Sand and Light

I decided that as we got into fall and it got cooler, I would take some time off and go out to West Texas to camp and shoot photos. The first place I chose was Monahans Sandhills State Park. I have been thinking about going to this place for quite a while as I love the way sand looks with an afternoon or morning light. So, I gathered up my camping gear and camera gear and headed West; see the map below.


I drove all day, through the cattle and goat country, the large wind farms and lonely oil fields of West Texas and finally made it to the park a few hours before sunset. Just enough time to set up camp and head out on the sand hills with my camera.

One of Monahans Sandhills’ main attractions are the large bald sand hills and you can rent disks to go sliding down the hills. This sounds fun, but I was there for photography, so I had to hike out a quite a bit past all of the foot prints to find the untouched hills, where the wind ripples the sand like the water on a pond.

Monahans Sandhills State Park evening sun

The late afternoon sun casts small shadows in each ripple that give definition and lead the eye to the horizon. It was also just a bit windy with sand visibly moving just across the surface of the dunes.

Monahans Sandhills State Park evening sun

There were some small amounts of vegetation here and there to add some scale. There was a lot of dust on the horizon so I did not get the deep blue sky that I wanted to contrast with the sand. The sun began to go down quickly and soon there became more shadow than light, so I headed back in.

Monahans Sandhills State Park evening sun

I brilliantly left the camera shoe that attaches to my tripod at home, so I don’t have any late evening pictures as all of my shooting was hand-held. The next day, I did head into Odessa to Odessa Camera where I ended up just buying another tripod, but that doesn’t do me any good until I get to the place that I camp the next night.

After a cold night with lots of condensation in the pre-dawn hours, I got in my car and started the engine, so I could use the heater to blow hot air on my camera and lens to warm it up before going out for the morning. This worked well and I did not have any condensation issues with my camera.

With the rising sun, the beautiful golden light was now shining on the hills from the opposite side. And the steady wind had worked to remove many of the footprints from the sand.

Monahans Sandhills State Park morning sun


I wasn’t the only person with photography interests in the sand hills. There was a person (who had his tripod) out shooting pictures at the same time. I tried to stay out of his line of sight and there were plenty of dunes for us both to enjoy. I did get a nice silhouette image of him on the dunes against the dawn horizon.

Monahans Sandhills State Park morning sun

I also managed to find a few flowers enjoying the morning sunlight. I love the way the plants are capturing the golden side-light.

Monahans Sandhills State Park morning sun flowers

I was at odds a bit, composition-wise, initially wanting the horizon to be in the upper third of my image, but then I also enjoyed the split contrast between blue sky and tan sand and I thought symmetry displayed that better. So, I got some of each.


I was generally able to use apertures of f/8 and above to get decent depth of field. But the sand really doesn’t look that different in focus than it does out of focus.

The weather was generally very cooperative, there were few people in the park this time of year, and I had a great time shooting. I hope you enjoyed my photos. Thanks for reading and let me know if I could have done something better with my compositional technique.

Next up, further West to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

4 thoughts on “Sand and Light

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