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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.
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Selecting the Right Lens for the Job

 

When I was an adjunct instructor at Texas Tech University a dilemma that always seemed to arise was the students lack of knowledge in the selection of certain lenses to achieve images with a stronger presence. Of course I easily recalled my own years as a college student and the ever present lack of funds to get what I needed so I was understanding when the ownership of multiple lenses was not possible, but continued to stress the positive aspects of having this luxury if at all possible.

 

Three major category of lenses are basically what I am talking about here and they include the wide angle, normal  and the telephoto lenses. Of course there are lots of in betweens but for simplicity sake lets address them under these three headings and what each one of them brings to the table.

 

Most neophyte photographers visualize that being a pro means a constant diet of standing around the side lines of a football game or in a national park with bazooka sized lenses attached to the camera throughout the day. For some people this can be a major segment of their shooting porfolio as their subjects require the use of great magnification and thus the scenario described above. But for many of us a days shoot might require a much more varied selection of glass hanging at our side and it is important that we be fluent in the application of these lenses to create an image with significant monetary and visual value. Lets take a look at some of this glass and see how they might influence the power of our photos.

 

Perhaps the most difficult lens to use properly is the wide angle. They don’t look too impressive hanging there on the camera body as most are only a few inches long and for the most part quite diminutive. However, I can assure you that this little fella can be a lens that can make or break a shoot, depending on the photographers knowledge of when to apply its use and the proper use of such.

In this image taken with a Canon 24-105 f4.0L lens and Canon 5D Mark II, the proper use of essential elements and the placement thereof can be seen in the yucca plants actually creating a pathway through the frame. Depth of field is achieved by a high f stop selection such as f16 or f22. By this method all essential elements in the frame from the yucca to the mountain top are in focus.

 

Lenses of this genre are generally in the 17mm to 35mm range and very useful in my line of work. I use them for landscape, sky scape, ranch work and architecture to name a few and would not dare venture out without a couple of them in my equipment bag. As their name indicates, they are lenses that allow a wide area to be seen in the viewfinder  thus enabling the shooter to stand closer to the subject(s) to gain the desired perspective.

 

Wide angle lenses also require some thought regarding composition as not to create an excess of void within the photo. This is an area that I call “the twilight zone” and effectively reduces the overall impact of the image. Placement of subject elements within the frame is very important when using this genre of lenses. Another feature of wide angle lenses is that some distortion is realized when using these lenses in the extreme. Although sometimes not a negative feature, I for one try to avoid extreme distortion as I prefer to show lines as they are in reality.

To avoid the open foreground look and the subsequent “twilight zone” effect that is so easily done with a wide angle lens I used the cracks in the mud to create an interesting pattern to carry the viewers eye to the machine that is digging mud from the dried stock tank. The raccoon tracks are an added interest point in the dried mud and actually carries the viewers eye to the action included in the image. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 17mm f4.0L Tilt Shift Lens. ISO 100 and handheld.

 

Normal lenses are those such as the 45mm to about 60mm and show approximately the angle of view that the naked eye can see. I believe it is established that the 45mm is the one that fits this description the closest. The only time that I use these lens extensively is when I am shooting panoramas and stitching a number of photos to create the old time wide look. Unlike wide angle glass, f stop selection must be controlled carefully as to determine those elements to be properly in focus.

An excellent example of using the normal focal length in producing a panorama image by stitching about 7 images together in photoshop. Images shot vertical for correct perspective and exposed with a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 45mm f4.0L Tilt Shift lens at ISO 100 on a Manfrotto tripod and pano head.

 

I categorize telephoto lenses into a couple of basic types which are medium and super telephoto. Medium are those in the 100 to 300mm length, super telephoto are 400mm and up. I have had extensive experience in using all lengths up to 1000mm and find a use for all sizes although 99% of my work can be achieved with the 400 or 500mm.

