There's nothing as spectacular as White Sands National Park! Located in southern New Mexico are miles and miles of gypsum dunes. Basking in their majesty is such an experience on its own, but it's even more incredible with the love of your life and a kickass photographer ;)
What makes it such a perfect location for your engagement session or proposal?
-The simplicity, for starters. It spans over 200 square miles, but you can still find spots that feel like you're the only people in the park. That sense of intimacy is often needed when it comes to proposals as most couples won't want to be surrounded by hundreds of strangers. That being said, if you're planning to propose, read on for tips on how/where to meet with your photographer as it's such a massive place. -The natural beauty. No need to decorate or set up here! Nature has done the work for you already. Surrounding the dunes are mountain ranges; the west side gets the backlit glow during golden hour, while east side glows in pinks and purples before the sun sets completely. The light changes quickly in the winter seasons, but the magic is all still there. The dunes take on a soft pink glow before fading to a pale blue. -YOU stand out. Whether it be grand wide angle photos or close up, intimate shots, you will provide the stark contrast against the rolling white sand. I like to recommend bold colors like red to give an extra pop of color.
It all sounds perfect. So what do you need to know to plan your session?
-The park closes at 8 p.m, so make sure to arrive with plenty of time. Luckily, the sun has set low enough (or completely) by that point that you'll experience the wide array of full sun, golden hour, and the start of blue hour within the session. If you're feeling adventurous, there are also camp grounds. -There is a $25 entry fee per vehicle. The Park accepts card and cash. -The cell service is not the best. Make sure to have a meeting point set in advance with your photographer. The park will give you a map with several trails and locations that are perfect as a starting point. While the area around the amphitheater is easy to access, that's usually where you will see more people. Not to worry, you can still climb a dune or two to experience seclusion.
-A lot of the area to drive in is off road. It's smooth enough to not need something like a Subaru Crosstrek, though. I've made the journey in a Toyota Camry and all was well.
-There are restrooms positioned every little while, so you can change in them or in your vehicle.
-Bring water! It can get quite hot in the summer and there is barely any shade anywhere. Sun screen is also a smart choice.
-When the gypsum is dry, it can be difficult to climb. You will sink in pretty deep and I highly recommend just leaving your shoes where you park or at the base of the dune you are climbing. Don't even bother wearing heels. New Mexico also gets high winds, so the sand can sting and get in your eyes occasionally. When the sand is wet/has had recent rain, it's easier to walk in and won't be so bad with the wind. No matter the time of year, you will still get sand everywhere.
Now for the proposal details!
Jasper emailed me several months in advance about helping him with his proposal to his longtime girlfriend, Caroline. He had found my photos from a previous session at White Sands (Nikki + Ryan's summer session) and wanted advice for how to make this happen without a hitch.
I let him know how magical golden hour is there, so we decided on an evening session. We made sure to have multiple points of contact so Caroline wouldn't think something was up. Jasper had mentioned that he had some friends being flown in to make the surprise even sweeter, so I was in contact with one of them on the day of. I got there about 45 minutes before Jasper and Caroline's arrival to make sure their friends and I were in the proper meeting location and I could get set up in the distance. It's helpful for both parties to know what I was wearing and what the couple was wearing since we had never met prior to the session. Caroline's sister--who knew about the plan-- tagged long with her and Jasper and was also in communication with friends so everything was seamless. While it would normally seem off for a photographer to be hanging out alone with their camera in the stark vast whiteness, it didn't raise any red flags because White Sands is a photographer's dream, especially landscape photographers. I made myself look busy by photographing the mountains in the background. This way I also had my light to ensure every second was properly exposed without having to fuss with my settings when everything happens so quickly.
After Caroline said "YES!!!" and their friends made their presence known, I also introduced myself while Jasper explained he had the whole thing planned. We did a few group photos, then I stole the couple away for their engagement session.
The light went from bright, full sun to glowing golden hour. My favorite part of this is that you'll get so many different lighting scenarios in short succession.
Nikki and Ryan's session went about the same way, only it wasn't a proposal. She and Ryan were visiting New Mexico from Massachusetts. We had planned this session about 2 months before it happened and it was the first time either one of his had been at White Sands. Nikki, who is also a photographer herself, was super easy to work with and detail oriented. She wanted two different looks, both casual and over the top. While wearing white in an all white desert may sound odd, it looks really good! And then she brought out the red dress that she had rented from Olivia's Gowns in Utah. My jaw hit the floor, y'all.
What did I tell ya? Pure magic. Whether you're local or flying across the country, get in front of my camera. This isn't just for engagement sessions either! Elopements and small weddings here would be absolutely incredible.