Working my way back to where I left off writing the blog, back in August (yes, this year)… I joined a workshop group in Badlands National Park (South Dakota) the second week in September. We had mostly bald blue skies, daytime temperatures constantly over 90F, and smoke from the wildfires in Custer State Park that eventually made its way to us the last couple of days…

Sunrise at East Gate Overlook; Nikon D800 converted to 720nm

Some people have asked me why I “still” take workshops even though I am running my own. The usual thoughts come to mind — community, gear-talk, learn about new places to shoot, and most important to me, I don’t have to think about anything except my composition in the camera. My only “must do” item is to get out of bed on time and then my day just flows. I don’t have to listen to myself whine with excuses: it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s raining, it’s foggy, it’s cloudy, it’s scary (because it is dark, cold, raining, foggy, or cloudy). Nor do I have to answer the “what if” questions that are trying to push me towards a paranoia frenzy: What if you run into a mass murderer? What if no one realizes you are are gone (except the cat sitter because I never return home)? What if a bull elk sneaks up behind me and bellows? What if I step on a sleeping snake/scorpion/tarantula? What if I drank too much coffee — will I find a bathroom? (Clearly only women worry about this one.) What if the car doesn’t start and there is no cell service? Under most conditions, this constant cranial chatter keeps me in bed with the covers pulled over my head.

Except when I lead or take a workshop. Then I feel a responsibility to all the other photographers in the group not to be late for the parking lot meet-up. So yes I pay big bucks for an instructor to get me out of bed in the morning to go shoot.

So what did I learn from shooting infrared in a strange geological place of buttes, hoodoos, fossils, and spires?  As one person said, Badlands NP appears to look like the surface of the moon.

Door Trail; Nikon D800 converted to 720nm

Over the years, and long before I got serious about photography, I learned by looking at the clouds when and what type of weather front was approaching. Now I am beginning my course of study in geology and how the infrared spectrum of light interacts with different types of rock formations. The subtle colors and patterns in the rock formations in places such as The Badlands can be easily lost when shooting in infrared.

White Fossil Trail before sunrise — this was the lone cloud for the day; Nikon D800 converted to 720nm

The landscape of the national park that protects this geological wonder runs east-west. As the United States is located in the northern hemisphere, the sun tracks east-west in a southerly path.

The hard light of early morning and late afternoon works best in the Badlands for infrared. The rest of the day produces harsh shadows of the spires and completely washes out the colors of the rock layers on a bald, blue-sky day (see below). When keeping the sun to my back, with the subject front lit by the sun (9am-3pm), the mountains and peaks are easily washed out and the shadows on the landscape are wicked deep.

Near Cedar Pass Lodge; Nikon D800 converted to 720nm

When the sun is low on the horizon in the Badlands, one has the best opportunity for an infrared lens filter/camera to pick up the differences in the subtle colors of rock layers (see below). By taking advantage of side light, the results are more pleasing…

Hay Butte at Sunset; Nikon D800 converted to 720nm

I also ponder if the sandstone composition of this type of rock absorbs the light (instead of reflecting it) which results not only in a grainy and gritty appearance but for black-and-white infrared does not produce the same range of tonalities as our eyes see. I hate to add contrast in processing… it does nothing for me but produce more grain and grit and block up already dark areas.

Some “keeper” images were ones made in dramatic weather such as when a storm running west to east just missed us to the north (below).

After the Storm; Nikon D800 converted to 720nm

Apparently this pool of water (below) is normally not here according to the instructor who has shot here every year for the last twenty years. I stopped to shoot it as I arrived a day early and wanted to drive through the park to get a lay of the land so to speak before the workshop started. I thought the pond was oddly out of place in this very arid climate and at the end of the dry, hot summer. Moral of the story: shoot it when you see it and never, ever assume you will catch it “next time.” Mother Nature has a way of reinventing herself all the time — the ultimate furniture re-arranger.