Category Archives: North Dakota

Northern Lights

It’s often said that photography is being in the right place in the right time and I couldn’t agree more.  So much of taking “great” photos is simply being out there in nature time and time again for the sunrises, the sunsets, the storms, etc.  Getting that perfect sunset shot is a matter of frequency. Sometimes the light really turns on, while other times it does nothing.  The most important thing is that person simply be there in the first place.

Like many photographers, I’ve applied countless resources just trying to “be there” A photograph always starts with the initial decision to venture out. This might mean heading out of town during the magic hour for the hope the sky might do something beautiful.  It might mean hiking up to that certain ridge on the trail and hopping around to find a unique perspective. All of this is especially true with capturing the Northern Lights.

Here in North Dakota, we are sitting on the cusp of the ideal aurora borealis viewing area.  It takes a really strong solar storm for them to flare up enough to be visible.  Making things even more complicated, a photographer has to be far enough away from light pollution to get a good picture, generally 10 or 15 miles outside of a highly populate area.  Also, the lights are only visible late at night.  All of this culminates into a pretty particular set of viewing conditions meaning a photographer has to either be on their game or very lucky.  Ultimately, capturing the aurora borealis in North Dakota is not so much a technical challenge (high ISO, long shutter speed, wide open aperture, and a tripod), it’s a logistical challenge.

I’ve captured the Northern Lights a few times over the years.  For me, it usually starts with a cell phone app notification.  There are several good apps out there including Aurora Alerts Northern Lights and  Northern Eye Aurora Forecast that will alert you when the KP Index (the KP Index is global geomagnetic storm index relative) spikes above a certain point.  When I photographed the Northern Lights, previously to the pictures above, I received an app notification as I was brushing my teeth preparing to go to bed.  The KP Index was high enough that I changed out of pajamas, grabbed my camera pack, and headed out into the night.  I drove out of town and caught an hour or two of phenomenal aurora activity, the lights rippling across the horizon like a fiber optic curtain.  It took a little bit of work, but it was well worth it.

The pictures above are from my most recent Norther Lights experience and a result of the pure luck of being in the right place at the right time.  My wife and I decided to celebrate our 3rd anniversary at Cross Ranch State Park, the same place we held our reception.  We spent the weekend in one of the park’s yurts, using it as our base camp for hiking and biking excursions.  Our first night there, my phone beeped with a message that the Northern Lights were to be exceptionally active that night.  This was being lucky, very few logistics required.  We were already out of town.  We were awake.  I had all my camera gear ready.  We and made our way down to the river, where we were greeted with the scenes below.  Seeing the Norther Lights on that particular weekend felt like a little gift from the universe.  To capture these pictures, I just had to be there.

Technical Specs: Canon T4i, 10-20mm lens, tripod, ISO 3200, F/4.5, 30sec exposure.

CLICK ON AN IMAGE TO VIEW SLIDESHOW

 

Hillside Park Bismarck

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This is fog across Hillside Park the other morning.

Like a lot of people who grew up in Bismarck Mandan, Hillside/Lions Park has somehow remained a constant in my life.

As a young child my family lived on 13th Street for a few years. On summer days, we would walk to Hillside Park, stopping at the 7-11 for paper airplanes and candy before arriving at the old cinder block playground set that has long been replaced. Back then a person could also drive right up to the top of the park. Some nights, after dark, the family would drive to the top of the hill. A small sea of lights that was Bismarck in the late 1980s twinkled down in the valley below. To my 4 year old self this was an enchanted vantage point, the lights mesmerizing and full of promise and allure.

The park remained in my life as I grew up. As a teenager I spent countless hours skateboarding at the skatepark. Later in high school, I played Frisbee golf in the park. It was also the scene of various hijinks. One night, I remember parking my first car, a 1990 Chevy Celebrity, on the perimeter of the park with an early girlfriend, only to be questioned by a bemused police officer with a flashlight. Another night, a group of friends and I may or may not have tried to roll a bowling ball down the water slide. Right after college I lived in a 4-plex on Boulevard directly across from the park. Living next to the park it became a constant companion. I could hear the sounds of the park through my bedroom window – skateboards slapping concrete, the splashing of water at the pool, and the thud of tennis balls on the courts. The sound changed through the season, as did the personality of the park.

In my late twenties, I left North Dakota for many years. I didn’t know if I would ever return. While away, the list of things I missed about Bismarck included the park.

As it turns out, I did return to my home state, somehow ending up where I am now, living just a few blocks north of my childhood home on 13th Street, not far from Hillside Park. At times, it feels like I’ve come full circle.

Every other day or so I walk down to the park. On the way, I see my childhood home, an old box of a house that looks too small to possibly be the stage for all the grand memories it contains. I walk by the old 7-11 which is now a restaurant. Near the park, I see the bedroom window of my old apartment and wonder who lives there now? In the park, I see the kids skateboarding and playing Frisbee. I’m sure they see me in the same way I used to view the “grown-up” people shuffling along the path. Little do they know I used to pull frontside heelflips off the ramp.

I still like to make my way to the top of the hill that affords the view of Bismarck. There are a few benches up there. I look out over Bismarck and am reminded of time passing. I wonder how it is that 30 years later I’m still looking out across this same view?

Sometimes, I will try to go back to the awe-struck mind of my childhood and try to imagine what I saw then. There are some days, if I’m lucky, where it all materializes – mystery, potential, life waiting to happen. Some days that amazement is still there spread out before me in the valleys and treetops of Bismarck, this small town where anything can happen.

Winter Collection

During the North Dakota winter, the tendency is to stay indoors as much as possible.  That’s understandable as the season can be unforgiving with scouring winds and week-long snaps of sub zero temperatures.  However, the season also affords moments of profound beauty, stillness, and wonder.  A favorite pastime of mine is just going out and being immersed in it all, breaking trail across the untrammeled snow and observing winter’s glory.  Albeit these escapes often lead to frozen fingers, fogged lenses, and the occasional vehicle problem it all seems worth it.  Here are a few images of winter time in North Dakota.  Click on an image to launch the gallery.

Missouri River in January 2

IMG_0415wpThe weather this month has been unseasonably warm.  Certain days have felt like spring.  The sunsets have been incredible, like this one on the shores of the Missouri River mid July.  All of a sudden the dreaded season of winter in North Dakota doesn’t seem so bad.  At times, it even feels like a hospitable environment capable of sustaining life, as opposed to deep space, which is the usual for this time of year.