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A patch of black-eyed Susan along the hiking trail at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
A patch of black-eyed Susan along the hiking trail at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
An early morning rainbow after a shower at Wind Cave National Park.
An early morning rainbow after a shower at Wind Cave National Park.
A bull elk happened to wander between the rainbow and me.
A bull elk happened to wander between the rainbow and me.
A colorful mountain bluebird dutifully hunting and feeding its young at Custer State Park.
A colorful mountain bluebird dutifully hunting and feeding its young at Custer State Park.
A lone wood lily in the hillside grasses of Custer State Park.
A lone wood lily in the hillside grasses of Custer State Park.
Tiny Swallow Church of Pine Ridge Reservation surrounded by yellow sweet clover and a lone thistle in bloom
Tiny Swallow Church of Pine Ridge Reservation surrounded by yellow sweet clover and a lone thistle in bloom
Yellow coneflower with tall grass and alfalfa in rural Jerauld County.
Yellow coneflower with tall grass and alfalfa in rural Jerauld County.
A common clouded yellow butterfly dining on black samson in Brookings County.
A common clouded yellow butterfly dining on black samson in Brookings County.
A monarch butterfly dining on flowers at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
A monarch butterfly dining on flowers at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
Daisy fleabane at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
Daisy fleabane at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
Wooly verbena and yellow coneflowers along the road to Lake Hendricks State Recreation Area.
Wooly verbena and yellow coneflowers along the road to Lake Hendricks State Recreation Area.
Wildflowers in Sioux Falls.
Wildflowers in Sioux Falls.
An orange moth dining on milkweed blooms at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
An orange moth dining on milkweed blooms at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
Black samson in bloom along the hiking trail of Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
Black samson in bloom along the hiking trail of Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
A common yellowthroat among the reeds and milkweed adjacent to Lake Vermillion.
A common yellowthroat among the reeds and milkweed adjacent to Lake Vermillion.
Wooly verbena and yellow coneflowers along the road to Lake Hendricks State Recreation Area.
Wooly verbena and yellow coneflowers along the road to Lake Hendricks State Recreation Area.
Black samson with silver leaf scurfpea in the background in Brookings County.
Black samson with silver leaf scurfpea in the background in Brookings County.
Yellow coneflowers taken with a wide-angle lens along the hiking trail at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.
Yellow coneflowers taken with a wide-angle lens along the hiking trail at Lake Vermillion Recreation Area.

The Season of Color

Jul 29, 2015

If you could pick a color to represent summer in South Dakota, what would it be? Azure blue for the summer sky? Maybe green with yellow tints for the prairie pastures? The colors of the rainbow we see after a spring storm? How about a mixture of orange and red for our signature sunsets? How do you color the serene night sky? I don’t know, but one thing is certain: summertime’s palette of color is vibrant and full of life. The rains have been good. For a few months out of the year our landscapes transition from drab tans and browns to lovely green accented with yellow, blue and red flowers. We may not have the vast carpets of wildflower fields like other parts of the world, but the summer wildflower season in South Dakota is still beautiful.

Much of the state is prairie landscape, which means outside of the farm fields, grass is king. However, summer wildflowers aren’t difficult to find. These bursts of color often accent the wide pastures with pleasant shades of yellow or purple. Coneflowers, sunflowers and milkweed also attract colorful butterflies, moths and even birds. A walk on a hillside that has never seen a plow always surprises me with the abundant variety of life mixed with the grasses. It is a great way to spend an afternoon or evening hike with your camera.

Earlier this month, I was surprised to see that you don’t even have to leave the confines Sioux Falls to find wildflowers in abundance. Just north of Cherapa Place on the east side of the Big Sioux River is a large area planted back to native grass and flowers. Such a display of natural color in the midst of our largest city is a feast for the eyes.

Flowers are fun to photograph any time of day, but I’ve had the best luck early in the morning, before the wind comes up and the dew dries. Flowers look good under clouds, too, because the light is diffused more evenly and the shadows are less harsh. My favorite time to hunt wildflowers, however, is early in the evening when the golden light colors the land with warm hues. A macro lens will work wonders, but it is not necessary. A wide-angle lens can take great photos of wildflowers too. I recommend getting down on your knees or even your stomach to shoot the flowers at eye level. Getting down in the grass and looking up provides new and creative perspectives for you and your camera. Be warned, however, that un-photogenic insects like ticks, spiders and ants also live at this level, so be mindful of where you settle in and always wear repellent.

As summer wanes, the sunflower season will get into full swing. You’ll see blooming blazing stars and ironweed, and monarch butterflies will begin their migration to Mexico. But there’s still plenty of time left in the season to find your summer color. Take a hike, bring your camera and enjoy the color of summer while it lasts.

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.

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