 

Effective wildlife or sports photography requires the use of these longer lenses although the glass of choice is often dependent on the mobility required by the photographer. As the focal lengths become longer so does the lens length and weight thus minimizing the photographers ability to move effectively for good angles. In sports work where the basketball or football arena provides a confined area in which the photographer will work, mobility is not as important. However, in regard to wildlife work, when going after truly wild animals outside of a controlled environment, mobility is one of the most important factors to consider. Because of this I have found that the Canon 400mm f5.6L lens fits the bill perfectly for me due to its extremely light weight and overall small configuration.

 

Some neophyte shooters do not realize the importance of long lenses in landscape and sky photography. Although I mostly use the wide angle glass for my sky and landscape work I like long lenses for its characteristic compression effect that causes hills to look larger and closer together. Basically they offer a dramatizing effect on the scene that is often quite powerful. In sky work I often see wonderful skyscapes that offer the best effect through the isolation of only a part of the overall scene. Thus I can slap on a long lens and effectively isolate that portion of the sky for maximum impact.

In this image only one portion of the sky presented a rich and saturated color that I desired. I used a Canon EOS 1N and Canon 400mm f5.6L lens to isolate this portion of the sky for impact.

 

As I have mentioned earlier in the post, many beginning shooters cannot justify the purchase of multiple lenses but luckily, camera manufacturers today offer a selection of zoom focal lengths that are not targeted at the pro market and can be purchased for a minimal amount. Focal length of 28-300mm and others similar are quite popular and make the choice easy for those shooters working on a smaller budget.

In this image I used a 400mm telephoto lens to enhance the height of the background landscape and make it appear to be closer than it really was. In this way the bison were isolated and forces the viewer to focus immediate attention on the animals. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400 f5.6L lens at ISO 100 and handheld.
By laying at eye level with the bull frog and using a 400mm lens with 1.4 extender I was able to totally diminish any identifiable subjects in the background and actually enhance the impact of this mere frog which is covered in mud. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400mm f5.6L with Canon 1.4 tele extender. ISO 100 and rested on a sandbag.
This was an unusual case where a short telephoto became an effective wildlife lens. I was caught without a super telephoto lens when the three bucks came over the horizon at sunset. Had I used any other lens but the 24-105mm at hand I could not have created this image. It was a perfect setup. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 25-105mm f4.0L at 100 ISO and handheld.

Shooting the Big Ranch Experience

 

Living in the big ranch country of the Texas plains region was a wonderful time for my brother and me during the 1950’s and into our early adulthood. Our dad, Pate Meinzer, was the foreman on a moderate sized ranch, 27,000 acres, along the Brazos river in Knox County so from early childhood and until I drove away to attend college at Texas Tech University life was an emersion of cowboying, hunting and being privy to working around some of the great cowboys that defined our region of Texas. Without doubt this rural upbringing played a huge roll in my own view of the land, the people as well as a decent work ethic in general.

A big branding on the 6666 ranch in early spring. Dust, smoke and fast work define a mornings work on big outfits in Texas. Canon 1D Mark II N and Canon 16-35mm f2.8L at 100 ISO.

 

Although I did not pursue the cowboy life as my livelihood, I never lost my love and appreciation for this genre of upbringing that set the stage for the life that I enjoy at the latter age of 61 years. I can never give enough credit to my parents and those old time Texans whose bent and bowed legs told a story of a lifetime in the saddle and on the big cattle ranges of our great state.

On big outfits like the Waggoner, 6666 and Pitchfork, the branding requires two draggers and two sets of flankers. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200 f2.8L lens at 100 ISO and handheld.

 

While studying Wildlife Management at Texas Tech, working as a professional predator hunter and finally becoming a photographer/author, I have never lost the appreciation for  the smell of sweating horseflesh and the clatter of cattle hooves on the rough badlands that described so much of my home country along the Brazos and Wichita. Thus when I had the opportunity to document the workings on some of our historical ranches of these plains I felt excitement in knowing that I was finally heading back home for a revisit to a life and memories of long ago. With camera in hand and an understanding of what I really wanted to communicate through my photographic images, I embarked in this endeavor to communicate a realistic view of ranch life today and not some reenactment of ones imagination of what it should have been.

