One of my favorite things to do at Great Sand Dunes National Park is watching for shapes and shadows in the sands. What makes it really fun for me is that you can play this game all day long, no matter where the sun is in the sky, and looking at things up close or from afar. It’s a photographer’s treat in terms of what nature offers up each minute.
In the past, I’ve typically focused on medium- to long-range shots of the dunes in the early morning or late afternoon hours when the shadows get really dramatic. The lighting at any given moment may highlight a contour in front of you or drop a dark haze down a hill showcasing the different shades of sand, similar to these shots I captured years ago during earlier trips to the Park.
This trip though, I kept my focus tight on things right in front of me on a smaller scale – and wow, did I ever find some good stuff!
I think I had the most luck during our morning hikes on our trip. That might have been because of the thunderstorms that had come through before and during our stay, making the sand just moist enough that it would clump and ripple in interesting ways as the wind tore across the surface and I’d catch the sands while they were fresh and not yet disturbed by hikers. Even more fun for me was, when I got home, really bringing out the most in the shapes and textures by converting my shots to black & white to make them more stunning than they were in the Technicolor of real life.
I think what I liked most about this shot above on the left was how it plays tricks on your mind in terms of perspective. (I’m putting aside the game of “Am I seeing a face in there?” for the shot on the right at the moment because you can play that all day at Dunes.) Even now looking at the shot on the left, I know this ridge wasn’t that big at all – no more than a few feet long and 6 inches high – but I can take a step back and reinterpret it almost as a vast overhead shot of a much larger dunefield. To quote Dana Carvey doing his Johnny Carson impression, “Weird, wild stuff!”
Later on during this hike, the shapes and shadows went from strong and craggy to soft and serene.
These little piles of sand reminded me of flat, black riverbed stones rubbed smooth and round over time (only to wind up in a hot stone massage at a spa?). Something very Zen struck me during this shot, and still does looking at it months later.
I always tell people that Dunes is a photographer’s treat simply because there’s always something to get creative with. For me, it’s usually the shadows and shapes, and the park never disappoints!