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Want to hike around Mars? Try the next best thing...

The Badlands of South Dakota: a punishing place with a harsh climate, yet filled with gorgeous sights, vistas, and extraordinary animals. Exploring this national park in South Dakota is an otherworldly experience.

The vistas and the views

The Badlands offer up some gorgeous backdrops for photography. From strange geologic formations, to peaceful grasslands, and beautiful sunsets. The landscapes are plentiful and unique.

Night Skies

Don't stop shooting after the sun goes down! The badlands provide some of the best night skies for photography (read: most furthest away from light pollution).

Grab your tripod and try your hand at star points or star trails.

For star points, in order to "freeze" the stars, a shutter of 20 seconds or less is needed. So, make that adjustment, then compensate with the rest of your settings. This probably means you'll be jacking up your ISO pretty high, so, don't be scared to put it up to 3200, 6400, or even 25600 if your camera can handle it. (If you have the Sony A7 series, feel free to push it even more!). A lower aperture is fine. Even though this is a landscape of the sky, the same aperture rules do not apply here because you're basically focusing on infinity, so feel free to use a lower setting like f2.0 or f2.8.

Shooting star points, in a sky without a moon or light pollution allows you to capture the Milky Way.

(Fuji XT-1, ISO 1600, 18mm, f2.8, 18 seconds)

For star trails, try at least a half an hour for your shutter (more is better!). Depending on your camera, you may need a shutter release in order to keep it open. Unlike what I did below, bump down your ISO to compensate, otherwise you'll blow out your image.

(Fuji XT-1, ISO 1600, 18mm, f2.8, 40 minutes)

The Animals

Bighorn sheep are plentiful and getting photos of them is just a matter of driving around the park until you spot one, or two, or a whole herd.

(Photo by Denise Cook)

Prairie dogs have set up communes just about everywhere; if you see grapefruit-sized holes in the ground, just wait several minutes and you're bound to see some. They are highly communicative communities that bark warnings and calls to relay information to their brethren.

The pronghorns graze the flat lands, and are a bit shyer, bounding away at the slightest encroachment.

The real treat are the buffalo. Driving through the park you may be lucky to catch one, but, for a sure fire way, pitch a tent for the night at Sage Creek campgrounds (no water, so bring your own). We saw various buffalo multiple times throughout all three days we were at the campsite, grazing nearby. The buffalo enjoy the tender grass found near the campsite and are often grazing within eyesight.

(Photo by Denise Cook)

(Photo by Denise Cook)

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