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Big Skies and Badlands – Photographing Eastern Montana Lightning

Every year I make time for a trip or two to the badlands of Eastern Montana. The badlands are located where you find them – meaning you just have to tour around until you see them. Why, because I’m not even sure what badlands are these days. I mean, it seems that at least in Montana if something is a badland it inevitably must have some good land mixed in with it – right? So to the best of my knowledge, the “badlands” part is the steep sided, highly erosive, clay soil areas found throughout the eastern and central Montana prairie lands. The areas you can’t really ride a horse through, or drive a pickup in, especially if they’re wet! Don’t argue with me, I know some of you will say, “I could ride MY horse across that country,” and some of you would be “right,” but in general, these areas are difficult to cross on foot and in most cases you’ll need to park your horse.

Here’s a photographic example of the badlands of Eastern Montana taken near Fort Peck Lake. This photograph is one of my favorites from this summer’s adventures. After spending about 40 days on the road shooting and studying the land and it’s critters, and watching countless clouds build, spill rain, and blow by, I finally wound up in the right place at the right time with the right conditions to capture an interesting photograph.

Lightning strikes the prairie behind badlands in eastern Montana. The gray sandy, and often clay based soil of the badlands, and the cool blue color of the storm cloud contrasts nicely with the lighting strike. Nikon D4, Nikon 14-24 af-s, f 2.8, really right stuff tripod and head. ISO 100, f22, 30 sec exposure, 2 stop ND filter to allow less light which enabled me to have a longer exposure increasing my odds of capturing a lightning bolt. In this image I captured 4 lightning strikes, but due to the jpg compression and the size of the image, the other two are harder to see. They are photo left of center. This image was processed in Adobe Lightroom.  (c) Tony Bynum, all rights reserved.

There are countless fantastic subjects to photograph under the big skies of Montana. I particularly enjoy photographing the badlands when I find them. I also like the areas I find in between those badlands. What do we call the areas in between the badlands, are they the good-lands?  Hum, I’ll explore the areas in between in my next post.

For now, remember to keep a safe distance from lightning. Lightning strikes do kill people every year.

Tony Bynum

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