Calm Desolation

Rework 1 - Included much more sky, added contrast to softer shadows in dunes

Rework 2 (Updated)- same as rework 1 but I cropped to remove left 1/3 of image


This image was taken at White Sands National Park around 10:00 in the morning. It took about an hour to walk far enough from all the foot traffic to find this very calm location and desolate location. I am not very good with keeping track of my location so I constantly had a slight fear that I might not be able to find my way back.

Specific Feedback Requested

My strategy for this image was to create a calm, desolate scene. Even though the image was taken in bright sunlight, I darkened it which made the blue sky look dark grey. I tried to not have the sky in the image, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that.

I would like feedback on the following ideas:

  1. I tried to have a diagonal line from the lower right to the center back of the scene created by the lines of the sand dune peaks and their shadows.
  2. There are bright spots without detail, i.e. almost blown out areas, which I think are powerful in leading the viewers eyes to the mountains. This was intentional.
  3. I made the mountains almost black with a little detail.
  4. I made it into a panorama format because I really liked the rolling hills/sand dunes.
  5. Are there other things I could have done to make achieve my goal of a calm, desolate scene?
  6. This is one of my first real attempts at a black and white image, so any feedback on that would also be most welcome.

Thank you in advance for any feedback

Technical Details

Camera: Canon R5
Lens: EF 70-200 F2.8 L
Settings: F10, 1/800, ISO 125, tripod used


You should get GAIA GPS on your phone and lay down a track! =)

I think this comp works but have you tried cropped off the left third?? The main line going right to left kind of terminates in the center of the photograph leaving the rest just kind of hanging out.

The top of the photo could use a bit more breathing room for me.

Processing seems a-ok.

Oh wow, Alexander. This is just stunning. What a beautiful image. You’ve done well with the B&W conversion. I like the contrast you managed with the dark sky and really dark mountains. That works nicely to offset the dunes. Panorama work as well. I think you’ve succeeded in what you wanted to do. Congratulations.

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I think you have done well to achieve your goal. Regarding #1 and #2 I see what you have done and I think it is effective. The dark tones of the mountains are a nice contrast with the dunes, and I actually see enough detail that I think it works.

Well done, Alexander!

I second Matt Payne’s suggestion of using the Gaia GPS app, and recommend it to all photographers. Gaia is great for not just helping you find your way back, but it works really well when scouting locations and marking spots you want to return to.

The panoramic format is highly appropriate here. I’m not sure why you wanted to eliminate the sky - I’d actually like to see a bit more sky in the final image, maybe the same amount as the layer of sand at the bottom of the photo.

Converting to black and white was also an excellent idea here. To me, the way you have processed the image gives it a look similar to moonlight on the scene instead of mid-day with a plain blue sky.

Black and white treatment is great and I like the central focus in the middle with the darkest dunes. I think you could do a bit of burning to darken some of those softer shadows in the dunes and bring out more definition in them. Right now most of the dunes are very even in tonality so they kind of just blob together. Some more separation would lend itself well here.

Thank you @Matt_Payne , @David_Bostock , @DeanRoyer, @GregVaughn, and @Eric_Bennett for your wonderful and thoughtful suggestions. I will definitely explore the Gaia GPS app, but also mention that I do use the Garmin Inreach as I do go ‘off the grid’ quite a bit.

Willem deGroot

I think this works as you’ve intended it to. The dunes are really the star of the show with a supporting role from the mountains. I agree with @Eric_Bennett about adding some contrast to the dunes and that would also help steer the viewers eye through the scene the way you have intended with your bright spots in the sand. I would really like more room at the top though. It feel scut off to me. It does feel calm and desolate so you’ve got that working for you also and the B&W treatment is working well for this image.

Your decision to go black-and-white. Here is really great because it mirrors that desolation factor that you were going for in the overall photo I think eliminating all color does a great job of showing that in your goals for this photo. So I definitely wouldn’t second yes that decision. I also love how you did also dark in the mountains a lot because the main subject here and what you want people go for are the lines in the sand dunes.

Gawd, @Matt_Payne always trying to crop 1/3 off people’s panoramas! But, in this case, I definitely agree. For me, the strongest element of this (excellent) composition is the curving line from lower right into what is currently the center of the frame. The dunes on the left distract from that slightly.

The black and white treatment is very nice.

Gaia app is definitely worth the money.

LOL =)
Thanks Jeff!

This works great as a black and white. Your processing makes it look like late light was spilling across the dunes and the distant hills were shadowed; I really like that effect.

This is an amazing image, I like it a lot. I think all of your choices where correct in achieveing what you wanted and to create a great image. The B&W renedering is a very good choice andf have been very well implemented.

Thank you everyone (@Matt_Payne , @David_Bostock, @DeanRoyer, @GregVaughn , @Eric_Bennett , @David_Haynes , @David_Johnston , @jefflafrenierre , @John_Williams , @Ola_Jovall ) for the wonderful feedback on my image and the hiking app suggestions! I’ve been using the AllTrails app along with a handheld Garmin GPS and the Garmin inReach satellite communicator. I go ‘off the grid’ a lot. I will definitely check out the Gaia GPS app.
I created a version of the image with the 1/3 left side removed and I immediately realized that it cut off the hills in the background which was one of the key design elements I had in my original vision. By this I am referring to the slope up, the plateau and then the slope down of the black hills in the background. I centered the lines from the sand dune peaks on this shape. I can partially fix this by taking a little off the right side to remove some of the down slope of the hills.
This is such a great experience for me hearing these different points of view as I tend to be rather fixed on an original vision and a little lazy, I guess. So thank you again for taking the time to critique my image. I will post edited versions of the image later today or tomorrow.


Not a huge deal but this tiny black area on the left side is still a problem for me as my eye just goes there. Just making you aware of it =)

Thank you @Matt_Payne for the follow-up. I updated it above.


Hi - FWIW a bit late - but I like the additional dunes to the left because to my eye they add a right to left movement that complements the strong main line. Taken together they look like waves flowing left. And nicely framed by the mountains in a nice wide vista. It is great to hear all the different input. Lovely photo.

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