White Sands National Monument is a dream location for landscape photography and photoshoots of all kinds. You can’t beat the contrast of the white sand against the blue sky and surrounding mountains. Not only are the giant, white gypsum dunes extremely photogenic themselves, but they also create a stunning backdrop for adventure sessions.
I’m obsessed with White Sands for many reasons. To understand why it’s such a magical place for photos, you first need to know what White Sands is.
What is White Sands National Monument and why is it important?
White Sands is a federally protected area of gypsum dunes outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico, and is part of the National Park system. The dunes cover 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. The unique ecosystem at White Sands supports a variety of plant and animal species that have adapted to the harsh conditions. Animal species have literally evolved to be lighter colors in order to blend in with the dunes. It’s amazing.
How did White Sands form?
The full geology is complicated. Basically, millions of years ago, the area was covered by a shallow sea, and layers of gypsum formed on the sea floor. The sea eventually evaporated, and a depression called the Tularosa Basin formed. This basin became the perfect receptacle for sediment that washed off nearby mountains. Over many years, the gypsum crystals deposited in this basin broke down into tiny grains. The grains remained in the basin, forming dunes. Snowmelt from surrounding mountains still brings gypsum-rich water into the basin, where the water evaporates and the gypsum crystals remain.
Now that you know a little about White Sands, why it is so perfect for an adventure session photoshoot?
Contrast is King!
My graphic design professors in college used to say “Contrast is King!” and for good reason! Contrast is such a powerful tool in photography and visual arts. White Sands is perfect for a study in contrast. During the day, there are (almost) literally only 2 colors: the white of the sand and the blue of the sky.
These colors contrast really well against each other, and if you add people, you have the ability to make your subjects really POP against the limited color palette of the landscape.
Minimalism + Creativity
The landscape itself is super minimal. You basically just have sand and sky with some mountains in the background. The sand can create a smooth, minimalist background, allowing you to really bring the viewer’s focus right to your subject. You can really have some fun and experiment with creative minimalist compositions.
The sunset colors are INSANE at White Sands. Because the area is a desert, you often have cloudless skies. At sunset, the sky turns a vibrant rainbow of colors that reflect off the sand. It feels like the air itself is pink or orange or purple. I can’t even explain it. You just have to see for yourself.
The light at sunset is absolutely beautiful for portraits, and incredible for landscapes.
Big Landscape vs Tiny People
The landscape of White Sands is vast, and the dunes seem to go on forever. You can create some really cool photos by placing your subjects in this seemingly endless landscape. A human subject gives scale to the landscape and allows the viewer to see how big the dunes really are by comparing them with a tiny human.
Talk about gorgeous leading lines. In photography, leading lines are a composition technique where the photographer intentionally includes lines in a photograph that guide the viewer’s attention to the main subject of the image. At White Sands, the natural crests of the dunes create beautiful, natural lines in your photographs.
Looking at sand dunes always makes me want to run around and jump in them. It is so much fun to explore White Sands. Plus the wind adds lots of movement to photos!
Want to see more photos from White Sands? Check out Darion and Kevin’s full editorial style adventure session!