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Dramatic Summer Skies
Aug 26, 2015
This month marks four years that I’ve been writing photography columns for the South Dakota Magazine website. I’m grateful for the chance to share what I’m doing and what I’ve seen while appeasing my South Dakota wanderlust. So far, no one has asked me to stop sending photos, so here is to year number five!
While picking topics, I’ve tried to find new things to shoot or different angles on familiar topics so the photos don’t get stale. This month, however, I’m going to revisit a favorite photography theme. This summer, I have chased more storms than any other year. It could be that there have been more storms to chase, but the main reason is that I believe there isn’t much better light to see and capture than the light produced by a thunderstorm rolling across the northern plains, particularly around sunset. Not only is the light dramatic, but the sky itself is often a wonder to behold.
Most folks who chase storms want to witness the power and danger that severe weather can bring. Many are also interested in the science. And some do it as a service to warn residents that may be in harm’s way. I am awestruck when the sky darkens and the clouds boil. However, the best part of the storm is after it has passed. That is when the re-emerging sunlight paints the sky with rainbows, or casts the whole thundercloud into amazing shades of yellow, orange, pink and red. The beauty is fleeting, and no two storm clouds are the same. That’s another reason why chasing is so special.
I have a personal project that involves finding and photographing country churches. An unforeseen but very useful outcome of this project is knowing where the churches are. Then I compare their locations to the radar maps our news stations so generously provide. When chasing the storm, I try to find a prairie steeple to place in the foreground of oncoming or retreating clouds. Having something in the foreground or on the horizon that denotes scale can transform an impressive storm image to an outstanding image. I like to use windmills and barns where possible, as well. I’ve also learned that an open road will do the same thing. Just be mindful of traffic and courteous to local residents.
My favorite windmill to photograph in any interesting weather is just east of Hartford, and I can get there in about 10 minutes. Earlier this month, a squall line on the south edge of a pretty major storm formed northwest of Sioux Falls about a half hour before sunset. I high-tailed it for the windmill in hopes of capturing something amazing. I set up my tripod on the edge of the county road just minutes before shafts of the setting sun broke through the western clouds to paint the southeast sky in colors and detail I had only seen in paintings. It lasted for about two minutes, and then it was gone. Witnessing that is why I chase storms. I am usually amazed and humbled at the same time. Sometimes I get wet too, but that is a small price to pay to take in the beauty after the storm in South Dakota.
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.