While the individual grains of sand in a dune likely have some color variation, those grains blend together at typical landscape photo distances, leaving most dunes a single color. A single color does not alone make an interesting photo. Therefore, shadows rule in the dunes — they are necessary to add intrigue.
Shadows are created by uneven lighting, and the early and late sun angle brings on the desired strong directional lighting (barring clouds).
Taking a dune image to the next step means finding great shadows, and footprint shadows do not fit into my "great" definition (unless the footprints are an intentional part of the composition).
Rarely is wind appreciated for photography, and it is especially unwelcomed when photographing landscapes. However, I celebrated as a significant wind storm blew through during the drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park. The dust and sand were dense enough to severely impact visibility at times, rocking, and properly initiating the brand new Toyota RAV 4 rental SUV.
Why celebrate a wind storm in the desert? The wind erased ALL of the Death Valley dunes' footprints, replacing them with fresh, seemingly unending and highly photogenic ripples in the sand.
The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Canon EOS R5 proved the optimal choice in the Death Valley National Park dunes. While focal lengths outside this range had compositional opportunities, the 24-70mm angles of view enabled emphasis on the close subjects while keeping the background details relatively large in the frame.
Still, the depth of field available (at apertures not impacted by diffraction) from this focal length range was often insufficient. The R5's focus bracketing feature was the solution to that problem. With focus bracketing enabled, the smallest increment specified, and the number of shots set far above what was ever needed (the camera automatically stops at infinity), the R5 proved itself foolproof, automatically delivering the complete required range of sharp focus bracketed images at nearly a 100% rate (and I probably caused the 1 or two insufficient sets). Walk up to a scene, select the composition, position the focus point on the closest subject (the closest sand), and press the shutter release. This strategy takes away the careful attention to the depth of field otherwise required and facilitates images not otherwise possible.
Do you ever struggle to obtain the ideal white balance? I do, and this image challenged me. Unfortunately, adding the needed contrast creates a bright yellow glow that I've been attempting to neutralize. This image is one of those likely to get re-adjusted in the weeks and months to come.