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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.

9 comments

  1. Laurance Jones says:

    Hello Wyman

    A Montanafriend sent just me an on-line copy of your work on West Texas- it’s spectacular! – we were down in the hill country earlier this fall and the area surpassed our expectations.

    I’d sure appreciate it if you could let me know what software you would recommend – I was particularly fascinated how you integrated music with your photography. Excellent work.

    Laurance Jones
    Vancouver, British Columbia
    604.685.4230

  2. Roger Huffaker says:

    Wyman -

    Just received your latest blog – I continue to be amazed at the beauty and quality of your work.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. TRAVIS DEEN,DVM,MS says:

    Wayman, I have your books on the Waggoner & 6666′s. Great books that are preserving our great Texas ranching heritage. Keep up the ranch documentation for future generations to enjoy as it may become a vanishing part of our Texas heritage & I want my grandsons to be able to view it.
    Really enjoyed your videos with Doug Smith’s music, beautiful. Thanks for the work you are doing.

    Travis

    Travis Deen, DVM,MS
    Deen Veterinary Clinic
    PO Box 307
    Wills Point, Texas 75169

  4. Doug Shields says:

    Wayman,you do Texas proud.My uncle. the late Howard Hurd had you photograph on the old homestead near Benjamin.My son Graduated from the engineering school at Tech.I don’t know how I end up in Houston instead of Lubbock or Brownfield.I enjoy your work so very much.

    Sincerely,
    Doug Shields
    281-463-0757

  5. Jan Nethery says:

    Wyman, I have so enjoyed your photography, blogs, and short videos! My Grandpa Nethery worked as a foreman at Waggoner Ranch almost his entire life, until her retired in the late 60s, and my Dad and his brothers worked there as young men. It’s so delightful to read and look through your wonderful work. Last year my mom bought “Under One Fence” for my dad, and we’ve all enjoyed looking through it. Brings back a lot of fond memories of visiting my grandparents at the ranch when we were children. They lived in the rock house right at the main gate of Waggoner’s. We had a lot of good times playing in those hills and plains of West Texas, getting reaquainted with our relatives, especially our cousins! Thanks so much for keeping those memories alive!

    Sincerely,
    Jan Nethery
    Mt. Shasta, CA

  6. Steve Lenert says:

    How or where can I view all of your photos? Many of them are so unique I would like to know is there is an avenue to pick specific ones to have blown up & mounted say on canvas to hang in my new home? For a price of course.
    Thanks for your reply

  7. Thelma says:

    hello
    I am from australia and just seen some of yout pictures and videos My daughter and I are returning back to the states for another holiday next yr about June July. We missed Texas on our last trip so intend to get there this time around. what I would like to know is, do you have tours on your ranch if so could you give details as we would absolutly love to see that side of the states. We are country people and had alot to do with horses. In later years we have done alot of the visual arts. my daughter more than myself have gone into photography alot. and paint some of our work. if you could just give us some sort of information we would Appreciate it
    Kind Regards Thelma

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