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An abandoned schoolhouse in north Codington County taken on Jan. 10.
An abandoned schoolhouse in north Codington County taken on Jan. 10.
Horse at sunset taken Jan. 1 in southwestern Minnehaha County.
Horse at sunset taken Jan. 1 in southwestern Minnehaha County.
First sunset of the year with Zion Lutheran near Wall Lake.
First sunset of the year with Zion Lutheran near Wall Lake.
The second sunset of the year taken just east of Hartford.
The second sunset of the year taken just east of Hartford.
Macro shot of frost formation on window during an evening blizzard on Jan. 3.
Macro shot of frost formation on window during an evening blizzard on Jan. 3.
Snowy Owl in eastern Edmunds County taken on Jan. 10.
Snowy Owl in eastern Edmunds County taken on Jan. 10.
A Snowy flyby taken in Day County on Jan. 27.
A Snowy flyby taken in Day County on Jan. 27.
The planets Mercury and Venus (lower right) were very close together in the night sky in early January. This photo shows them with the Holmquist elevator along Highway 12 on Jan. 10.
The planets Mercury and Venus (lower right) were very close together in the night sky in early January. This photo shows them with the Holmquist elevator along Highway 12 on Jan. 10.
The sunset clouds over Sioux Falls were quite spectacular after work on Jan. 14.
The sunset clouds over Sioux Falls were quite spectacular after work on Jan. 14.
The Old Courthouse Museum’s clock tower provides a historic and striking foreground for the colorful clouds.
The Old Courthouse Museum’s clock tower provides a historic and striking foreground for the colorful clouds.
High clouds just after sunset provided a very colorful background to this tall prairie windmill near Buffalo Trading Post in northwestern Minnehaha County on Jan. 26.
High clouds just after sunset provided a very colorful background to this tall prairie windmill near Buffalo Trading Post in northwestern Minnehaha County on Jan. 26.
A wider shot of the scene shows the changing colors from yellows to pinks.
A wider shot of the scene shows the changing colors from yellows to pinks.

Only the Best

Feb 3, 2015

As I write this, snow is beginning to fall outside my window and the wind is picking up. January can be a tough month to get photographically inspired. Cold temperatures, biting wind and the muted colors of winter won’t necessarily get a normal person excited to go out and make a photograph. Recently I discovered something that helped me get out and shoot consistently every month. I’m glad I did, as the cold months in the Northern Plains have proven to be just as photogenic as any other time.

Late in 2012, I ran across this Ansel Adams quote: “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” I spent a lot of time thinking about that quote and then began to apply it to how I posted photos on my blog. For all of 2013 and 2014, I resolved to only post the 12 best photos I took each month. This taught me two very important things: If I was going to post 12 photos labeled my “best,” then they better be good photos, and if I was going to post 12 a month, then I better get off the couch and start shooting.

Approaching my photography hobby in this manner actually inspired me to shoot more than I ever did. Getting 12 good photos meant I would have to shoot a lot more than 12, plus I wanted variety. I didn’t want eight photos of the various moods of my dog. I also learned a lot about self-critiquing, a skill that all aspiring photographers should have. I belong to a couple photography social media groups. I’ve noticed that photographers who I think are top-notch don’t post a photo every day or even every week, but when they do the photos are usually exquisite. It only makes sense. If you are going to show the world your photography, why not only show the best? How do you get your best? You keep searching, learning and creating.

Another great thing about approaching my photography passion in this manner is that it often creates diverse opportunities and new horizons. I never would have gotten into birding if it weren’t for looking for new and interesting photographs to make. Like most photographers, I used to be only interested in sunsets, landscapes and wildflowers. Now I can walk into a wooded valley, stop and listen and tell you species of birds that are in the area just by hearing their vocalizations, which is really fun even if I don’t take a photo.

The photos accompanying this story are 12 of my best photos taken in South Dakota in January.  From winter sunsets to macro shots of frost on my window, it shows my photographic journey through the month. Whether Mr. Adams would find the photos “significant” or not, I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve become a better and more diverse photographer because of it. 

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.

Comments

03:00 pm - Tue, February 3 2015
Emily said:
These photographs are stunning, Christian. They really capture South Dakota in a way that feels... gently personal.
08:39 pm - Tue, February 3 2015
Penny said:
Love the pictures - especially the snowy flyby but am even more challenged by the approach to only posting your best and being inspired to shoot more. That inner accountability is great! I am trying to increasing my best thru participating in soaping challenges for my business (www.444Farm.com) and I can see my motivation increasing too as I spend a lot more time thinking about color and design. Thanks for the article!
01:48 pm - Wed, February 4 2015
Christian said:
Thanks Emily and Penny. I really appreciate the kind feedback. Good luck on your own challenge to keep growing and getting better.

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