Herefords are becoming a breed of the past in favor of the angus crosses. The former exhibits a tendency for pink eye and cancer eye which reduces the worth of sold beef. But I will have to say that there is something special about having hundreds of head of cattle in the herd sporting a set of horns. Canon F1N and Canon 80-200mm F4.0 lens and ISO 50 Velvia film handheld.

 

Take a moment to study these images and know that they are moments in a days work of men who represent a lifeway that is dying just a little with each passing year. It is the Big Ranch Experience of our Texas in real time!

The “hood” or wagon cooks helper washes dishes and gathers firewood for the cooking chores. Here we see a pail of dishwater being dispensed just as the sun breaks over the horizon in early morning. Nikon FN and Leitz Telyt 400mm f6.8 lens. Velvia 50 ISO film and handheld.
In early morning after breakfast is fed the cooks on a wagon are busy readying for the noon meal. Here I caught the goings and  comings of these two men at a Waggoner Ranch camp site as they busy themselves for the big noon meal. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24mm f3.5L Tilt Shift lens. 100 ISO and handheld.
Cowboying is a labor of love and here on the Waggoner, Jimbo Glover, the wagon boss, cuts cattle before the branding begins. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L at 100 ISO and handheld.
Here a herd of cattle on the 100,000 acre 6666 ranch at Borger, Texas walk the fence line during a windy period of the day. Canon 5D and Canon 400mm f5.6L lens at 100 ISO and hand held.
Shipping time on the big outfits is a period of intense work. Here on the massive Waggoner ranch these cattle trucks line up to be loaded for transportation of the yearlings. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L lens at 100 ISO and handheld. Shot from a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter.
Before the rise of a mornings sun the wagon boss tosses his loop many times to catch the mounts for all cowboys and the mornings work. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm lens at 100 ISO and handheld.

 

Hunting Experience And Photography Combines For Success In The Field

 

46 years ago I sat on a hilltop in Knox County and called up my first coyote. On October 17 of 1965 at 2:15 pm that epiphany occurred and my life was never the same, in a very good way.

For over four decades the very basis for my life revolved around hunting and experiencing the positive influence of connecting with a life way that has defined our lives as Americans since the earliest times. Hunting, exploring and just possessing an inquisitive personality has been the main ingredients that formed my entire personality since childhood.

It is amazing how, at times, our activities in youth are exercises in preparation for the careers that we eventually choose in adulthood. My life is no exception in this respect and I have enjoyed an unparalleled richness in experiences because of it.

Hunting has been a rich and long lived heritage that defines the American way. Some of the most successful wildlife photographers have been or are hunters. Adeptness in the handling of a rifle, shotgun or pistol often makes for a steady hand when using super telephoto lenses while understanding the way of a hunter is a plus when seeking out truly wild creatures for photo subjects.

This past weekend we hosted a photo workshop that revolved around predator photography and the art of calling. Of course this was an extension of my hunting years only this time a camera was in hand instead of a rifle. Throughout the weekend my participants were amazed at seeing coyotes by the dozens trot to our position, presenting themselves for the camera ready and camo clad “shooters”. Although I have taken almost 3,000 coyotes in my lifetime as a rifleman, I was overjoyed to see the coyotes answer the call and then trot away unscathed and alive. It is a good way to view and appreciate our wild fauna in a non-consumptive way.

There was a time when the crosshairs of a rifle scope would have settled on this coyote. This weekend the concentration was on focus and correct exposure as we celebrated the wonderful heritage that is our wild Texas fauna.

