In the boundless sand dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in Brazil, photographer Ale Rodrigues was determined to capture the “pureza” (or purity) of the landscape.
On what was to be a quick excursion to survey the park for a future workshop he would be teaching soon morphed into a revelation of the ethereal and sublime nature of the area.
Inspiration and instinct began to surge in the São Paulo-based photographer and filmmaker, and he was compelled to encapsulate and preserve the experience.
“I could listen only to the wind and nothing else and that also helped me to focus, to try to express this feeling in my images. My goal was to convey the feeling of being in that place before any humans set foot there, just raw, pure nature, whenever I could see that in the landscape I would shoot,” Rodrigues says, speaking with PetaPixel.
The results were a series of minimalistic shots of perfectly white clouds, serene emerald lagoons, and dreamlike hills and sand scatter. In the YouTube video above, Rodrigues describes the sheer freedom to be immersed in the present moment, that was evoked while filming and shooting the landscape or ‘sandscapes’ as he calls it, “…The explosion of shapes, contrasts, colors [was] truly a photographer’s paradise.”
To aid him in his vision of capturing an “untouched” look to an area, which can see upwards of 60,000 visitors annually, Rodrigues had to think differently.
“I had to use a telephoto lens, where most of my images were shot at 200mm on a full-frame camera,” he explains.
“I used a full-frame camera (a Canon 5D Mark IV) and a 70-200mm f/4 lens, I first tried some shots with the wide angle lens (17-40mm f/4) but, to get so much of the landscape in the frame would also imply on getting too much I did not want in it, like footsteps, cars, people […] I like the fact that by using the 70-200mm I could better isolate the sand dunes, the composition with the lagoons, and the cloud formation.”
The piercing hue of the lagoons that mirrored the moody skies, accompanied by the silence of the thin sand-blown hills, provided Rodrigues enough “closeness” to the moment and area to push himself to pursue more.
“I wanted to get as close as possible to intimacy with the landscape, the closer I could get to a sand dune for me it was like the more you could feel it, the wind blowing in the sand dune and the silence. Similar to when you are shooting a portrait of someone with a telephoto and get a close-up shot (more intimacy and detail).”
As awestruck Rodrigues was with the unique beauty of Lençóis Maranhenses, he had to contend with a few other elements that the area manifested.
“Sand. A lot of it. [And] wind. Always. So, you basically get a combo of very fine sand with wind and you get the worst environment for any photographic equipment […] it is a harsh environment and sand gets stuck everywhere.”
He says he struggled to change lenses, so he avoided it altogether whenever possible. It has been more than a month since Rodrigues came back from this recent shoot and he says his tripod still has sand in it.
Despite the humid and windy climate, no lasting damage was done to Rodrigues’s equipment, nor did it taint the experience that was birthed.
“I think the decisive factor was that I was able to relax and that enabled my photographic instincts to be sharp, it was a mix of emotions when I finally saw the footage, I felt at peace being there.”
Rodrigues’s series creates an irresistible allure to the area, and like many photographers, that kind of allure attracts and inspires others to experience it for themselves.
“We landscape photographers have a great responsibility with nature,” Rodrigues says when asked about the mindfulness needed to be a visitor of revered scenic lands.
“I believe this photo series can also shed some light to preserve the ‘purity’ of any place you’re visiting, be it a sand dune, a lake, a waterfall, a beach, a mountain, anywhere in nature, just make sure to leave it in the same condition as you found, except of course for your footsteps, take your garbage with you, and be kind to nature, it’s that simple, and even so that’s not what we’re seeing in the world today. So try to keep the “purity” of any landscape you go.”
Photographers and non-photographers alike have commended Rodrigues on his decision to not over-saturate his shots during the editing process. A decision that was co-made with Rodrigue’s wife and encourager — Leticia — and is one that greatly contributes to the clean, delicate, and peaceful effect when viewing the series.
Image credits: Photos by Ale Rodrigues