• afternoon
  • Harsh Light
  • symmetrical
  • sunny
  • sun
  • spraying sand
  • sand
  • Playful
  • Outdoor
  • Movement
  • Hand movements
  • Back lit
  • Energetic
  • Elegant
  • Desert
  • Dancing
  • couple dancing
  • Center Framed
  • broken rules
  • Backlit
  • Wide

The story behind the image

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My creativity got way too giddy upon receiving an inquiry that read, “We want you to take photos of us in the sand dunes…oh and I want to wear a gold glittery dress.” I knew this was going to be good.

I have always been so drawn to dust swirling in dusk, it genuinely captivates me, this location was simply a sea of sand made for my soul.

We made our way out to the barren center of the dunes. Just as the sun began to steep into the sand, I knew it was time to stir up some magic. I had no exact ‘plan’ for this shoot, I just knew to allow the space for creativity to speak to me. To not confining my art to any decided structure or expectation.

This approach is what leads me to my most alive self, a ‘me’ that creates freely and fully. And simple ‘dust catching in the light’ moment being brought to life is a reflection of that passion in which I am grateful to have within me, and bring into my ‘work’.

That raw and uncalculated experience with inspiration is what all of us creatives are addicted to. If you are reading this right now, I am willing to bet that you know exactly what I am talking about. So here is a photo of two people in the sunshine casually engulfed in the dirt. It is rather plain when you think about it, and yet this is the stuff that I live for.

As any portrait photographer would, I have all kinds of traditional poses in my directional vocabulary. It would be undeniably very easy to do the same thing over again and again with my photos. Though the real magic is always stored in that sweet spot of switching it up, in being different, and not forsaking my artists’ intuition. Not for the sake of being ‘unique’, but for the sake of authentically interacting with what creativity my soul may be sparked by. There could be poses upon poses, though what keeps my creativity fresh for me is being intentional in listening to what ignites my passion at any given moment during a session. This ‘pose’ is theoretically unrevolutionary, it is two people + light + sand, but I know that I was following the thrill of it all, and that is what really means something to me. The thought of the sand catching in the light in this grand way excited me, and that approach to my craft is something that I always consider myself ‘successful’ for listening to, if not even just grateful for my awareness of, regardless of any final outcome.
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Describe how you spoke to your subject(s)

It is rare that I approach a session or a shot with a super specified outcome in mind. Though I knew I wanted to capture something powerful, yet delicate. I initially directed them to stand side by side, facing towards me, having just the girl let a handful of the sand spill. This made for a fine photo, though I was not yet captivated. After beginning with that ‘pose’, I decided to pivot to a more symmetrical approach. I had them face each other ‘gracefully’ and mirror the other’s stance, looking meaningfully at each other. I then had them both slowly spill sand from their arms that stretched behind them. Their perfectly poised selves, and a most wonderful dash of wind, resulted in this quiet storm of gold dust swarming them. I personally find it limiting to already be set on a photo that I “must get”.

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What did you say?

Alright you two, I am going to have you angle in more towards each other. Stare directly at each other. Stand with power and grace, as you already do, then pick up some sand and let it fall through your fingers with your arm outstretched behind you. On the count of three let it drop from your hand slowly.” (I said this all while demonstrating it, to communicate exactly what I was visualizing)

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Tone of Directions

Excited, Energetic


I am very into a strong centered composition. For this image I used a 35mm lens, allowing for the camera to capture the scene in a near-identical framing to my own eye. By focusing on an intentional centered framing I am inevitably fell into the composition concept of prioritizing contrast and negative space. Letting the notably lovely beauty of the background almost bow behind the couple and their striking stance. Though I never approach a shot with reflection of what rules I may be following or breaking, I have found it useful to explore a baseline understanding of traditionally pleasing composition, and from there let my own preference and inspiration lead the way.

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Compositional Rules

Broken Rules


Center FramedWideFull Body


Describe how you spoke to your subject(s)

I focused on the couple to allow for a sharp image of them with sand blurring a bit around them. I shot on auto focus. One thing that I would do differently, in any given shot with particles floating around, is lock in a manual focus on the subject to ensure that my focus does not catch on the particles by accident. Although, the ‘missed’ focus happened on a few of the shots after this one and it was actually kind of neat. It really just all about what the intended vision is.

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Focus Mode

Continuous Autofocus

Focus POints

Single Point

Focused on

The entirety of the couple

Equipment &

Canon 5D Mark III
Sigma 35mm f/1.4
1/800 @ f/1.4 ISO150 WB-Auto

The way the EXIF is written out follows the common photographic method (with the inclusion of White Balance at the end). Here it is broken down:

Shutter Speed @ Aperture ISO White Balance.

Light & Weather

I shot this image right at the last few breaths of sunset. I stood to where my subjects would be directly backlit by this golden light. This soft glowy sunlight was the essential ingredient in the formation of this particular image. Had I taken this same image earlier in the day it just would not have caught the sand in this same way. The lighting was simply phenomenal.

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Light Type

Natural Light

Light Quality


Time of day




Editing Workflow

How did you edit this image?

I did not use a preset on this image. I knew I wanted to make the image moodier and more muted. I took down yellow saturation and orange luminance. I decreased contrast and brought down shadows and highlights. I split-toned with mildly cool highlights and a warmer shadow for a tad more of a dynamic color play. I more or less mirrored that balanced tone concept with minor tonal curve tweaks. Other than a quick Photoshop ‘liquify’ sweep in the upper left-hand corner, (to move the smudge out of the way without having to use clone in LR) I used no other local adjustments in this image, though I am all about a good radial or gradient, they can add SO much to an image and they have greatly enhanced my editing game.

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Editing Software
Adobe Lightroom Classic
Preset Used


I feel almost pretentious to admit this, but there were truly no challenges within this photoshoot, which is most certainly not always the case. The weather was wonderful the couple was rad, the lighting was stunning, the outfits were sharp. There was just enough wind to steal these sand specs up into the air all around them, which only added more magic to the image. The editing went very smoothly as well, their styling colors, with the neutral-toned location, were really straightforward to work with. I was so pumped about this image in camera that editing was simply further fine-tuning specs here and there.

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It’s not often that a picture has no challenges but it does happen. Fortunately, everything worked out when I created this image. It was all a matter of my own experience, luck and of course the couple themselves.

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Location Name

Colorado sand dunes

Location aDDRESS

11999 CO-150, Mosca, CO 81146

Loation Type

Sand Dune


United States

My experience with taking this photo was so unique to my personal passions within day-to-day life, and the adventure of translating that into my photography. I do not create magic and beauty, I simply watch it, mold it, and move with it. I am going to start sounding like a broken record here, but my advice for you is to listen to your creativity. Be endlessly curious about it, and chase that awe into each photo you take. Do you like dust catching in the light? Go take photos at an ocean of sand at sunset. Do you love the way smoke rises from a freshly blown-out candle? Go take photos at a lake in the early morning as steam rises from the cold water, or buy a fog machine, or fill a room with 50 candles. Do you love the way cream dances into coffee? Go take photos in a milk bath, or pour honey on your subject, or get funky with white paint. Take note of what brings you joy, or sparks your imagination, or slows downtime for you. Those micro-fascinations are guiding you. My advice for you is to be inspired by what already makes your heart sparkle. That, my friends, is where the magic lies.

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