We called in 36 coyotes in some 11 hours of work and hundreds of images were taken home. All critters lived to hunt another day and the participants were elated. When night settled over the land, cameras were stashed safely away and the wine flowed freely, I mentioned to the group that this was a weekend of a lifetime. Thanks to our luck with having great weather combined with some 46 years of hardcore experience as a predator hunter, we all could toast to one of the most successful workshops I have ever had. Its nice being a little good but I will take a dose of luck to help me out any day!! Enjoy!!

Hunting experience is essential in being successful with wild predator photography. Concealment and stealth is necessary in attaining high quality images.
In place of a highly accurate rifle is a fine camera lens. An optimum focal length is this Canon 400mm f4.0L DO lens.
Knowing when to move and when not to move is a function of being an effective  hunter. This is an essential trait for good wildlife photographers.
Follow focus or “panning” is a practice more easily learned when the photographer has had experience with shooting a rifle or shotgun.
Effective use of a camera lens under low light levels comes easier to those who have shot extensively with pistols or rifles.

 

 

 

ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY: SHOOTING FOR THAT DEFINING MOMENT

 

The sun had yet risen over the haze of this south Texas landscape when the handsome whitetail buck decided that the figure of this crouched human was all that he could take. Busting into full flight with head held high I was appalled that he had made my location before the light was adequate for good photo light. Swinging on his running form in the dim light with my Canon 500mm f4.5L lens and Canon F1N camera, I noted that the exposure was a dismal 1/8 of a second and as I was handholding the camera and lens I realized instantly that chances of a sharp photo was out of the question. My only hope was that I could come up with an “artsy” look of fluid motion so continued with my manual focusing job and shot a couple of frames.

Here is a fine example of that art of "panning" and is achieved by carefully swinging the camera and lens at the same speed of the running subjects while using a relatively slow shutter speed to obtain the fluid look of motion. Focal point is on the center of the group. Shallow depth of field is realized by using a medium telephoto lens at a short distance from the subjects. Canon F1N and Canon 80-200mm f4.0 lens. ISO 50 Velvia film and hand held.

 

Since those days of ISO 50 film and manual cameras, good photography results have been made much easier through improved light meter systems and auto focus capabilities. I sometimes gripe about the loss of the “good ole days” but when its time for hard core action photos I smile and turn that beautiful autofocus to the “on” position and start tapping the shutter! LOL!

In this case my intent was to not only show the kayaker in motion but also the water in the foreground. By using a super wide angle lens that offered an extensive area throughout the field of view and shooting at 1/30 of a second while panning, my intent was realized. In these cases one must also maintain some consciousness of the overall composition such as the ratio of sky to foreground. Canon EOS 1N and Canon 17-35mm f2.8 lens. ISO 50 Velvia film.

 

Without doubt auto focus technology has made action work easier to achieve for neophyte shooters but its still hard core photography experience coupled with the electronic capabilities that produce the really dynamite photos that stand the test of time. Like being effective in the game of poker,  possessing the knowledge of knowing when to hold or when to fold is like a photographer understanding the nuances of shutter speed, f stop, lens selection and having the natural talent to “follow through” at the correct instant. It takes practice and at least some skill to be consistently productive in the craft.

A very difficult action shot just as this wild free ranging whitetail breaking for cover. In these cases tripods are totally useless as such moments are the result of a stalk with spontaneity being the order of the day. Visualizing the finished image before the action begins is an added help. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400mm f5.6L and handheld. ISO 100.

 

Hope you will enjoy some images here that define some pretty good examples of action photography in the wild world. Perhaps my  captions will help you to understand the technique that was applied in order to realize the results shown herein.

