Northwest winds finally relented after midnight, so I was anticipating natural works of art the following morning, 90 minutes west of where I live in Santa Barbara, CA. By the time I arrived at my destination it was still dark but I could hear the surf crashing on the windswept deserted beach at the Guadalupe—Nipomo Sand Dunes National Wildlife Refuge.
The largest intact coastal dune ecosystem on the West Coast of the U.S., the refuge is one of my favorite places to photograph because of its 500-foot-tall dunes that ascend straight out of the Pacific Ocean. Stabilized by consistent northwest winds and native flora like coreopsis, sand verbena and silver lupine, over time these dunes have become sort of my own unique outdoor photography studio. They’ve afforded me the luxury to work on my dunescape photography with virtually little or no distractions except for Mother Nature’s unpredictability.
Landscape photographers create some of the most artistic images by photographing sand dunes. There’s something special about photographing long shadows creeping across a majestic dunescape as the sun sinks in the west. Established dune ecosystems are constantly evolving beginning with tiny granules of sand grounded up by pounding surf, then over time transported by wind and water. At this particular dune complex, the back dunes are stabilized by coastal sage. It’s the foredunes that constantly shift due to persistent northwest winds. Where one image is made, it’s probably a safe bet it won’t be there in a day or two because of consistent wind events.