10 Years Photographing The Badlands

Sunrise at Door Trail, Badlands National Park

Celebrating 10 years of epic landscape photography in South Dakota

The first time I visited Badlands National Park, I was on a week-long photo tour with members of the Nikonians photographic community. It was 2005, and it was my first “real” photo experience with a digital camera, my brand-new Nikon D2x. I had two (!) 4GB memory cards in total, and I still remember the challenge of making the transition from film (fixed ISOs and slow shutter speeds) to digital.

Starting out

In 2010, I made photography my full-time business. I decided to start leading a small number of photography tours and workshops on my own. I’d started leading small-group workshops in 2007 with my podcast co-host, Rick Walker. I needed to visit a photogenic location that was easily accessible, and so in 2011 I returned to the Badlands, this time as a workshop leader.

Those early workshops were brutal on our sleep schedules. I went in early June, partly to avoid the summer crowds, but also in part to get treated to lush prairie grasses and wildflowers. Of course, at that time of year, sunrise was around 5am local time, which meant a lot of 0400 alarms at our hotel.

Fog in the Pinnacles, 2014

Since then, I’ve done workshops in late summer, and even in early fall. Each time, we’ve been treated to a unique display of light, color, and weather, making this one of my all-time favorite destinations for landscape photography.

Gallery: South Dakota Badlands by Jason P. Odell

The perfect teaching environment for landscape photography

The light, scenery, and wide-open spaces make Badlands one of my favorite places to teach landscape photography. Long summer days mean that we have plenty of time after our photo shoots to return to base, download our images, and work on them together as a group. I’m even able to use my infrared cameras in the Badlands and expose my groups to another creative option in photography.

Finding rock formations like this one is always a treat.

I take an holistic approach to landscape photography. I start with camera settings and composition, and finish my photographs in the computer using a combination of editing tools. Some photos require little more than basic adjustments to light, color, and contrast. Other photos represent composites of several exposures, blended together to improve dynamic range or create huge panoramic images. I’ve been able to apply a tremendous diversity of creative techniques when I photograph the Badlands, including HDR, long exposures, digital infrared, and monochrome.

Cottonwood tree on Big Foot Road (digital infrared capture)

This year, I’m once again returning to South Dakota for another week of landscape photography. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years has in store!

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