Our Old Barns
Jan 9, 2012
Our barn meant many things to me while growing up in rural western South Dakota. We had a small dairy operation so heading out to the barn at least twice a day was not something I particularly looked forward to. With the AM radio blasting, we would chase, feed, wash and milk around thirty Holsteins twice a day, every day. These chores were often accompanied by dodging random kickings, avoiding filthy tail swats and weathering the annoying habits of brothers, which milking time always seemed to magnify.
For as many not-so-fun memories I have of time spent in the old barn, there are good memories as well. Taming new kittens in the hayloft as well as declaring war on mice and barn swallows armed with my Daisy BB gun top the list of fun childhood memories that I keep of that old barn. Now that I’m older I see barns in a whole new light. Literally.
As a photographer, one of my favorite things is capturing the famed South Dakota sunset. The colors in the evening sky can take your breath away. Trying to capture the beauty in a photo is a challenge. One thing that I’ve learned to make better sunset photographs is to find some sort of reference point in the foreground. Silhouettes of familiar objects like windmills or trees give the viewer a sense of how big and colorful the sky is. Lately I’ve tried adding the iconic shapes of the old, weathered barn as my reference point. Adding the “rural” feel of the barn somehow adds even more to the sunset sky and allows the viewer to infuse a wider variety of emotions and memories into the photo.
I like to bracket my photo exposures at sunset because sometimes I want more detail in the final photo than a silhouetted building or structure. Using photo editing software allows me to combine these bracketed images and render the scene more like I saw it while shooting. The camera sensor is not nearly as sensitive as the human eye and can not reproduce the kind of detail we see in real life. Using the bracketing technique can make up for some of this. In the last few years, this technique of high dynamic range or “HDR” photography has become quite popular. There is specific software out there now for this purpose only. What I do is not quite that in-depth and is more akin to having a graduated neutral density filter on my lens while shooting.
Another thing to keep in mind when shooting sunsets is to wait until all the light is gone. I have seen some of the most amazing color in the sky ten to fifteen minutes after the sun sinks behind the far hills. I’ve included three photos of a barn on the northwest edge of Sioux Falls that demonstrates how much the color can change. All three of these images were taken on the same evening in late September and over the course of the ten minutes after the sun had disappeared from the horizon. These are some of my favorite sunset shots that I captured all year. Funny how life brings you full circle. I used to dread chore time and now I can sometimes be found seeking out old barns around chore time in order to capture the beauty of a South Dakota sunset as well as a few good memories of life on the farm.
Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog.