It might surprise you to know but I enjoy photographing in North Dakota, and for the past couple of years I’ve been experiencing the photographic challenges there. The western states where I live have so many mountains, canyons, waterfalls, forests, wildflower displays, and sea stacks to choose from it can be a point-and-shoot kind of place given all the iconic landscapes. Except for a few better known places like Theodore Roosevelt National Park, shooting North Dakota isn’t always easy. The state doesn’t have a lot of photographic icons, and I dare you to name a single location on your photography radar. I like the challenge of North Dakota, because if you can learn to photograph well here, you can photograph pretty much anywhere.

The landscape is sparse, there are hills and badlands to the west, the Turtle Mountains dotted with lakes to the north, and the further you travel east the flatter it gets. Some parts remind me of the Palouse in eastern Washington, and abandoned churches are about as easy to find as a Starbucks in Seattle, not to mention dilapidated brick school buildings. There is a sense of discovery here and of having the place to yourself. There are a few photographers out there, but you’re not likely to see them because there are no icons where they gather.

North Dakota is a land of agriculture, so cattle, hay, sunflower, corn, and wheat make up the staple of crops here. It’s also a land of oil and fracking, so an oil derrick surrounded by sunflower fields is a common site in summer. The land has also had its share of boom and bust, such as the exodus during the Dust Bowl years which left behind homesteads and schoolhouses. Recently there has been another exodus as Big Ag takes over and young people are moving to the cities and leaving behind brick schools, churches, and whole towns. For me it’s a goldmine of photographic opportunity and a state of photographic exploration.

I enjoy the big skies of North Dakota, with an occasional passing thunderstorm or a sky filled with puffy cumulus clouds on calmer days. There aren’t the giant grand landscapes of the west, but the rolling hills and agricultural settings offer images with a story to tell, and smaller intimate scenes are everywhere. I like photographing the grand scenery of the west as much as the next person, but next time you’re driving through the states in the nation’s heartland take a closer look at what this midwestern country has to offer.

(Stay tuned for information regarding an upcoming photography tour in North Dakota 2022.)

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