Photoessay: Dunes

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This series of images was never intended to be shot: this might seem like an odd thing to say, but it was not the intention for this particular aerial sortie. We had the option to overfly it en route to the intended target (to be the subject of a future presentation) – and when you’re pretty much burning money as fuel, then you shoot every single thing you can. It’s not hard, since the subject matter and presentation is so different to what one normally sees on the ground anyway. Like the rest of the series from over Australia, we were around the Dirk Hartog Island/ Useless Loop/ Francois Peron National Park area, at about 1200-1500ft with the doors off a Cessna 207. No question one should not even attempt shooting dunes at anything other than the start or end of the day – whilst they might be steep, there just isn’t enough relief otherwise to bring out any texture or shadow otherwise. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


More info on Hasselblad cameras and lenses can be found here.


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. What a lovely subject and such an unusual angle (from above)… Loved it. There is something about dunes that I love since childhood. The idea of easy climbing and tumbling down carefree on a barren feature. I love it.

    Of all the pictures that I have taken, the following is the one I love most. It is from Death Valley. Me and my friend camped here overnight and had the entire unspoiled dunes to ourselves. Imagine no one else other than us in this vast landscape as far as you can see all around. Total bliss. 🙂

  2. Peter Bowyer says:

    Lovely photos Ming! I’m curious about the mechanics of aerial photography: do you tell the pilot what to do, or do you hope they know what they’re doing (and where to go) and hope for the best? In my head you can work so much from satellite imagery and maps, but it’s not until you’re there that you’ll know if being over this spot, 400m to the left, or from an entirely different angle (due to the light, say) makes the strongest composition.

    And when you overfly like you did for the dunes – is that it, one pass? No looping round once you’ve sussed out the lie of the land?

    • Thanks. We make a rough plan based on google maps, but we clear a wider corridor with ATC and direct the pilot by eye once we’re in the air.

      Sometimes we do another pass but generally not since that’s hugely expensive…

  3. Wonderful! Nature at its art show!

  4. Checkout Howard Bond 8×10 sand dunes with exquisite 11 x14 to 16×20 B&W PRINTS. MODERN day Ansel Adam’s. Bond was often contributor to photo techniques magazine. A true master. One picture he made took time for your entire flight over the desert. Just a guess.

  5. Jos Martens says:

    Wonderful wonders of Nature with the wind as an executve artist. A technical problem I have myself when photographing in the desert however is the colour in the shadows Especially in the morning these show a rather unnatural and unesthetic blueish tint that is quite difficult to correct. It is of course difficult to judge on internet pictures but I see you have the same problem to some extent. When I use your last workflow profiles this even gets somewhat worse, as well on Canon and Nikon ( alsso FF, Nikon 750 ).
    Do you have any tips ?
    By the way another problem I have in the Nikon FF profile is the curve with the multiple points that I always have to reser to linear
    manually. It also shows up that way inthe video and seems to surprise you there too
    All the best,
    Jos Martens

    • Thanks. This is not something you can correct out as a general rule, because the color temp of light reflected off the dunes is much warmer due to the subject matter; if you did an additive shadow filter for all situations, you’d find your shadows too warm the rest of the time. One of the edge cases: given most people don’t shoot sand most of the time, I elected to keep the profile accurate for normal/varied subjects. Any time you have a single dominant color channel, each camera is likely to respond so differently you’re going to have to make manual HSL corrections anyway – there is no way around this, even with WF2.

      As for the curves in the ACR profiles: they’re the same profiles as for LR and PS. PS users should keep the curve because it gives you improved shadow tonality and highlight transitions, but this isn’t possible in ACR since you only get a single curve (and can’t put another one in in PS afterwards).

      In this particular case, I actually pulled back the blue saturation quite a bit already; some was left in because that was the way it appeared to my eyes in reality.

      • David Meyers says:

        Perhaps I’m mistaken, but wouldn’t shadow tint normally be somewhat blue since what l light there is is refracted from the sky instead of being direct illumination from the sun? Isn’t this why many cameras have a “shade” option for color balance?

        • Yes, but then your highlights would be too yellow.

          • I didn’t mean one should adjust the white balance in-camera, just that the shadows really are naturally somewhat blue and that the presence of the “shade” white balance setting is evidence that supports that notion. Sorry if I was unclear.

  6. How do you compose a photoessay? Is it just the keepers from a particular day with a subject or do you work over a longer time period? Do you sequence the images in anyway? Do you have a maximum or minimum number or images you’ll put in an essay? I’d also like to know if you consider photoessays as vehicles for displaying single images or if they are intended to all work together to create a greater emotional response? Thank you!

    • Good question. Firstly – images around a theme or concept; secondly, the number depends on how many you need to cover the idea or show some variation, but not os many that individual images get lost or are duplicated. If they’re too similar then I’ll eliminate the weaker one. Generally this is 10-15 images from a single ‘idea’. I usually don’t show anything til 3-6 months after it was shot to allow for some objectivity in curation.

  7. Bill Walter says:

    These wonderful images have a Pete Turner look to them. When it comes to handling shadows, you’re a master. Beautifully done!

  8. There is something magical about leaving the bonds of earth and looking down! Thanks!

  9. Ming, yet another set of your excellent images. What came to me, especially as these don’t have the usual sand colour of, say, the Sahara desert, is that they have a sort of extreme in being virtually arid and, mostly water-less, and no doubt in a hot region, but they also look like they could almost be aerial shots of somewhere in the Arctic or Antarctic: tons of water, albeit in frozen form. Apart from the odd oasis, I wonder if you would have fooled us if you said they had?

  10. Junaid Rahim says:

    Gorgeous Ming. Maybe time for a (long) term project of shooting looking down back on earth. You need to get a jungle trip in a chopper!

  11. artless art at its best!

    • Artless art? 🙂

      • david wootton says:

        It’s a zen concept. I quote: “To this day in Japan, various physical arts are used as moving forms of mediation. Flower arrangement and tea ceremonies are two good examples. In such practices, the ultimate, selfless expression is described as the “artless art.”

        Archery is another classic example. Zen in the Art of Archery, by the German philosopher Eugen Herrigel, is an interesting book on the topic. In the introduction, D.T. Suzuki writes that the practice of archery in Japan is “meant to train the mind … to bring it into contact with the ultimate reality.” When archery is practiced in this way, Suzuki writes, “the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects, but are one reality.””
        There’s a book on Cartier Bresson’s artless art.

  12. adverse circumstances are turned around when Mr Ming uses his machine! Beautiful.

  13. Anatoly Loshmanov says:

    Congratulation Ming !
    It is beyond of incredible.
    This is ART !

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