Photographing Falls Park, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

by Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen on May 25, 2010

The falls that give Sioux Falls, South Dakota, its name are located near downtown in Falls Park. Commercially exploited over the years,  these cascading waterfalls now offer opportunities to photograph not only the flowing water, but also the interesting man-made structures surrounding them.

The Falls

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Upper falls

The falls cascade over several levels of red Sioux Quartzite rock at the rate of 7,400 gallons per second. With a total drop of about 80 feet, these are not large waterfalls, but they are spread out over  a wide area that includes the lower falls, the main falls, and the upper falls.

You’re best  bet, photographically, is to position yourself at one of the overlooks near the main falls and point your camera upstream to the south. You’ll also want to spend some time at the base of the falls and climbing around on the rough, slippery rock for a variety of angles.

The Ruins

There are remnants of several historically significant structures in the park. Three of these are related to the old Queen Bee Flour Mill  which, in its heyday, consisted of a seven-story main building and several outbuildings.

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Queen Bee Mill

Today, all that is left is the first-floor walls of the main building, the intact turbine building and the mill race.

The shell of the main building is secured behind a green iron fence, so you’ll have to stick your lens in between the bars to get a photo. Some of the walls have deteriorated to such a point that you can see inside to the interior side of the walls and a lush carpet of grass where there once was a floor. There is no roof – that was destroyed years ago along with the upper floors.

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The turbine house

The restored turbine house sits on the east side of the upper falls and adds a nice counterpoint to photos of this part of the  falls.

What was once the mill race is now a viewing platform. Although it’s  not very photogenic in itself, the platform offers views of the upper falls and the many small islands of rock in the river.

Immediately upstream of the mill race platform is a rather ugly concrete railroad bridge, so you’ll want to point your camera downstream from this location to avoid getting the bridge pylons in your photos.

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Sioux Falls Light and Power Company building

At the lower falls, one other historic building, the old hydroelectric plant of the the Sioux Falls Light and Power Company, has been restored and now houses the Falls Overlook Cafe. Although there are historical exhibits inside, the exterior of this building provides the best photo ops.

Art and More

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American Farmer

The modern Visitor Information Center includes a five-story, 50-foot tall observation tower that offers a panoramic view of the park. Inside, you’ll find information about the park and a gift shop.

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Visitor Center and Observation Tower

Other photo possibilities include an old barn that now houses the Horse Barn Arts Center and a couple of sculptures: a bronze called The American Farmer and a large carved granite buffalo entitled Monarch of the Plains.

Much of the park’s 42-acres is made up of lush lawns used for family picnics. There are several historical markers scattered across the grounds and a bike trail.

Visiting Falls Park

Falls park is located just a few blocks from downtown Sioux Falls. I stayed at the Country Inn & Suites downtown on 8th street. The Country Inn overlooks the river and it’s an easy walk to the park through the historic downtown area. Or, you can take the Sioux Falls Trolley.

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Monarch of the Plains

During my November visit, I was lucky to encounter mild though overcast days. Typical high temperature for that time of year is around 43-degrees and rainfall averages about an inch.

Summer might be a better time for a visit: the weather is likely to be better and the park hosts the nightly Falls Park Sound and Light Show from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

For more information, visit the website of the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Essential Equipment

Nikon 18-200mm Zoom Lens - a good choice for photographing Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA. While there are opportunities to use every lens in your bag, if you’d like to travel light, you can get by with one wide-angle zoom lens like the Nikon 18-200mm. Similar lenses are available from Canon and other manufacturers.
Nikon SB-900 Speedlight flash is a good choice for photographing Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA If you’re going to be shooting near dusk, as I was, a flash like the Nikon SB-900 or Canon 580 EX II is helpful for illuminating the sculptures.
A polarizing filter is a good choice for photographing Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA. A polarizing filter is one piece of equipment you’ll definitely want to bring along. You’ll get more snap to your colors by filtering out the glare from the water and the wet rocks. You’ll also be able you to use longer exposures to capture the waterfalls.
The Gitzo Traveler tripod is a good choice for photographing Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA. Bring a tripod like the Gitzo Traveler if you can manage it. Long exposures give you that silky look in the flowing water. It’s pretty hard to pull off hand-held.
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