White Sands is an incredibly beautiful place. I don’t go there as often as I should; it’s only about a four-hour drive from my door. Every time I do go, I wonder why it’s been so long since my last trip. Of course, for me the attraction is the photography.
The stark landscape provides the perfect ingredients for great black and white images. Each of these photographs was made on the edge of light. The sun was low above the San Andres Mountains to the west.
Simplicity is the key; images that can be reduced to basic compositional elements are the ones that work best in monochrome. They can stand well on their own without the need for color. Don’t get me wrong I love making color photographs; I will continue to do so, but right now, I am re-discovering the power of the black and white image.
These three started as color versions because they were captured in RAW format. I followed my normal workflow, making global post processing adjustments in Adobe Lightroom and then moved them to Photoshop for the fine tweaks. The last step, the black and white conversions, were done in Silver Efex Pro.
I am pleased with the unexpected turn my photography has taken. As I mentioned in a previous post, I started out as a black and white photographer back in the day of chemicals, enlargers, and safelights. I feel like my work has come full circle.
White Sands National Monument in south–central New Mexico is unique in many ways, but, by far, the most striking difference from the surrounding landscape is the sand from which the monument gets its name. It is actually gypsum that has washed down from the nearby San Andres Mountains. The gypsum, mixed with water flows on to a large playa (seasonal lake). As the water evaporates, the gypsum sand is left behind, and is then carried by the wind to become part of the dune field.
The White Sands dune field covers approximately 275 square miles of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin. A little over half of it is part of White Sands Missle Range; the remainder (approx. 115 square miles) comprises the monument. It is an amazing place where the vegetation, and the wildlife cling to life by the most tenuous of threads.
In the summer, daytime temperatures can reach over 100° F., and in the winter, they can plunge to below freezing. If you plan to visit, be sure to come prepared for any kind of weather, and carry plenty of water.
No matter what time of year you visit White Sands, you will be treated to an amazing landscape, and the opportunity to find solitude in the dunes.
Islands In The Stream
Another image from White Sands. This is one of very few that I had visualized as a black and white image as I was setting up the shot. As I got ready to release the shutter, my camera displayed an error message. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was; all I knew was the sun was setting fast, and I would be losing the light soon. I grabbed my camera and tripod and ran back to the car to get the manual. As it turned out, my lens aperture wasn’t locked, a simple fix, and I was able to get the shot before the light was gone. I’ll not forget what that error message means any time soon, and I now keep my camera’s manual with me at all times.
This photo was made on my last trip to White Sands in May. I arrived about two hours before sunset, and was disappointed; I had thought I would find flowering yuccas everywhere, but found mostly dead stalks from last year’s blossoms.
As the sun sank lower in the sky, the side lighting began to bring out the texture and ripples on the dunes. I was driving along not far from the entrance when I spotted this dune. The wind was lifting sand from the crest, and the lighting was perfect, so I parked and grabbed my camera and tripod. I culled this image from about twenty exposures I made, and made curves, vibrance, clarity, and saturation adjustments in Lightroom and Photoshop.
In all, I managed to get eight “keepers” from a little over two hours of shooting which is a pretty good haul considering the fact that I began the evening in a snit because mother nature hadn’t cooperated in meeting my expectations. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.