Here a wild coyote lopes past me on a dimly lit winter morning. This was in the days before autofocus so total concentration and at least some good hand to eye coordnation is necessary to realize these types of results. Again, this effective panning at about 125th of a second at f4.5 with a Canon F1N and Canon 500mm f4.5L lens and handheld. ISO 50 film.
Beautiful light and a handsome whitetail buck pairs to make this photo special. Also, the reaction time in capturing the deer in mid jump really sets this image apart from less dynamic action work. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400mm f5.6L at ISO 100. Hand held.
Timing is essential in these cases and I was fortunate to have tripped the shutter at just the right moment. Shutter speed was around 500th of a second to stop the action. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400mm f5.6L. ISO 100 and handheld.
Dynamic backlight with dust and insects floating in the air really dramatizes the impact of these horses being driven to the chuck wagon. Also an elevated position from which to shoot kept a lens flare from being a distracting element in the photo. Horses were running at me so panning was not necessary and I focused on the middle of the herd for impact. Canon F1N and Canon 300mm f2.8 L lens using Velvia 50 ISO film and hand held.
Here my wolf dog runs gleefully along the lake shore late today near Benjamin. Using the AI Servo mode on my Canon 5D Mark II the predictive focusing system stayed on point with the wolf even when it was running quite fast directly at me. Remember that auto focus cameras rely on contrast for focusing accuracy so pinpointing a spot on the animals face that exhibits contrast is essential in getting a well focused subject. Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens at 100 ISO and handheld.

Safety First: Photographing Dangerous Subjects

Handling dangerous creatures for any purpose is a practice to be taken seriously. Throughout my six decades of rummaging around on this earth I have observed and been a participant in working with wild or untamed creatures that can hurt you. From breaking horses as a youngster on the ranch where I was raised, trapping predators and ear tagging for research purposes and even handling venomous reptiles and arachnids, some care must be taken to minimize the danger of being a victim to careless behavior in the process.

Perhaps the most dangerous and aggressive rattler that I have ever photographed. Safety was essential in handling this big boy and as a result both of us was none the worse for wear. I sold this photo twice to National Geographic Television.

 

One aspect of human behavior that I will never understand is the “macho” syndrome that seems to possess some people when handling or being in the presence of venomous snakes, ie. rattlesnakes, moccasins, copper heads, coral snakes, etc. I once photographed a popular snake roundup and was appalled at the casual behavior of individuals around a creature that can either kill you or at least render a person immobile for some time. The bravado that I have seen through the years sometimes disgusts me.

When I start getting sloppy around these creatures I recall the weaponry that they possess. It is then that I rethink my actions.

 

Another dangerous trait that I cannot understand is the extreme fear that some people possess for some critters, either crawlers, walkers or flyers. It is my opinion that a healthy respect is in order for most questionable species but to have a deathly fear is most unhealthy if not preposterous.

This big diamondback is not happy about being the subject of a photo shoot but the handler is using good judgement in keeping the snake at a safe distance.

 

I was reared in strong snake country and dealt with rattlers all of my life. We kiddos were taught to always watch for snakes and steer clear of them if encountered. Growing up with this attitude was a good thing and has been an asset in my professional field of work.

 

A rule that I have in handling poisonous species is one that I totally adhere to and that is to NEVER handle one of these snakes with my bare hands. Using a set of specially designed tongs will basically remove essentially all of the chances of being bitten in the process of the handling process. These devices are great in moving the snake to good photo locations and then to prepare the reptile for some compositional alterations. Safety is first and foremost and then possessing a healthy respect, but not fear, for your dangerous subjects should be a criterion for all photographers dealing with critters who can fight back…and win in some instances.

Big snakes are strong so total concentration is advised during the handling process.
A big rattler disappears beneath an old barn where the shade will protect it from the mid day heat.
Here a rattler is shown in the skin shedding process. One of my favorite lenses for snake work is the Canon 70-200mm f2.8L. It pulls the snake in for detail shots and then pulled back to a shorter focal length for depth of field and field of view.
A western diamondback tests his options via temperature check with his tongue. Canon F1N and Canon 80-200mm f4.0 lens. Kodachrome 64 film.

A Gift: Life Blood From The Sky

We can only imagine the overwhelming fear and helplessness that was felt by those ancient peoples who lived on the plains of the Americas some 6,0000 years ago when the rains no longer came and great dust storms enveloped the land for almost 1,000 years. It is known as the great drought of late paleo era and we think that such catastrophes can no longer affect our lives in these modern times.

