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Getting the Good Stuff

Oct 18, 2011

I’m constantly on the lookout for good photo locations. Sometimes they are places that will need that little something extra to make them great. Sometimes they just need the right weather. Sometimes they are perfect as is.

I keep a small notebook and pen next to me in the vehicle as I travel across South Dakota. If I notice a particularly scenic rolling field that would look great when it’s planted with wheat I’ll jot down the location. The same goes for a spot that would make an interesting foreground for some nighttime photography. Some day I’ll come back to these locations when the conditions are right.

This summer I stumbled across a hillside filled with aspen trees on a gravel road in the northern Black Hills. A small grassy ridge was in front of it and I knew it would be perfect for some hikers to be standing on. I made a note of the location and the time of day that I thought would be best for photos.

Weeks later when the leaves were changing I talked my friend Julieanne Morse into posing for some images in that spot. I’m happy with the results, but it probably won’t be the last time I’m back there for more.

Identifying specific daytime locations that will look good in nighttime exposures can take a little practice, but once a photographer starts thinking that way it’s fairly easy to choose where to return to after dark. Looking for strong silhouette shapes will help.

Sometimes the landscape and/or the weather dictate that you must take a photo. When huge puffy white clouds float over the South Dakota landscape, you can bet I’m stopping my car at the first scenic spot I find. On a recent morning in Custer, a blanket of fog was filling the valley. I could tell the sky was clear above and the mist would soon be gone, so I made a beeline for Stockade Lake to shoot the sun breaking through. Knowing the best spot to be facing into the rising sun was critical to getting a good shot, so my mental notes on the lake came in handy.

Keeping a list, whether actually written or just in your head, will allow you to get the good shot when the situation arises. 

Chad Coppess is the senior photographer at the South Dakota Department of Tourism. He lives in Pierre with his wife, Lisa. To view more of his work, visit


11:24 am - Tue, October 18 2011
Heidi said:
Chad, it amazes me that you can envision a nighttime photo when the sun is shining! Great tips.
06:11 am - Sat, November 5 2011
Great article Chad! (Would love to have a peek at that notebook of yours!)
09:54 am - Tue, November 8 2011
Chad Coppess said:
Well Keith, you might say you can see my notebook by reading these columns or Dakotagraph. The notebook doesn't get kept because you'd never be able to read my scribbles. Once the idea has been shot or morphed into some other idea, the scribbled pages get tossed.

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