is really a great advantage.

Like a scene from a science fiction movie...
As the morning progressed, the sand softened and left traces of human activity.

Before I left White Sands for the morning, I slipped on the 35mm f1.4 and took a few shots of the colorful southwest-themed visitor center.

I have always loved the adobe style of architecture. Great textures and colors.
The light in New Mexico has a special quality.

For my evening visit, I used the 18-135mm f4-5.6 lens so that I had more options to get some tight compositions. My morning trek had been devoid of people but for the sunset, I wanted to try to capture some silhouettes. Also that morning, there was not a cloud in sight which kept the compositions very simple but the evening brought some cloud drama that really made it worth the return visit.

Footprints reminiscent of those left from a moon walk.

For the finished look on all of these shots, I used the film simulation Classic Chrome. The profile I have for this effect in Capture One Pro 8 is similar but not exact to the camera's version. I tweaked it a little bit to get closer and I'm really pleased with the mute palette of all the shots. It gives them a unity and there is a beauty that approximates the actual experience of being there. And, as usual, the sharpness and detail of all of these shots is a testament to the amazing technology that's packed inside the compact body of the Fujifilm X-T1.

I stopped down to f16 for this one which gave me some pretty star-shaped flares from the setting sun.
The little structure in the midst of this vast desert made this shot for me.
The last rays of sun...

A funny side note... When I arrived at the park early in the early morning, there were a few cars ahead of me. I didn't want to compete with other photographers so I found a place to park a little off the beaten track. When I got on the sand, I took a photograph of my long shadow with my iPhone and then I put it away and got on with the business of taking photographs with my camera. I wandered for about an hour, not paying attention to where I was going. Before long, I had gotten totally disoriented and couldn't remember where my car was. All the dunes looked the same so there were no landmarks. I suppose the position of the sun should have been a consideration but it wasn't in the heat of the moment. I walked in the direction I thought I had come from but after about 40 minutes, I was beginning to worry. There was no sign or sound of the road where I had parked. Keep in mind that there were dunes for as far as the eye could see. I might as well have been in the middle of the Sahara.

Luckily, I had a cell signal and was able to map where I was using GPS. It showed I was relatively near the road. I finally found it but the road itself was equally generic. I had come out at a completely different place from where I had entered. I began to walk in the direction I thought best but, let me tell you, my sense of direction is never right. More time elapsed and more distance was covered but still no sign of my car. Then it dawned on me, I had taken that photo with my phone near my car. I extracted the geotag info from it and realized I was walking the wrong way. I finally got turned around and found my beloved vehicle!

My iPhone selfie.

Dumb things I did: i left my water in the car and didn't pay attention to my path.

Had I not had cell service, I'm not sure how long it would have taken me to figure out where I was. We've all heard horror stories of these kinds of events. So beware if you go to a place where the possibility exists that you might get lost. At the very least, bring lots of water with you.

If you look closely, you can see a third person on the ground taking a photograph!
Including people for scale and interest is sometimes necessary to elevate a composition.

If you would like to keep up with my travels, click on the button below and sign up to be notified of new posts. Peace.

Created By
Steven Dempsey
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