So often my mother and father related stories of the depression years to me, relating the tales of hunger, of deprivation and hardship faced by so many. They told of the great dust storms of that dust bowl era and how the clap board houses allowed the dust and wind to infiltrate to such a point that wet rags were placed over their faces in order to breathe without inhaling the suffocating dust. They told of those desperate days when the government men came to buy cattle for 6.00 per head and then proceed to kill them all on site before the grim reaper called starvation took its final toll. Those were hard times and, like the millenniums before, it seemed that the rains would never come.

Once again during the 1950’s, when I was only a child, the tentacles of yet another drought held the land in its miserable grip and the old timers had to once more endure the hardships brought on by wind, dust and lack of adequate moisture. I remember bits of those years but not enough to cause apprehension later on when the threat of hard times hung heavy over the land.

In the late 1990’s I got my first taste of a real drought and the full appreciation of just the fragrance of moisture became a cherished gift. Again, like in earlier decades, the wind blew and the dust was ever present and, like a half century and before, the sky refused to share its gift of life.

It is now over a year into our current drought, touted by some to be the worst in over a century, and again I look in ernest to the sky and pray that its bounty will be offered in time to save men and women who have invested literal generations of work in establishing a life and identity for their beloved families. I said several times in the late 90’s that I would never complain again about too much rain and I have held true to that promise. And when the rains finally came on October 7, 2011 and filled the dry stock tanks with a life blood we so often take for granted, I stood at the edge of an old desiccated cattle tank, with the skeletal remains of a dead cow sunken in the cracked mud, and thanked God for his generous offering in this gift of life called rain.

Rain is ignited by the light of a setting sun over the west Texas mountain scape. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L lens. ISO 100 and handheld.

 

Enjoy my celebration here of rain and the beautiful phenomenons that signify the coming or passing of this life blood and lets not make the mistake of ever taking it for granted as an entitlement that we deserve, but instead consider it a gift that is so generously offered from our ocean above.

Monsoon rains bring the gift of life to this desert mountain stream in the Del Carmen mountains in Northern Coahuila, Mexico. Hasselblad 501CM with Zeiss 50mm Distagon f4.0 lens. Velvia 50 ISO film. Manfrotto tripod with Manfrotto 486 ball head.
A vibrant rainbow reflects the last light of day over Lake Tanglewood near Amarillo, Texas after an evening rain shower. Canon EOS 1N and Canon 16-35mm f2.8L lens. Velvia 50 ISO film and handheld.
A great storm offers its bounty of rainfall upon the expansive rangeland in Cottle County, Texas. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0 lens. ISO 100 and handheld.
A fantastic display of light upon a great storm promises rainfall over a portion of the rolling plains. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L lens. ISO 100 and handheld.
A war in the sky at sunset signifies the end of another thunderstorm that has expended it allotment of rain on the land below. Canon F1N and Canon 14mm f2.8L lens. Velvia 50 ISO film and handheld.
Isolated thunderstorms miles away gives a sliver of life blood to this dry river bed in Knox County, Texas. Within minutes this "head rise" will increase to a depth of several feet, once more giving life to a previously dry and desolate stream bed. Canon 1D Mark IIN and Canon 16-35mm f2.8L lens. ISO 100 and handheld.
Rainfall has tamed the fire hazard of this lightning bolt in the Davis Mountains. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L lens. ISO 100 and using a Manfrotto tripod and Manfrotto 486 ball head.

Photographing Wyoming from the Perspective of a Texan

Having heralded the beauty and mystic of the Lone Star State for over thirty years it is safe to say that I have a pretty good idea of the personality and aura that describes Texas and how to convey it to the readership. Or at least I hope I do!!  With so much diversity throughout the state as well as private land offering countless “one of a kind” subjects for consideration, I never tire of the photographic endeavor to describe the land, sky, people, weather and wildlife in this huge state, a land mass that was once a country in its own right.

