The North Algodones Imperial Sand Dunes with Bob Coates

Words and images by Bob Coates

Algodones Dunes are a 45 mile sand dune field in southeastern California, near the border with Arizona and Mexico’s Baja California. Imperial Sand Hills was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in the mid sixties.

Part of the North Algodones Imperial Sand Dunes are quite beautiful. During the winter, there are constant Off Highway Vehicles (OHV’s) which leave tracks on the dunes. Add to that families sand surfing and making Instagram photos, and it can be tough to get clean dunes!

I braved 108 degree daytime temperature this summer so I could get some fairly pristine sands for my desert view. I was not disappointed.

I mounted my pre-production Platyball Elite on my tripod. Using the built in leveling grid helps in keeping the horizon perfectly level even if the legs are off a little. The Platyball design keeps the camera above the ball so the horizon stays level during lens rotation. Note that the camera is mounted on a long tripod plate. This helps to move the camera back so that the pivot point is where the light enters the lens.

Known as the Light Entry Point and sometimes referred to as the Nodal Point, this also provides you and/or your software more ease in stitching your panorama images. One thing I really enjoy with the Platyball is that when I set the head where I want it, there is zero "lens creep."

The panorama is 13 photos overlapped at about 40%. The camera was in the horizontal orientation. Normally I capture my panos with the camera vertical to get more height. The scene below was going to be thin as the dunes were a small strip and the clouds were only a little above the horizon.

The image above: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III with 40-150mm f/2.8 M.Zukio Pro lens 1/500th sec @f/10 ISO 200

I keep the infrared converted camera on hand for this time of day. IR creates a high contrast image which works well with the dunes and clouds. Normally I reserve IR for images with greenery or super dramatic clouds.

The above image: Lumix GH4 with Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4 lens 1/320 sec f/9 ISO 200. 

To see more of Bob’s work, head over to his blog at