Imperial Sand Dunes Engagement Photos

couple kissing at the sand dunes during their engagement session.

Dreamy sunrise engagement photos at the Imperial Sand Dunes

Did you know there are otherworldly sand dunes in Southern California? The Imperial Sand Dunes (aka Glamis Sand Dunes) are a drive away from Los Angeles, San Diego and Scottsdale and pro-tip, they’re the perfect location for your engagement photos! When these two first reached out, they already knew they wanted their engagement session to be an adventure and that they wanted it to be at the Imperial Sand Dunes. To say we were excited is an understatement.

While sunsets at the dunes are magical, the sunrises really are something else. As the skies turn from soft cotton candy clouds to warm golden hues to bright blues, the sand reflects those changes giving a great variety for your photos. Plus, sunrise typically means less wind, less heat, and less people. So, these two unquestioningly agreed to rise before the sun and drive to the Imperial Sand Dunes all the way from Arizona, and boy was it worth it! We had the most beautiful sunrise nearly all to ourselves and the moon even decided to stick around and play for a bit. 

The most playful yet grounded kind of love.

Our favorite part of getting to know these two is how passionate their love is – almost every moment was filled with such loud, playful joy – running around with contagious smiles, ready to jump into any situation. But then in the quiet moments, you could see how grounded they are in one another. How soft they are together. They have such a clear vision of their future in each other. 

Together we all excitedly chased the perfect light up and down every dune we could, leaving fresh little trails everywhere we went. The first footprints of the day. On a non-windy day (like this one), we love how the sand leaves a little map of everywhere you’ve been in the background of your photos. Then to finish off the morning, we decided to board down a few dunes before heading out!

We’re already dying to go back – so shoot us a message and let’s plan your engagement shoot at the sand dunes together!

Now convinced you need to have a sand dunes engagement session?

Here’s everything you need to know for taking your photos at the Imperial Sand Dunes.

Overview of the Imperial Sand Dunes:

The Imperial Sand Dunes are primarily known as an off-highway vehicle (OHV) hotspot. The dune system extends over 40 miles and Highway 78 cuts right through it. Most of the OHV action takes place to the south of the highway, while the other side of the highway lies the The North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area. This area is protected and motorized vehicles are prohibited, but people are free to explore on foot or horseback. 

So which side makes for better sand dunes engagement photos?

The OHV side has very little plant life, giving that ‘nothing but sand’ feel in your photos and the dunes tend to be a bit larger where they are easily accessible on foot. It’s great for sunrise when there is no one else around and that’s where all of these photos were taken. However, we’d never recommend shooting here any time other than sunrise because it gets so busy with OHVs. Not only does that not make for the best photos or experience, it’s also not very safe. The one caveat being if you want to cruise around on an OHV for your session, which we are totally here for!

The Algodones side of the dunes has more plant life for a more rugged feel to your photos. There is rarely another person in sight regardless of time of day. If you want a sunset session, this is the area we recommend. The easily accessible dunes are still very large, but the biggest ones are pretty deep into the park and hard to get to on foot. If you want a visual for comparison, check out this Imperial Sand Dunes Engagement Shoot we did at sunset over on the Algodones side. 

Debating between a sunrise or sunset session? Keep in mind:

  1. The time of year – sunrise tends to be cooler and less windy.
  2. Colors – of course every sunrise and every sunset is different, but in general, the sunsets here tend to provide more hot pink, orange, and red hues while the sun rises tend to provide more pastel pinks, blues and purples along with warm golden lighting.
  3. As mentioned above, which side of the dunes are you considering? For safety reasons, we’d only suggest sunrise on the OHV side. 

Our top tips for engagement photos in the sand dunes:

  • Choose a fun activity to do during your session! Some ideas:
    • Sand Sledding/Boarding
    • Rent (or bring) an OHV and cruise around the dunes together
    • Have a romantic picnic in the sand
  • Wear something you’re comfortable in and can move in.
    • If you don’t like “windswept” photos, this may not be your ideal location. It’s hard to come by a day that isn’t pretty dang windy. But if you’re like us and love windswept hair, throw on a flowy outfit and embrace it
    • Exploring the sand dunes by foot is a workout! We will take our time and have lots of fun, but be prepared for some physical activity walking, running, dancing, frolicing through the sand. 
  • The Imperial Sand Dunes are located in the desert, so it gets HOT in the summer. Best to plan your engagement or couples shoot in the spring, winter, or fall.

Have any questions we didn’t cover? Want to see the full gallery? Just ask! Shoot us an email or leave a comment below 🙂

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