 

Some years ago I traveled extensively to various regions of our America and into Mexico with the intent of covering one aspect or another in the targeted areas. Some of these excursions were for magazine assignments while others were for file images to secure potential future editorial sales. I always enjoyed my time spent in other places but yearned to return to my native Texas and its plethora of subjects available. About 20 years ago I realized what a treasure trove of subjects that I had at hand in the Lone Star State so decided to “pull in my horns” and concentrate all efforts on what my native land offered, a decision that I never regretted.

 

In about 2004 I was commissioned to do some extensive photographic coverage on a private ranch in the great state of Wyoming. Like Texas, it is a land of big ranches, oceanic skies, and great vistas so I thrilled at the opportunity to once more travel to a new place where I could ply my creative skills to a good end. For weeks this work continued and many useful and attractive images were attained throughout this time frame. When that work was done I once again focused the cameras on the land and life in my home state.

 

Only a few months ago I was again contacted by the ranch owner in Wyoming and a request was made for me to create a hard cover book on the same ranch I had covered some years before. I was elated at the prospects and looked forward to another golden opportunity to see and photograph such a splendid example of the Cowboy State.

Autumn foliage along a creek bottom. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8 and ISO 100.

 

Throughout the three decades of working with a camera I have found that when traveling to a new region my expectations become peaked and I look forward to seeing and offering the new subjects in a way that defines my personal style. Such is the way of artists throughout the world. Instead of horizontal plains and prairie rivers my intent in Wyoming are the rugged northern mountains, cold winters, big skies and the indigenous wild creatures quite foreign to my Texas.

 

Although this project is in its infant stages, I offer here a small sample of what has already been created. Welcome to the great state of Wyoming and its many faces from the perspective of a Texan.

Herd of antelope graze on a hillside above the ranch headquarters. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L at 100 ISO.

 

Elk hunter glasses the canyons below. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L and ISO 100.

 

Hunting guide bringing a trophy off of the mountain. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L at ISO 100.

 

High country in the Laramie mountain region. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L and ISO 100.

 

Ranch lake and Wyoming landscape. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L at ISO 100.

 

Cutting horse barn. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 45mmTilt Shift f3.5L lens at ISO 200 using Manfrotto tripod and panoramic tripod head. Three images stitched.

 

 

 

In The World Of Macro: A New Adventure In Photography

The summer sun shown warm on the mesquite covered rangeland as I walked around the stock tank in search of anything that might present an acceptable photographic  subject. Stopping at a small mesquite shrub near the waters edge, I noticed a flurry of activity within the limbs and leaves. Robber flies, rather intimidating looking insects, were busily flying about, some appearing to be in hot pursuit of other insects and actually making successful captures from time to time. Grabbing my camera with a macro lens attached, I began watching closely and was amazed to discover that these wonderful insects were actually capturing wasps, deer flies and other flying brethren for the purpose of having a feast! After making the capture, the robber fly would land on a branch and proceed to stab its proboscis into the thorax of the victim and for the next few minutes  literally suck the body fluids from its prey before dropping the desiccated carapace to the ground. For the next several hours I had a great time in photographing these fascinating creatures as well as developing an appreciation for their tiny world and the fight for life and death within.

A patternless diamondback rattlesnake draws back in the defensive mode as I pull in tight with a Canon 70-200 f2.8 L and Kenko extension tubes and Canon 5D Mark II.

 

 

The macro world is an often overlooked aspect of photography that can be both an educational tool as well as an alternate source of subject matter that is most fascinating to the readership.

 

I purchased my first macro lens in the late 1970’s in a Canon FD 50mm f3.5 with an extension tube. In order to facilitate working in low light conditions I also purchased a ring light which would enable me to work in situations ranging from total darkness to normal lighted locations. Although having started my photographic career with longer lenses and bigger subjects in mind, the side trip to macro introduced me to a world easily as wild as the larger four legged quarry and, despite the small critters occupying that niche, quite barbaric in nature!

