Bear Butte Barn Photo Shoot

November 30, 2015  •  2 Comments

Before leaving for my road trip through South Dakota last month, I planned at least one or two photos shoots for each day of the trip. For my last day of shooting, my plan was to shoot an old barn near Bear Butte State Park at sunrise. This photo shoot was important to me because I like how this barn is positioned on the plains with the butte in the background. Here are some of the specific steps of my planning process:

  • One of my first steps during the planning process is to preview how the sun will be hitting the subject at various times of the day. I use Rick Sammon's Photo Sundial app to accomplish this. By viewing the scene through the Sundial, I determined that arriving before the 7:32 AM sunrise would be an ideal time on the morning of my visit (November 2, 2015).
  • Finding the specific location is another key step. This is made more challenging when arriving on location in the dark. Google Maps has certainly made this process a lot easier. I located the barn using Google Maps at the GPS coordinates of N44 30.736, W103 20.834. I then plugged those coordinates into my GPS unit and estimated the driving time from my hotel in Deadwood. The location of the photo shoot is 25.5 miles from the hotel (or about 45 minutes). The first segment of the drive is through mountain roads that were under construction, so I allowed just over an hour for the drive. My plan was to check out and leave the hotel by 5:45 AM...which also built in some time for scraping the ice off my car's windshield!
  • The weather is another important factor. When traveling, I usually only get one or two chances to shoot a subject. It takes some luck to be at a location when the weather is cooperating. Sometimes the light doesn't permit any decent photographs. Other times the light is acceptable. On rare occasions the light is exceptional.

I started watching the weather forecast for the Bear Butte area a few days prior to the shoot. The forecast was not promising. On the night before the shoot, the forecast called for overcast conditions with a 90% chance of light rain. Given the small chance of shooting in acceptable conditions and the amount of effort required to check out of the hotel in time to arrive at the location before sunrise, I canceled the photo shoot. I stayed up late watching TV and planned a different photo shoot for an afternoon in Rapid City.

It was about 5:30 AM when I woke up and decided to reach for my phone to check the weather forecast one last time. To my surprise, the forecast had improved. There was a window of time around sunrise when the skies might open up enough for some light to hit the barn. I started moving very quickly to get packed and out of the hotel in about 15 minutes! The employee at the front desk of the Hampton Inn even handed me a breakfast bag on my way out!

My GPS unit led me right to the barn. I ended up shooting the scene for over an hour. I captured some images in the soft light before sunrise and also in the more direct and warm light just after sunrise. I kept shooting until the light became too harsh.

Here is one of the images of the barn from the photo shoot:

Dakota barnDakota barnOld barn in front of Bear Butte from Nine Mile Road near Sturgis, South Dakota on November 2, 2015 One might wonder why anyone would go through such effort to capture a picture. For me, it's about more than getting the picture. It was an amazing experience to witness this sunrise while standing alone on the South Dakota plains. If it wasn't for photography, I doubt that I would have had this experience. And, it's just not the same to see the barn in the middle of the day.


Serviced Apartments Lady(non-registered)
I hadn't considered South Dakota as a good road trip place, but I hope you get some wonderful, once in a life time shots nonetheless!
Kevin Hellon(non-registered)
Great photo and story
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