Making the best of whatever situation you find yourself in can help salvage a photoshoot. If you have a concept or specific image in mind and it doesn’t come to fruition, it can leave you feeling disappointed.

It’s always good to have a plan, but if everything doesn’t go as anticipated, pivot!

North Algodones Imperial Sand Dunes, CA

Algodones Dunes are a 45 mile sand dune field in southeastern California, near the border with Arizona and Mexico’s Baja California. Imperial Sand Hills was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in the mid-60s.

You can find the Osborne Overlook on California Route 78 between Brawley and Glamis, CA. This is where I camped and made these images. Note that on the north side of the highway, the desert is protected — meaning no entry of foot traffic or off-highway vehicles (OHVs) are allowed.

desert dunes photography panorama
What I call a “safety image” when shooting desert dunes photography. The dunes were looking clean but the light was not ideal. I captured it anyway just in case of a weather change or other obstacles appear.

Algodones Imperial Sand Dunes are quite beautiful. During the winter there are constant OHVs, which leave tracks on the dunes. Add to that families sand surfing and making Instagram photos, it can be tough to get clean dunes.

I braved 108° F daytime temperatures this summer so I could get some pristine sands for my desert view, figuring not many folks would be out. Kinda “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” and all that. Turns out there were more adventurers than I thought, but I was not disappointed. Because I went with the flow.

Afternoon photoshoot

I arrived mid-afternoon, and despite the high sun, decided to make some images as the dunes looked pretty clean. I think of it as a bird-in-the-hand as the rest of my story reveals.

I made a panorama and broke out the infrared camera. The panorama was OK. The infrared turned very cool as there were some passing clouds that worked well with high contrast.

dunes infrared photo lifepixel conversion
Converted to infrared by LifePixel Infrared

Photographing at sunset

What I was really waiting for was the sun moving under the horizon. I was looking for the light to lose some contrast and give me more control of the shadow, in addition to adding some warm color. I hung out for the fading light.

Just as things were starting to fall into place I heard loud, pounding music emanating from the windows of a pickup truck, with you guessed it, had a dirt bike on the back. I watched as the driver unloaded the bike, fired it up and went racing across the dunes leaving marks throughout the scene. Bummer.

When the rider came in for some water I went over to chat. Turns out I met a really nice guy and enjoyed some interesting conversation.

dirt bike racing across the sand dunes Imperial Dunes, CA
So much for the pristine dunes, but the biker added movement and interest to the scene.
Sand dune sunset photo
This was waiting for me as I abandoned shooting where the biker had crossed the dunes.

Turned around and captured a sunset composition with the sun as the main character. My biker reappeared the following morning and I reset my brain for some action photos and got some pretty cool stuff. Stay tuned for part two, where I’ll walk through my overnight and sunrise images.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob

P.S.: You can also get some insight into boon-docking in the area!