Sunrise in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Marly and I recently made our annual trip to North Dakota to visit my parents. This time I resolved to make the trek to the western part of the state to spend some time in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, ND. I lived in North Dakota for a long time and have been visiting my parents even longer, so I was a bit ashamed that I’d never made a photography trip out to the ND Badlands. The park’s South Unit is only about 2 hours from Bismarck, so there wasn’t much of an excuse.

This first post about our trip focuses on the sunrise that we managed to photograph from Scoria Point Overlook on Scenic Loop Drive, a 36-mile loop that runs through the park.

When I’m in a place like a national park I’m frequently wondering, “How many millions of photos have been taken from this exact spot?” So I’m always looking for a vantage point that is away from the tourist spots. Another major factor in getting unique pictures is the weather.

Storms moved through overnight, so I knew we had a good chance of interesting skies and light if the clouds cooperated. We weren’t disappointed. I quickly found a spot, set up my tripod, and began shooting some bracketed series of frames knowing that I’d want to create HDR images of the scene. Below is one of my favorite shots from that morning.

Sunrise at Scoria Point Overlook, 2011
HDR from 3 frames, ISO 200, f/11, 16-35mm f/4 @ 16mm, Nikon D700

I tried several compositions, each consisting of 3 to 5 bracketed frames, but this is the one I like best. HDR conversion/tone-mapping was done with Photomatix Pro, and some final edits were done in Photoshop.

I find much of the tone-mapped HDR work out there to be too psychedelic, and I strive for a natural look. It involves a lot of trial and error with whatever software you’re using, in my experience. Even then I usually have to make some corrections “by hand” in Photoshop.

This shot is looking the opposite direction, to the west:

Sunrise at Scoria Point Overlook, 2011
Composite of 2 images, ISO 200, f/16, 16mm, Nikon D700

This image is a composite of 2 images, one for the foreground and one for the sky. They were only taken about 45 seconds apart, so combining the two captures doesn’t feel like cheating to me.

Sunrise photography can be tricky because you’re usually traveling to your location in the dark, so it helps to know where you’re going ahead of time. That morning we just drove until we saw a decent spot and the light was good. In other words, a large amount of luck was involved!

More to come later!

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One Response to “Sunrise in Theodore Roosevelt National Park”

  1. Diane

    Great pictures. Can’t wait to see them all.


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