Having to hustle it back west so one-nighters were all I had time for at this point. And although I’ve tried to keep my driving time shorter than five or six hours a day, when I got to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in the early afternoon- my next planned stop for the night- I just couldn’t see spending the rest of the day there.
I decided to keep on moving through the plains and ended up putting in a pretty long day of driving.
The motorcycles on the ferry could have been a clue had I known better, but this gave it away pretty clearly…
I would be seeing a lot more of this for the next few hundred miles…
It was late afternoon when I saw the sign to Badlands National Park. Had to drive a few miles off the highway to get to the entrance gate and the ranger couldn’t tell me if there were any campsites left. Luckily the parks pass my buddy Mike gave me in May was still valid so I didn’t feel I’d be wasting money by going into the park and not finding a campsite. I might be hunting for a place to sleep in the dark, but I figured it was worth a shot, and I heard the Badlands were not to be missed.
No spots available and the sun was setting quick. The thing is when you’re on the road, it’s sometimes hard to time your visits to photogenic spots with the best light of the day (usually sunrise or sunset). I’m not a landscape photographer after all. But since I was at this place at this time of day, I wanted to make sure I had time to get a sunset against the amazing topography that makes up the Badlands.
The town of Interior is just outside the southern border of the park and camping was plentiful. I got my spot and took off back into the park as quickly as I could. It was pretty amazing.
The crazy thing about this next one is that right in front of where the lady is standing there’s a huge canyon that separates her from the terrain you can see in front of her.
Looks like this when you’re actually standing there….
Also lucky to have a full moon that night…
The portrait up top is of Chris. I met him at a rest stop in Chamberlain, SD overlooking the Missouri River. When I pulled up he was getting off his bike and unpacking a couple of cameras, one of which was film. I figured he’s gotta be either a pro or a serious amateur so I struck up a conversation with him. Turned out he’s a culture/travel writer/biker and was traveling with the Davidson family (as in Harley) to the 75th Anniversary Bike Rally in Sturgis, SD. Sounded like a pretty good gig to me. And it gave me a pretty good idea where I’d be going the next day.
Anyway, after we chatted I hit him up for a portrait (after all, he’s not the first biker I’ve met this trip). He was happy to oblige.
Camera Nerd Technical Notes:
Equipment failure almost ruined the portrait I wanted to make of Chris. It was getting late in the day, I knew I had some miles ahead of me before I started looking for a place for the night, and I wanted to make it real quick.
I use Pocketwizard radio triggers for my lights, and they’re known for being, let’s say, fussy. It was a horrible time for them to start acting up, especially when a couple days prior they worked flawlessly. After changing batteries and disconnecting and reconnecting everything a couple of times, I still couldn’t get the triggers to work consistently. The low-ish sun was providing directional light, but still pretty harsh, and I wanted to open up the shadows on the left side of Chris’ face. I ended up firing off more frames than I normally would, with the flashes not working for most of them, then calling the session out of disgust. We both agreed there should be at least one that comes out, though I was skeptical.
Looking back- I could’ve grabbed my reflector and clamped it to stand. I should’ve shot him with my Mamiya rangefinder (film) for it’s greater exposure range (i.e., controlled highlights with detail in the shadows). I should’ve hard-wired the connection to the flashes. All three of these things would’ve helped the situation. But I didn’t think of any of them at the time because I was so disappointed with what was happening. Bad, bad news.
Thankfully, Chris took it in stride and was familiar with Pocketwizards and their propensity for completely fucking up a shoot. I felt like an amateur after earlier telling him I’m trying to make a living as a photographer. Yeah, “professional”.
The thing is I really like the portrait. It’s like Chris is a modern-day motorcycle centaur. It’s technically flawed (most egregiously by a slight camera shake and the specular highlights in his sunglasses from the speedlights that I won’t bother Photoshopping out), but I was pleasantly surprised when I came across this frame (#32 of 54). Because I was dealing with the lights, Chris had loosened up a bit in front of me. You can see it in his posture. The first few shots I made were wider, showing more bike, more Chris, more background, but less personality. They’re boring. And that’s the thing. Had my equipment performed flawlessly, I would’ve stopped after the first few shots. But this is one of those times (that seem to happen more frequently than I’d like) where I walk away wondering why I even bother, but then look at the photos later and come away with something I actually love. It’s not ideal to finish a shoot with that feeling, but luckily for me it’s almost always lead to a pleasant surprise once I separate myself emotionally from the experience.
Now there will be those times when I don’t get something I like. That’s okay, too. It’s all part of building the big database of disasters in my brain from which I eventually pull valuable problem-solving nuggets. At least that’s the hope.
Thanks again for your patience Chris!