Photo: Rush at Night
Location: Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Date: August 2, 2016
Camera & Lens: Canon 6D & 24-105mm lens
About This Photo: My oldest daughter was studying Mount Rushmore in school and really wanted to visit. Since we were already planning a road trip to Wisconsin to watch the mosquitos migrate there for the summer, and see my parents, this was a just a little diversion and would be something my daughters would remember for years. Sometimes trying to shoot a subject differently doesn’t always go as planned. Because of an earlier photography lesson I usually search a new location online before leaving town. The goal is then to attempt shooting whatever isn’t at Google or at least get new ideas from the search results. In this case it was Mount Rushmore in the summer of 2016, knowing there would be the typical postcard type shot, I also wanted to try to capture something different. What I didn’t realize was how tall of an order it really was to shoot a subject so famous, and so well documented, like Mount Rushmore in a new way. I came up with this bright idea to shoot it at night, which in theory seemed easy but the execution would prove problematic. The floodlights on Rushmore wash out much of the details that are visible during daylight and hey, I’ll admit it here, my skills were not up to the task back then. It was tough… In this photo at right, Flags, which was taken before dark, you can see the details of the monument because there’s still enough natural sunlight, details aren’t washed out and it’s just a better photo. However, the goal was to shoot Rushmore in the evening while lit. Before leaving on the trip, I searched “Mount Rushmore at night” and saw a lot of images like mine eventually looked. Somehow, I thought mine would be different…
At night the Mount Rushmore crowds thin out a bit, so that’s kind of cool if you’re looking to get some people and motion in the shot. Plus, it’s just better with less people around as it’s such an incredible location. The shot at the top, Rush at Night, and the subject of this post, was about as good as I could do with regards to night shooting. Here’s what goes in the positive category; first, as mentioned, the people and motion add movement and a sense of scale giving you an idea of size and distance. Also, the lights at the feet of the people provides detail of the stone floor, in hindsight I would crop much of that out at the bottom and maybe make it 16×9. Lastly, the floodlights seem to draw the viewers eyes to the presidents. So what’s not to like? Well… Mount Rushmore itself, as stated earlier, the details in the faces is lost from the lights, I could have gotten that better. What would I do differently? Maybe start by shooting it as an HDR shot for starters, that could have helped and given more control over the individual aspects of the subject. If it didn’t work, at least there’d be three separate shots of each attempt and maybe one of those would be a keeper.
This was a difficult shot for me three years ago, hopefully my skills are better and now George Washington wouldn’t look like Uncle Fester with hair. The one thing I would definitely do again is make it an overnighter. We arrived in the afternoon and stayed a few miles away in Keystone, South Dakota which is kind of a cool little town in it’s own way. Going to the monument in the evening was incredible, my photos nor the photos at Google seem to do it justice, but it is breathtaking. Then in the morning, on our way out of town, I shot it again with the sun rising and a couple of those are below. Summing this up, planning this trip ahead of time didn’t go as planned once we were there. Although it may have been too tall of an order for my camera skills of 2016, it was still a very cool trip. No matter how the photos came out, our daughters had the trip of a lifetime, were able to see something they were learning in school, and just seeing how happy they were made everything worth it. As an admitted history nerd, you can imagine how I felt about it.