A robber fly takes a moment of respite on a limb while "sipping" some juice from an unfortunate fly. Canon F1N and Canon 50mm f3.5 Macro with ring light.

 

Many budding photographers find that the cost of a macro lens is a bit prohibitive but alternatives are there and most affordable. A set of extension tubes will cost less than 200.00 and allow photographers to utilize even the more common lenses that come attached to cameras when purchased. Go to your favorite camera outlet and order up a set of three “Extension Tubes”, my favorite being Kenko, and experience a whole new aspect of photography! Be sure and specify the manufacture of your camera when ordering. A sturdy tripod will be essential as camera shake must be held to a minimum when working at such a close and personal distance. Enjoy!!

A deceased diamondback rattler is posed for this shot showing the utensils used in capturing its prey. Canon F1N and Canon 100mm Macro f4.0 lens. Vivitar 285 strobes placed beneath and above the snake.

 

A weaver spider sets up shop in a prickly pear. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 180mm f4.0 lens with extension tubes.

 

A beautiful spiderwort blossom shimmers in the overcast light of day. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 180mm f4.0 lens.

 

A vibrant Claret cup cacti blossom contrasts with the rocky background. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 180mm f.40 Macro lens.

Our Texas from a Different Perspective

Terry Diggs was a man of medium height, slight build but possessed the bluest eyes of anyone I have ever seen. Very poised and dignified in his presence, I took a liking to the older man immediately upon our having met. A gentleman to the core but also one that took no flack from anyone, I learned shortly after our meeting that he was a veteran of WWII and a B-17 pilot whose service for our country was cut short after being shot down over Germany and suffered three years in a POW camp therein. Needless to say I felt honored to have Terry as my instructor and drilled him often on the time he spent under the unwanted supervision of Adolph Hitler.

Doing a preflight before heading up for photos.

 

I respected Terry and loved the fact that he treated me possibly like he was treated during his own flight training. Abrupt and quick to point out my short comings in handling the little Cessna, I felt compelled to do my best for Terry and within about four months of training had attained my credentials as a private pilot.

 

It was not long before I began carrying my camera aloft to photograph the design of the land that slid beneath my wings on so many early morning flights and began collecting a good file of images describing our Texas from on high.

Brazos under an autumn cloak.

 

Within a couple of years I was honored with the opportunity to check out in a 1946 Aeronca Champ, a little tail wheel plane that offered even better options for aerial shots as I could remove the door and shoot past the wing strut with little difficulty. For years I shot from this little plane and loved every minute of being aloft in the cool hours of early morning when the atmosphere was so fresh and clean, offering a view of the land below in colors so rich and vivid.

 

 

Along with my own flights came many hours aloft with my good friend Knut Mjolhus, a college buddy from our years at Texas Tech and a pilot of unparalleled skills. From a Cessna Caravan, Cessna 206, Hughes 500 helicopter, Bell Jet Ranger and Robinson R 22 and 44, we flew to so many wonderful locations around the state in order that I might document the beauty of our state from this perspective so high.

Canadian river in the last rays of an autumn evening

 

Today, thanks to my friend Bob Moorhouse, I am still able to enjoy shooting from above while flying Bob’s little 1946 Aerona Chief, the near twin brother of my first tail wheel plane in the Champ. I would like to take a moment and share with you a few of these images that define our state from a perspective seen and appreciated by too few. Put on your googles and imagine the groan of an engine as it strains to gain the altitude that will support a photographic essay of our Texas from the sky!

Badlands in exquisite light

 

Rio Grande down river from Presidio.

 

Red fingers in the Knoco badlands, Knox County.

 

Confluence of the Pecos river (from the right) and the Rio Grande.

 

Old Torres ruins (circa 1874) overlooking the Canadian.

 

The Pecos river stretches into the horizon just above the Rio Grande.