Teal Skies and Carrot-Colored Pinnacles. An Art Photographer’s Slow Blowing Dream.

When we hiked in, the air was dark and crisp with the promise of a new day. Then, like a slow-blowing dream, the sun slowly advanced over a flat-line horizon. Orange light streaked across a prairie of untamed Western Wheatgrass, and for a few minutes, a mix of teal and orange filled the sky. Blue shadows quickly gave way to a carrot-colored light that revealed the stucco-like textures of the multi-sided pinnacles. 

Badlands National Park – Wall, SD

This is the Badlands National Park. There are no cascading waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, or sea stacks with waves crashing against their sides— nothing like that. Instead, nestled in the heart of South Dakota lies a landscape so otherworldly and enchanting that it could be mistaken for a scene from a different planet. There is a raw, wild beauty filled with theatrical rock formations and striking color contrasts. The light is intense and stage-like and spotlights dramatic rock formations and striking color contrasts. It is a challenge for art photographers and the grit that a fine art photographer needs to translate thoughts to finished images.  Here, we teach our students to capture the very essence—the soul—of the Badlands.

Developing a Vision Beyond Documentation  

While technical skills are essential, our Badlands Workshop focuses on something deeper. Our camera can record the obvious, but it is how we see the obvious and what is beyond the obvious that we seek. What is the landscape telling us? The jagged peaks, eroded buttes, and sprawling prairies each have their own tale. It’s about more than just pointing your camera and clicking; it’s about understanding the interplay of light and shadow, the mood of the moment, and the emotional response it elicits.

One of our favorite spots is the Pinnacles Overlook. Here, the landscape unfolds in layers of color and texture, and we encourage our students to take their time. “Feel the scene,” we tell them. “What emotions does it evoke? How can you capture that in your photograph?” It’s a process of discovery, both of the landscape and of oneself.

Embracing the Unexpected

The Badlands are known for their unpredictable weather, and we teach our students to embrace it. A storm rolling in over the horizon can add drama and intensity to a photograph. The play of light through dark clouds can create a scene of breathtaking beauty. And sometimes, a sudden change in weather can lead to unexpected and unforgettable photographic opportunities.

Creative Segmentation

In his books and interviews, Ansel Adams often said that 50% of his creative workflow was in the darkroom, and the other half was the camera and capture workflow.  Thus, we teach visualization as an easy-to-learn workflow that allows one to capture and complete images with an extended emotional range and the precision of the zone system. It’s a workflow that frees you to be as creative as your heart and mind will allow. 

Creative Meditation 

Photography is about capturing what you see and expressing how you feel about what you see. The Badlands are more than just a series of stunning vistas; they are a place of deep introspection and connection. Our workshops emphasize this connection. We encourage our students to spend time in silence, to absorb the atmosphere, and to let the landscape speak to them.

In the quiet moments between shots, we share stories and experiences. We talk about the history and geology of the Badlands, the Native American tribes that have called this land home, and the flora and fauna that thrive in this harsh environment. This holistic approach enriches the photographic experience and deepens the connection to the land.

Creative Mediation drives a deeper visualization and opens you to new voices. 

Conclusion

Our photography workshops in the Badlands are about more than just teaching technical skills. They are about fostering a deep connection to the landscape, capturing its soul, and expressing the emotions that this stunning place evokes. Through patience, introspection, and a good dose of humor, we guide our students on a journey of discovery, helping them create photographs that are not just beautiful but truly meaningful.

Bob Killen,
Senior Instructor

Bob Killen is the Curriculum Director for National Park Photography Expeditions and Senior Instructor for the NPPE Art Photography Mentor Program.

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CANCELLATION POLICY
  1. Due to limited class size, we request that you cancel at least 30 days before a scheduled class. This gives us the opportunity to fill the class. You may cancel by phone or by email. If you have to cancel your class, we offer you a credit to your account. You may use these credits towards any future class. However, if you do not cancel prior to 72 hours prior to the class, you will be subject to a loss of deposited payment for the class. NPPE has the only right to be flexible with this policy and will make determinations on a case by case basis.
  2. Cancellations made 30 days or more in advance of the class date, will receive a 100% credit. Cancellations made within the 30 day period will incur a 20% fee with the balance applied as a credit to the account. Cancellations made within 72 hours to the class will be subject to a 100% loss of registration fees paid.