Shifting Sands

I made this photograph in Great Sand Dunes NP shortly after the sun had dropped below the ridge of an adjacent dune. It was on the first day of an 11-day trip to Colorado, and the dune conditions weren’t what I was hoping for–footprints everywhere and an unappealing sky. So I basically pouted and left my camera in my backpack and used my iPhone to take this close-up of the sand. After I left, I looked at this more closely and wished I had spent time making similar photographs with my “real” camera.

Specific Feedback Requested

Since the sun had already set on this patch of sand, it’s a little cool. Would you warm it up any? Also, is there anything distracting about the photograph that you would address? Crop, contrast? Thanks!

Technical Details

iPhone 13. 77mm (35mm equivalent), f/1.5, 1/121 sec, ISO 40


Welcome to NPN Rob! =)
I think iPhones get a bad wrap! This is pretty cool! Sure, it’s cool in color balance but that’s fine for me. The grainy aspect of noise is a bit disturbing for me… and the comp seems bottom and left heavy with nothing but noise pulling me up and right. I’m super curious to see what Sarah says!

Thanks, Matt! Maybe I could try lowering Texture in LR. It started out as a JPEG–I’ve never tried the iPhone’s raw mode. I appreciate your comments.

Yeah I have not used RAW on my phone either but I suspect it would give far greater latitude in your editing.

Hi Rob – Welcome to NPN! The experience you share is why a lot of photographers start working with small scenes and abstracts. When the light is working well for grand landscapes, I work on those. During the other 90% of the time when I am outside, I look for small scenes and abstracts. It all makes photography a lot more fun.

Since you used your iPhone and Matt mentioned a few file quality things, I will minimize my comments on the technical details. In terms of the light, I don’t think the cooler color balance is an issue at all. Sand dunes can definitely look bluish-gray under flat light or at twilight. For the composition, I think the arrangement of ripples across the frame works well. With abstract subjects, I often flip the photo to see what works the best and I think the orientation you have chosen shows off the nicest flow and balance for the scene. It is interesting that Matt said the composition feels bottom heavy because I didn’t have that same impression. I like the transition from more ripples at the bottom to fewer on the top. It suggests some flow in addition to the repetition.

I think you could be more aggressive with the contrast so the shadows and highlights offer more tonal contrast. With more contrast, the textures in the scene come out and I think it feels more dynamic. You can see some rough edits to the contrast below (it is more grainy since I am working with a web jpeg but you hopefully can get the gist).

Thank you for sharing this photo!

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Thanks, Sarah, both for the welcome and for taking the time to comment! I did rotate my image 180 degrees, to put the closer ripples in the lower portion of the frame, so I’m glad that transition seems to work. And I like the additional contrast in your reworked image–it is more dynamic.

On another note, I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts/heart in the Notes from An Over-Photographed Landscape section of your recent DV e-book. Your comments and confidence make it easier for me to ignore a lot of the bravado and narrow opinions I see in landscape photography articles and social media posts, and feel better about just doing what motivates me and what I enjoy most about landscape photography.

Thank you for letting me know you enjoyed my “over-photographed landscape” article. Getting past the narrow-minded views that are so commonly espoused in this field (weird for what is supposed to be a creative pursuit…) and just focusing on what I enjoy has been important for me in a lot of ways and I’m definitely happier because of it. I think focusing on what brings you joy and satisfaction is a perfectly valid approach to nature photography.

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Hi Matt, I can relate your experience of putting down the “real” camera and snapping what inspires you with the iphone - like a painter doing a quick sketch/study. This is nicely seen and I like the contrast that Sarah added. Look forward to seeing more from you!