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Sand Dunes Photography Tips
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Sand Dunes Photography Tips

The Algodones Sand  Dunes is one of my favorite local places to photograph for many reasons. No matter how many times I go, I never end up with similar images as the dunes always shift shapes and lighting throughout the day changes the look of the terrain and it’s shadows.  I have shot photography stills for various types of sets over the past 10 years and still love shooting at the Imperial Sand Dunes. Here are some suggestions for photographers who come to photograph this amazing sand dune landscape.

Plan Your Trip

It is important to plan your trip to this part of the country due to the extreme temperatures and terrain. Poor planning and unexpected conditions can result in lack of resources and potential health risks. Proper planning will help accomplish your goals safely and comfortably. Our quick guide will help eliminate some of issues most overlooked by visitors.

  • Best time of the year to visit

The desert weather can be brutal, even deadly. It is important to check out weather conditions before you head out to the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.  Desert temperatures can
reach over 115 degrees F. For more information on what time is best to visit check out our blog post Algodones Sand Dune Season.

  • Best time of the day to visit

The time of day also matter. There are times that the sun shine can be brutal from 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm.  A light diffuser will be needed to soften some of the sun’s bright rays. The best time to photograph out in the famous Dune Sea will be around magic hour.

  • Designate a time frame

Designating a time frame is important to balancing your budget and making the most of your time. For family or couple sessions a 2 hour minimum time frame recommended. Fashion or landscape photography usually require a 4 hour minimum session.  Some areas might take longer to access than others such as the Northern Algodones Wilderness Area. If you choose a shooting location that is untouched by some for photography, take into account the time from your vehicle to the actual shooting location.

Some location scouts are unaware of the proximity or distance of parking to the sand dunes. The travel time to and fro needs to be taken into consideration when you are on a time limit. Some production teams think they only need one vehicle to take their equipment, set and manpower.  The landscape itself makes it a bit difficult to maneuver in the sand.  A five minute walk on flat desert is different than a five minute walk up Competition Hill. A great way to know how long you need for a particular session at the dunes is by doubling the amount of time it would take you to do a normal session.

Planning the your visit at the right time of the year is also important due to riding seasons, fees for riding and temperature changes.


Plan your budget

Planning a budget when shooting is essential to consider do to limited access to some areas. Things like environmental needs, such as shade, floor pads or carpet pads, gps and personal needs such as  proper shoes, water, eyeglasses, and climate accurate outerwear should be considered.

If you just plan to plan to show up and take a few images for the road this is not necessary. If you do plan on shooting a full photography session or taking a few hours this is where you need to start.

The dunes are easily accessible with out an off-road vehicle through some areas more than others. Some people prefer to have an off road vehicle for physical visibility and accessibility. For UTV rentals check out our Off-Road Rentals. Things you also need to consider on your budget are the items listed above if you are traveling these things might not be easily accessible.  Consider adding a food/beverage budget to your general budget as well there are no food vendors on site in some areas so plan on purchasing these items ahead of time. For big productions catering arrangements are necessary.


Designate a location

Designate a location based on a budget and time frame.  If you have a  low budget/no budget photo session park at one of the areas that you can easily access with any vehicle. Buttercup Or Grey’s Well is a great area for those types of productions or photo sessions.  The sand dunes at this particular riding area are easily accessible with a regular vehicle, although one with 4×4 is strongly recommended. This is also the location of several world famous films. Sometimes you can witness some fans dressed in full costume.

The Northern Wilderness area is a great area for landscape photography due to the abundance of pristine plant life and sand dunes. Although off road vehicles of any kind are strictly prohibited, horses are permitted in the Northern Wilderness Area. For more information on the Northern Algodones Wilderness Area click here.


Hope this helps.

Have additional questions feel free to submit a comment on our blog .

Have a safe trip!






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