Photographing White Sands National Monument

My father took me for a quick drive through  WSNM some years ago, and I decided to return, this time with a camera. I was to be in New Mexico during a full moon so I scheduled a visit to White Sands. I requested an early entry so I could catch sunrise (it was September) and moonset. This is not a particularly complicated process but it does require some effort and it’s not inexpensive at $50/hour per person. So, this is a commitment and probably of interest mostly to photographers. I made my reservations about 3 weeks prior to my visit. The WSNM staff were very helpful, especially when a missile test interfered with my schedule. They worked with me and even called the White Sands Missile Base to confirm their launch schedule. They called me twice to update me on the event. I had to be flexible, but they really earned their fee and we made it happen. I’ve always had great interactions with NPS staff and I’m sure they’re underpaid and underappreciated.

 

The Sands are a brilliant white so it’s important that you use a +1.0 exposure compensation to avoid gray, underexposed images. Also, in warm weather you can bake from the reflected sunlight bouncing off the dunes. When I visited there in September there was very little breeze, so even though the ambient air temperature was in the 60s outside the Sands, it was very warm among the dunes. At night, during the full moon, you don’t even need a headlamp, although it’s helpful to check camera settings.

Best times to shoot are early morning and late afternoon to get the most contrast and to emphasize the waves and ripples of the sands. You also have to be mindful of your own footsteps, which can ruin a potential image. This is a place where you should be thinking about abstract or minimalist images. They’ll be everywhere you look if you take your time.

White Sands National Monument Under a Full Moon, NM
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

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