Updated: Dec 28, 2020
I have been fascinated by badlands ever since I saw my first image them. To the passerby they look like a barren waste land, ugly, useless, flyover country. But when you look closely, during the right moments, they come to life. They produce endless compositions, with creative opportunities abound are nestled within them. For the most part there are no tripod holes, no comp stomps or, and frankly, no people for that matter. Since the first time I saw them many years ago I have spent hours upon hours zooming in and out of Google maps daydreaming about about possible compositions, yearning to go, and then, yearning to return, time and time again.
This entire collection is all from the air, a first for me. The badlands were the first drone image I saw as well, and it is what inspired me to buy my first drone. A DJI Phantom 2. That first drone was almost my last. I could rarely get that damn thing off the ground and got so frustrated with it that I never wanted to fly it. Adding to the already building frustration in me of trying to find my own voice, my own creative approach. Living in such a beautiful area that I do with a plethora of talented photographers, I was trying to find a new perspectives and I was convinced that the skies were going to help me achieve that.
I spent the better part of a year trying to get that drone to fly and when I finally did my heart was constantly racing. Was it going to come back? Was I going to loose signal? SHIT! I am over water and I won't be able to get this back if it crashes!. Funny enough, I still have a lot of those same feelings today when I fly. But, it's beyond magical when you are able to view the world through the eye of your drone. Especially when the first bit of light touches the badlands. The soft morning light coats the tops of the ridges creating layers for days. I recently completed my fourth trip to the area and finally felt like I had captured a collection of images that I was always hoping for long ago when I first started dreaming of shooting it.
From above the badlands drainages stretch out like veins of the earth, scattered across the it's landscape for as far as the eye can see. For the most part I love shooting the badlands from a straight down perspective. Composing the hills, runoffs and rocks from this perspective bring the complicated clutter of erosion and color into harmony and cohesion. I am enamored by this place. It's honestly breath taking from above in soft light. Like everything else I have done these images didn't come easy. I constantly found a challenging when shooting this place. High winds, poor light, and patchy snow have plagued me in the past. But with repetition can come success.
At times these formations can look like oil paintings, oozing and dripping off the page. The patterns you can find are mind boggling and can keep you occupied for hours. I highly recommend to go in with a plan. Research, research, and research some more. If you have a game plan going in you can optimize your battery time and square up compositions and get the image you are looking for.
First light in the badlands are an awe inspiring sight. The soft light kisses the ridges and gently fills the shadows of the formations. My favorite time to fly the drone in the morning is just as the sun peaks over the horizon. Given the limited battery, and depending on how far away you need to fly, I find this time the most optimal in the badlands. As it slowly flows in over the landscape it bring the earth to life, every ridge, nook and granny bleed character.
While I am excited to share these images I must stress care and respect for these places. The landscape is extremely delicate and brittle and needs to be cared for. Luckily, for the shake of these collecting images like these you don't have to tread very far into these fragile landscapes. Given the range of drones these days you can stick to roads and leave the area with no trace.