Thursday, December 13, 2007

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is one of the photographic gems of South Dakota. I know there are photographers who come to the state specifically to capture the Badlands. My first post on this subject will be a broad overview. More detailed directions on how to find great vantage points will come later.
The park is located in the western half of the state, just south of Interstate 90 roughly between Kadoka and Wall. There are entrance gates at Cactus Flats and straight south of Wall, as well as at Interior if you are approaching from the southeast. There are two units to the park, north and south. The main scenic loop road travels through the north unit. The south unit is less accessible by vehicle, but just as scenic.
Photographers will find that the spires, buttes, mounds, canyons and grasslands of the Badlands change throughout the day as shadows form and twist their way through the jagged landscape. Midday light is just as flat and boring here as anywhere else, but there is still almost always something to shoot.

Although it looks like solid rock, the terrain here is made up mainly of soil that is remarkably like pottery clay. Try to climb up a butte during or after a rainstorm and you will know what I mean. When wet it becomes the slipperiest surface you can imagine other than ice. I call it Mother Nature's Teflon. This also means that the formations are in a constant state of change. Peaks erode away, walls completely crumble, and arches that make great frames for the sun disappear. This one collapsed about a year after I took this picture:

In springtime there are great opportunities for "beauty and the beast" type pictures with a variety of wildflowers blooming in this seemingly inhospitable environment. A fisheye lens and a gold reflector help make an interesting subject even more so.

As I mentioned, the south unit of the Badlands has some great scenic overlooks, like this one at Red Shirt Table on the far western edge of the park. Including a friend in the picture helps give the gigantic landscape some scale.


Markus Erk said...

I am looking forward to checking this out often!

Markus Erk

Chad Coppess said...

Thanks Markus. I'll try to keep adding new stuff so you don't get bored!

Anonymous said...


Can you give us some tips on the best places to shoot in early July at either sunrise or sunset?


Chad Coppess said...

Thanks for the request Dennis. I got that covered today hopefully.