Imperial Dunes Near Yuma, Arizona, USA by Robert Strain

Picture Story

This was my fourth trip to Imperial Dunes. This location is about a 25 minute drive west from Yuma, AZ and is part of the largest dune field in the U.S. It is a vast area where it is easy to get disoriented after dark, so one must be prepared with extra water and adequate navigation to return to the car. For that reason and because I thought photography conditions were fairly ideal, I returned to an area that was familiar. This wasn't an evening that I wanted to call a "scouting mission".

For much of the year it is difficult to make good images at Imperial Dunes since it is a recreational area for off-highway vehicles. There are tracks all over the dunes during the cooler months and the hot months (May-September) are rather dangerously unbearable. I kept checking my weather apps for somewhat cooler days and a wind event of 25 mph (around 40 kph). My schedule allowed me to get to the location on this mid-September evening with just enough time to hike around to the side of this tall dune field.

This image was made during the "shoulder" season, when one can expect few if any OHVs. This is important if one wants to avoid tracks in the resulting images and surprising appearances of sand rails jumping dune edges. A windy day erases almost all tracks from an active weekend. I was happy enough to have the dunes all to myself, but happier when an ambitious fellow decided to run up to the top of the dunes. I had spotted him and a companion when they arrived and was thinking they might mess up my shot, but instead they made it. I had to think a little quicker than my general abilities to change my ISO and exposure time to freeze the sand man.

With the sun half obscured, it was possible to shoot directly into the subdued light, capturing the softened shadows formed by the attractive curves as the dunes rose into the sun. This was ideal to show the contours of the dunes. Without the sand storm, the dynamic range would have been too high once the sun disappeared behind the dunes lighting would have been too flat. Sand blowing off the dune peaks further enhances the feeling of a windy afternoon.

I returned to my hotel to clean the sand out of my ears and process this images. The blowing sand had softened the overall feel of the image. To keep some sharpness on the dune ridges, I chose to move the texture slider slightly to the left in ACR rather than use an over all Orton effect. Then I increased the mid-tone contrast with TK Actions.

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