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  Field Notes From
Badlands



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Badlands On AssignmentArrows

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From Photographer

Annie Griffiths Belt



Badlands On Assignment

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From Author

John L. Eliot



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Lily Belt (top) and Brian Strauss


 

Badlands

Field Notes From Photographer
Annie Griffiths Belt

Best Worst Quirkiest
    I had photographed the Badlands some 20 years ago, and one picture I shot was of this full-sized model of a Brontosaurus built near the Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. It's about 80 feet (24 meters) tall, and the photo was published as a two-page spread in World, now called National Geographic Kids. When I went out there again for this assignment, we drove past a big billboard on the interstate that showed the same dinosaur proclaiming, "As seen in National Geographic!"
    I thought, "Wow, look at that!" My daughter took a picture of me and my son in front of the sign, and then my husband took a picture of me and both kids. We were so excited that we got Kids magazine to send us a copy of the old issue with the photo so we could have a picture of us holding it in front of the billboard.


    The day was pretty much decided according to what the weather gave me; if it was stormy, I could be out there shooting all day. In the summertime the day started at 4:30 or 5 in the morning, and usually I took a break before heading out again at 10 at night.
    Working these kind of hours can be difficult if the weather is boring. If it's a wonderful stormy day—and I did get a lot of that—then the day flew by because I was so busy. But if it was a bright sunny sky, and I got a lot of that too, it was very frustrating to be out there because there were no pictures.


    One of the coolest things in the Badlands was the amazing weather. It was very stormy and I got some magnificent images of the skies. The storms were good for pictures because dramatic clouds often make for great landscape work and create beautiful colors. Also, some storms made the sky very, very dark. If you stay with those storms and wait for the sun to come out, you can get some wonderful light. When readers look at the resulting images, they don't necessarily say to themselves, "Oh, that's cool because the sky is dark." The sky just looks powerful, it feels big, and it makes you feel small.
    But when these huge weather cells build up on the prairie and blow across, they often spawn tornadoes. Those storms kicked off a lot of them, and when I got back home to Washington, D.C., I found out that Carsten Peter was on the other side of South Dakota taking pictures for our "
Tornado" story. I was shooting the back end of a storm he photographed for his story.

   


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