With the vaccine rollout not as quick as we would like, it’s important to stay safe. I still want to get out to photo locations to get away and create. Outfitting the car for boondocking — or car camping — has been my ticket. In today’s article I head to the California desert, safely.

Safe travel option

When Covid-19 came to town, finding time on my hands, I fixed up my Toyota RAV 4 for safe travel. With the ability to sleep in the car equipped with a kitchen as well I feel comfortable to hit the photo road. No hotel stays. Cooking in my mobile kitchen. The only thing I touch while on the road is a gas pump handle.

With a little research, places can be found to stay off-grid while still getting out to make images.

Imperial Sand Dunes, California

This is a spot which I have wanted to visit ever since passing them on a road trip from my home in Arizona to the California coast. The Imperial Sand Dunes are situated in the southeast corner of California. They are the largest mass of sand dunes in the state.

Windblown sands of an ancient lake form the dune system. It extends more than 40 miles in a band about five miles wide. Dunes can reach heights of 300 feet, providing outstanding opportunities for recreation.

infrared photo imperial sand dunes
A wide angle lens shooting with the sun in the frame adds the lens flare. Do not look through a viewfinder when setting up a shot such as this. Use the screen on your camera. This was a 7-14mm f/4.0 Lumix G Vario lens on my IR converted Lumix GH4.

It’s a favorite place for off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts. In spite of the tracks left, the dunes offer wonderful scenery, photographic opportunities, solitude and is home for rare plants and animals. On our second night I watched a coyote in silhouette against the sunset just outside the camp. Find more info on these areas at the ranger stations and online.

I met up with fellow landscape photographer and boondocker, Jose Robertson. He was on a trip from Pennsylvania to California. You can see Jose’s work here. We picked a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) spot on Highway 78, about five or six miles east of the dunes. With all the lava made rock formations it felt like we were occupying another planet.

Infrared capture

Always be open to opportunities. I saw Cassius working on a photo shoot and asked him to pose for a few minutes for this infrared portrait.

I like LifePixel Infrared so much I became an affiliate. I have a Lumix GH4 converted by LifePixel. I think it’s a great idea to transform a camera that is languishing upon your shelf after buying new model cameras. It gives new life and adds shooting time for you.

For me, the high contrast just works. Without the IR option I would probably put my cameras up until the light became more favorable.

Color works too

imperial sand dunes
Early morning sidelight adds deep shadows and form to the dunes. If you want less contrast than this, pick a time just before sunrise or after sunset.

At the right time of day color capture works for the dunes as well. I mentioned the off highway vehicles. They leave ruts and tracks on the dunes. That caused me to take a really low camera angle followed by some Photoshop work to render the dunes a bit more pristine. The low camera angle was accomplished with a Platypod Max set right on the sand. A Platypod Ultra would work, but the Max has a bigger plate.

platypod max in the desert
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III with a 40-150mm M.Zukio f/2.8 PRO lens mounted on the Platypod Max. I was able to get a super low angle and achieve compression of the scene. That also helped minimize the OHV tracks.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob