Awash in Sand


Having not shot sand dunes but a couple of times I am not sure where to go from here. Any assistance would be appreciated.


Wow! This has a great “cradled” feel to it. Love how my eye rests in the bottom right, but is drawn (at least mine are) towards the upper left. This probably falls in to the category of artistic preference, but the contrast is a bit heavy to my liking and on my screen, the darks and lights are a bit strong. For example, the lower left of the image is a bit too dark and holds my eye longer than I would prefer. Hope this helps. What great conditions!

This is beautiful. The processing looks great. I might be inclined to crop the top down. I find myself drawn to the far distance and trying to figure out what is out there than dwelling in the beautiful dunes, where I want to be. My take, anyway. Real nice work.

This is fantastic. I too like the idea of a crop off the top, just enough to remove the slightly lighter areas. Nicely done!

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Greg, this is a nice dune-scape, it has a nice sense of flow and rhythm to it. The left, right, left zig zag pattern is very interesting. To my personal taste, this feels a bit too warm in white balance, the shadows especially are too warm. I would try cooling down the shadows with luminosity masks, and that would create a nice color contrast against those golden highlights in the dunes.

@Jim_McGovern @Harley_Goldman @John_Williams @Ed_McGuirk Thanks for all the input. I am cropping according suggestions. I thought the shadows were a touch dark myself but I didn’t have much to work with. I had already added a blue filter to the mid darks and will look at some more coolness to the dark shadows. Thanks.


Wonderful and quite an impactful (word?) dune image. The light is fantastic and I especially highlights over the darker background up top. And for that, I vote for NOT cropping this one; that scattered light in the UL really helps define the light in the entire scene.

To my taste, I think the color and contrast is a little heavy. A couple of indicators for me. The mid-tone to darker shadow areas below dune ridges has a magenta cast (throughout the scene) Also, some of the dune facings in the brighter light look like the yellow/orange colors are a bit saturated. And the last one is the shadowy bg mountains look to have a little green cast. At least these are all to my eye. They’re subtle perhaps but looks like the vibrance slider or something was a little too much.

Hope I’m not being to critical, but this image is most certainly worthy of a large print.

Oh, and lastly the pristine nature of this capture is impressive as well (no human evidence…)



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Hi Greg,
Nicely composed dune-scape. I assume these are Mesquite Dunes and it is often difficult to get a wide view without footprints! I like the high contrast look but the bright areas look a little hot on my monitor. You might experiment with tweaking the white balance. If that docent work I would back off a bit on the whites.

Thanks @Lon_Overacker @Dave_Dillemuth. I was able to get that magenta noise with color noise in photo shop and will address those bright/hot spots as I wrap up my final processing. Still haven’t decided on the crop yet. Thanks for the input, it was very helpful.

Greg!! There’s that shot! Happy to see it here. I hope you’re enjoying your trial here at NPN so far.

My vote is to crop just a tiny bit off the top, because the faint ridge line on the right third of the image parallels the edge of the frame too closely so I would remove it. The processing is certainly not bad, but for my personal taste I would lower the highlights and warmth and perhaps magentas down just a little bit.

I’m curious what focal length this is? Something I noticed with this shot, and tons of my long shots from that trip, is that the depth of field is a little too narrow to get everything in focus. The foreground is super crisp and nice, but the dunes in the back are a little soft. It would benefit from focus stacking but it’s not a deal breaker for me. I am often too lazy to focus stack, myself.

Really nice shot!

Hi Brent.
Everything you said was spot on. Thanks.
I used a 105 focal length. I usually always focus stack my landscape shots no matter what length I use. My thinking must have been it’s sand so how much detail is there to see? Like in my very brief description my inexperience in this shot is pretty obvious. I agree it is a little soft in the distance. With all of these suggestions from everyone, I have toned the shot down quite a bit and wonder what my next step would be. Can I repost this shot on the same page? I don’t know if you remember me asking Alex a couple of times if he was finished with his shot or not, because in most all of his posted dune shots he was more “artistic”. Maybe that was the Alex of old?
I was curious to see what tools he used and to what extent. But it is part of the learning experience. I now know to focus stack sand dunes.

Yes, you can absolutely repost the shot, and I even encourage you to so that others can learn as well. I’d just edit the top post to include the re-edit, edit the title to have “+repost” in it, and you could make another comment on the thread stating you added an image, so that people following the thread are alerted of that.

Yeah, I do remember that. He’s on this site so maybe he can speak to that? :laughing: @Alex_Noriega ! My guess was that some of his older edits were a bit more fantastical and that his newer stuff is closer to reality, but I don’t know for sure. I’ve found that shooting in deep twilight and then playing with the white balance and tint can get you a really long way with sand dunes. They’re so malleable in postprocessing.

Hey @Greg_Stokesbury, I agree on lowering the contrast, saturation, and magenta in the dunes, as well as cooling down the white balance so the shadows are more neutral/cool rather than warm. I think the background mountains might not actually be too green, maybe they just appear that way in comparison to the magenta in the dunes. The bit of blue that would appear back there from cooling down the WB would look nice, I think.

I wouldn’t really want to lose any more room on the top from a crop - I feel that if anything, there needs to be a bit more breathing room up there so all the visual complexity of the mid- and background dune layers is more centrally placed. This is just personal taste though. Instead of cropping, I’d probably try to clone out those distracting bright areas against the top-center edge, or make a “slice” of the mountain background and stretch out that top part like I showed you on the workshop. Absolute sharpness back there won’t matter, especially if it’s a little out of focus already.

I don’t want to hijack a thread for your image and make it about my processing, but to answer you and @Brent_Clark, I do think I prefer lower contrast, softer tones, and lower saturation compared to the Alex of old. My philosophy now is to avoid forcing drama into an image unless the light/scene is calling for it. There is beauty in softness and subtlety as well. I don’t want the processing to be so aggressive that it gets in the way of enjoying the composition and the light.

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Hi @Alex_Noriega. Didn’t mean to get you pulled in, what you say in the last part of your critique is what I figured from your recent works. But my tastes at this point in time probably lean towards a “bolder look” and really liked your dunes of old. Still trying to get a feel for the site I think I may have posted a little premature. Next time I post I will wait until I am closer to being finished. Everybody has had great critiques. I had the calibration reds cranked up way to high and with all the other contrast adjustments the processing had gotten way out of hand. As was noted in most of the critiques.

I was trying to figure out what to do with the top of the shot because I didn’t really want to crop it either. But I had forgotten about what you showed in the worship video. So the next thing I will do is watch the video and put that into effect. And then soften some of the areas of this shot. Thanks Alex.

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FWIW, Greg, I would crop a little off the top, just low enough to get an undifferentiated background (to where that distant ridge on right meets the frame). For me , it’s more abstract and intriguing with purely smooth darkness beyond the dunes.

Thanks @Marylynne_Diggs. I decided to go with @Lon_Overacker and @Alex_Noriega suggestion and leave the top alone. I took Alex’s suggestion and took out the distracting white out. I think it completes the shot. At least in my eyes. Thanks for the input.

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