Monthly Archives: December 2011


Photographing In Big Ranch Country


As a professional photographer I may have a more unusual backgrounds than most people engaged in this line of work. Having been raised on a moderate sized ranch here in Texas, I grew up as a cowboy, enjoying a life beneath the open sky while working cattle in a beautiful land and engaging in hunting during the time I was not riding horseback. After graduating from Texas Tech University with a BS in Wildlife Management in 1974, I became a professional predator hunter and engaged in this line of work for some five years, all the while hunting on the big ranches that define the rolling plains of Knox, King and Dickens counties.


In my last two years at Tech I became interested in photography and worked on perfecting the craft for the next seven years before I was finally published. Following my first publication  my career took  a turn in the direction quite different than what my upbringing had dictated. Or did it?


Although my experience in working with magazines over the years required that I learn almost all aspects of artificial lighting and working with all type of people in and around the state, my specialty and favorite interests deals in the outdoors and includes landscape, sky scape, wildlife and a multitude of other subjects.


In reviewing the years spent on the ranch it has now become apparent that my entire life was a wonderful training mission for what I do today, whether its dealing with the natural fauna of our land or dodging horses and cowboys as they carry on the work of day to day life on the big ranches across our state.

Whenever possible it is advisable to remain distant from action where cattle and men are in close proximity. Here the cowboys are cutting the herd and the last thing they need is a photographer standing among the action. A great way to get run over by a wild bovine! Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L lens. ISO 100 and handheld.


Along with my background in wildlife behavior, one of the most significant attributes of having spent my life in the Big Empty is understanding the way of ranch life and documenting the work therein. Having photographed three books on big ranch life and currently working on another, being able to predict impending action and making appropriate preparation while respecting the duties of working cowboys is a must that assures the possibility of further photo efforts in and around these very independent souls. I like to say that I can speak the language of these fine ranch people and invariably have a wonderful rapport with all whether we are sitting at the chuck wagon or out working cattle in the corrals. And as an extra, if the need arises, I am comfortable in  the saddle even while clutching camera gear! In other words, my past experiences allows me to become one of the tribe at any time.

In this case it would be easy to get knocked down by a horse as the heeler is pulling the calves to the flankers. Big ranches might brand 400 head of calves before noon so they don’t like to dodge people who are not in the actual process of helping them. Nimble on the feet is helpful in this situation. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200 f2.8L at ISO 100 and handheld.


When photographing on these big Texas ranches my main goal is to document the real life scenario that defines the life way on these ranching empires. This, of course, puts me quite often in the mix of things during the work process. An excellent example is when branding season is in session it is common for me to be in close proximity to a dozen or more cowboys within the enclosure of a set of corrals. There might be two men horseback (heelers) and two crews of flankers not to mention a select few who castrate and vaccinate the downed calves. Congestion is easy here and to have a photographer in the midst of action can be disconcerting for all involved. Thus comes the benefit of having grown up in this lifestyle and reading the impending action correctly. I always reassure the men on site that if I get in the way it is cool to knock me down or run over me with the horse. If it happens then I deserve it. Thus far I have been fortunate to not have been overrun and in the process obtained most of the images that I sought. Respecting the men at work while photographing them in close proximity is a balancing act that is essential when trying to document the real life scenario of ranch life. Asking questions and following instructions will get you consideration from these men who are trying to do a tough job without compromising  the process for just your benefit.


Hope you enjoy the following images and accompanying comments! And remember….courtesy will get you almost everywhere!

Working around the chuck wagon allows more time to communicate with the cooks and select angles for the best composition. Generally, these men are good natured and most helpful. Be nice and you might get an extra dip of cobbler!! Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L lens at ISO 100 and handheld.

Remaining discreet and analyzing the work process is essential in remaining a welcome guest at these big ranches. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L at ISO 100 and handheld.

Once the work is done you might talk some of the men to hang around the wagon for some extra shots. Here the cowboys chat around the fire at sunset. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24mm f3.5L Tilt Shift lens at ISO 100 and on a Manfrotto tripod.

Timing is often the winning element. Here, only one mile from the wagon, these men are caught in an autumn rain while pushing the remuda to the campsite. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 300mm f4.0L lens at ISO 100 and resting the combo over the window sill.