Good morning, Badlands

So I made a trip to the Badlands National Park in South Dakota for the first time. Yeah, I know, about time! I went with the same workshop folks as the trip to the UP in 2021. Apologies in advance for not noting which overlook we were at for each session. I kind of spaced on that. This first area is near Yellow Mounds, that much I know. It rained at dawn so we slept in and got a later start than we would any other day. Luckily it wasn’t raining anymore, but it was really windy so using the backpack as tripod ballast was necessary!

Taste the rainbow

A lucky break in the clouds gave me this – one of my favorites from the trip –

The risen meadow

With the clouds breaking up, the light was changeable from minute to minute and gave us many looks. The colors were so saturated from the rain that it was barely necessary to adjust them at all in processing. This green valley was pretty stunning – it’s almost as if the color is draining out of the hills.

Adding up the moments

And back to the hotel we went for some down time and a processing session. I had my portable drive and laptop with me for these sessions which were fun. As added insurance I didn’t reformat my SD card until I got home and copied my mobile Lightroom catalog to my main catalog. With each photo in two places I felt it was safe.

The next morning we had the best color of the whole trip. Truly amazing sky. I had in mind to do some panoramas on this trip and this was a perfect opportunity. Even without a dedicated pano head on the tripod it came out pretty well. This is a 7-shot stitch done in Lightroom with some TK8 Photoshop panel magic applied afterward. I did a head check with one of the guides and he agreed that the color is accurate and not over the top. It was nice to do this with another person who was actually there. Keeps my head on straight!

Badlands Pano

And a bit of detail with the best bit of the clouds. Check out that kiss of light on the ridges near the horizon. For a few minutes it was magic.

Carry the sky

It’s always important to turn around when doing landscape photography. A quick scan back across the road and look what I saw –

The benefits of looking back

That little light strip at the bottom is the road. I processed it so it would show just a tiny bit for some context. The sky was just stunning. I’ve only seen a few other skies like it and mostly at sunset, not sunrise, so we got very lucky. After the color was gone I spent a little time looking down into the valleys that were still basically in shade. It’s amazing how many different colors and hues there are down there. According to various websites, the rock laid down here is roughly 75 million years old, so not very in the grand scheme of geology. It started eroding about 500,000 years ago and is a treasure trove for fossils.


From this overlook, we drove to check out another place while the light held. And check out what I found –

How can we sleep in?

You know my weakness for a trail shot! Plus the side light brought up a lot of texture and contour which I did my best to accentuate. Filtering clouds kept things nice and soft. All of us had a good time wandering and taking time with smaller scenes. I thought about doing some macro, but the wind was persistent and maddening so I didn’t try. To take advantage of the wind, I have a long exposure shot with the grasses all moving and blurry, but haven’t edited it to my liking yet, so I may have to add another post.

Another afternoon of down time and editing, early dinner then moving out for sunset. The next morning came early, but it was our last in the park so we were hopeful. And check it out – color and clouds!

Dawn Frieze
There blossoms dawn

I wished the clouds had been moving faster. It would have made for an amazing long exposure. Oh well, I found a slightly different composition to try instead –


And then back to the grand view. Hard to take your eyes off it. The colors, the shapes, the surprising bits of green. All so fantastic. Once again I found myself with good compositions in a couple of different directions so it was good that I’d done some work to find these before the sun did its thing. There are different ways to do this in the field. Some use a cell phone, some a composition card which is basically a mat or frame that corresponds to your camera’s aspect ratio – 4×6 is a decent size for carrying, but I use the camera itself a lot of the time. Handheld for some freedom of movement, I walk around and decide which views I want to capture when the light comes.

Civilization falls away

So those were the mornings. I decided to divide the posts into sunrise and sunset sessions instead of doing a straight chronological presentation. Does it work? I think I’ll add a post with wildlife, too, not that I shot much since we didn’t spend time doing any except from the cars and the roads. I was a little bummed, but with such early starts in the mornings, I think the guides wanted to make sure we all had time to rest. Oh and we visited an abandoned town with a really weird situation that you just can’t believe. I made it out alive!

3 thoughts on “Good morning, Badlands

Add yours

  1. What a wonderful series of photos. The rock formations are amazing – like the Grand Canyon with all the colors, too. On one of our trips east, we drove along I-80 or I-90, we went through Wyoming and South Dakota – one of the two states actually has markers telling you the different rock layers and how old they are. It was amazing to contemplate as well as beautiful to see.

    1. That would be cool except how could you read them going 80mph? LOL. I have a few shots from my roadtrip to and from and will post them separately. I meant to stop more, but the one time I did I drove to the middle of nowhere only to find that the bridge was out and I couldn’t get to my destination. Bah!

      1. Haha! The road is a curvey and through narrow canyons. 80mph? You will join the dinosaurs . . . 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: