GRAND FORKS -- It took four nights, Dave Bruner recalls, to get the perfect sunset photo during a June 2014 camping trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.
“I was out there for four or five days, and I found this particular spot that had that red scoria rock, and then the wild flowers were in bloom,” said Bruner, a Grand Forks photographer. “And I just liked the landscape of it, so for four nights in a row, I climbed that hill and took some images. But there were three nights in a row there were no clouds in the sky, and I wasn't very satisfied with it.”
The fourth night, the stars aligned; or in this case, clouds.
“The rain clouds moved in from the west right at sunset, and the sun peeked through between the horizon and those clouds,” Bruner said. “There’s rain clouds to the left and the right, and you can see that there’s rain coming down. It was just the perfect image I was looking for, and I was fortunate enough to get it on the last night.”
Bruner’s sunset photo of Wind Canyon in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park won first place in the park’s photo contest in 2014, an honor that gave the park the rights to use the photo for advertising and publications.
Titled “Wind Canyon Sunset,” the photo was featured on the cover of the park’s 2015 calendar. This week, the photo landed on an even bigger stage when Bruner learned the state Department of Transportation features the photo on its new “Welcome to North Dakota: Be Legendary” highway billboards.
In addition, President Trump tweeted the photo in a Twitter post Tuesday about the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act.
“I was quite honored to have my image selected to be on these billboards that will welcome travelers to North Dakota,” Bruner said. “And I was quite shocked and honored on Tuesday that President Trump used my image on his Twitter (post).”
He added: “It’s been kind of a big week for me.”
The first billboard went up Wednesday on Interstate 94 near Beach, N.D., and greets visitors entering North Dakota from Montana, Bruner said. In the next couple of weeks, additional billboards will go up on I-94 at the state’s eastern border and on the north and south ends of I-29, greeting travelers from South Dakota and Manitoba.
“I guess from there, they're going to put them on all the major highways coming in and out of North Dakota through 2021," Bruner said.
A self-taught photographer, Bruner has been making a name for himself for his photo work in recent years. His growing list of recognition includes awards in the Governor’s Photo Contest and a national competition sponsored by Delta Waterfowl. In addition, Bruner’s photos have been featured in the North Dakota Travel Guide, calendars published by Theodore Roosevelt National Park and North Dakota Horizons magazine, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle magazine.
The rugged landscape of the Badlands is a favorite setting for his photos, Bruner said, but his images also capture the beauty of the Red River Valley. A photo of sundogs he took a couple of years ago “went viral” on Facebook, he says.
More recently, the comet Neowise was a favorite subject.
But none, perhaps, will stand out more than the photo that now adorn the new “Welcome to North Dakota” billboards. It’s the first time the state DOT has used a photo on its billboards welcoming visitors to North Dakota, Bruner said; he only learned about the new billboards Thursday.
“I could have never envisioned where that photo or that image would end up down the road,” Bruner said. “It’s been kind of fun to see that.”
On the Web:
To see more of Bruner’s photos, check out the Dave Bruner Photography Flicker page at https://www.flickr.com/photos/davebrunerphotography.