Capturing the Western Lifestyle in my photos.
I went out to do a photo shoot of a western cattle ranch recently, I was really looking forward to it. Lots of things piqued my interest about this photo shoot. Granite Mountain in Prescott Arizona created a grandiose backdrop with lots of grass and plains in the foreground. The commissioned photo shoot was for Broken Horn D Ranch owners Kim McElroy and her husband Dave Pawel. They needed some new photographs for their brochures and marketing needs. Broken Horn D Ranch raises cattle and sells the meat at the local Prescott Arizona farmers market.
As all the cowhands pulled in and tacked up, I finished my coffee and figured out the best angles for where I would be. Most likely that was going to be in the safe region of the bed of the pickup as the cattle all came rushing by me. I liked the idea that I might get some photographs with cowboys and Granite Mountains in the background and so the first place I set up was the back of the owners pickup with my lens pointed through the horns on top of the cab. It’s a big mountain when you get the horses and cattle in front of it but it was still pretty interesting to shoot a few shots of the crew riding out in the morning light to bring the cattle back to pens for branding, tags, shots and record keeping on all of it.
When the cattle started to come together and headed to the pens, they came without the rush of a dust cloud around them. Dave likes to work the cattle in a calm manner without a whole lot of stirring up the herd unnecessarily. I wasn’t accustomed the slower pace but it was a pleasant start to the early day. Many of my UN-staged horse photo shoots start of with a level of unpredictability. I did manage to take some photographs that I thought did the round-up justice.
Photographing cattle branding, shots, tags etc.
If I was concerned after breakfast that I would not have enough action going on to take some good photographs for the owners and the cowboys to ooh and aah over, the sorting that took place before lunch contained just enough motion to assure me that the cattle were still feisty with a mind of their own for sure.
I liked the view from the fence for a while during the sorting because it gave me both height and clarity. I could take the photo from the view of the wrangler riding the horse, or I could take the photo through the fence and have more of the cattle’s view. I like what I got on these photos but the chutes are slender and the cows move through them pretty quickly.
For the branding, Dave suggested I stand in the cow trailer at first because it was the safest place to be and the wranglers did not have to worry that they were sending the cattle to run me over. A very real possibility. When the cows were properly secured and ready to be put into a smaller pen for the actual branding, shots, and tagging then I climbed out of the trailer and found my place along the fence, ready to climb it if need be for the best views possible to match what I wanted to get. In the calves came and the roping began. It was the action that I had anticipated for sure! Ropes were flung and the air got heavy with focus and frustration as the cows got away and became more agitated. Dust flew, everyone was moving in multiple directions and I was just looking for the best shot to highlight what these owners do for a living as cattle ranchers. In short, I was taking photographs of a Western and American Tradition and I was loving that it kept me on the edge of the fence, well until they needed that particular edge I was standing on to keep the cows in the pen, then I jumped off and got to the best place to take the photograph on the ground.
All in all it was a good round-up. The cows were just the right blend of restless and calm to make for some really interesting photographs to highlight what this couple does to bring some quality, high standard of healthy beef to the local community. I had the opportunity to see first hand just how diligent they are in their record keeping as they pulled out their note pads and compared information. In the end I got those action shots that I was hoping for as everyone had a turn in being the one to keep a cow from getting into an area that they were not supposed to be in. I found it interesting at times to look through my lens and see a few homes in the not so distant background, but it felt more like the old west to see the chaps and spurs and the horses drinking out of the water troughs, or hobbled nearby munching on some grass. It was a great photo shoot that lasted for two days and I was happy to hear that everyone was eager to see the photos I took. I am happy to have my work represent some of the local community here in Prescott. I love being a part of this southwest cowboy and horse atmosphere and western lifestyle!
Jody Miller is a professional photographer specializing in Horse Photography, Equine Photography, and Equestrian photography. Her work can be viewed online here in her gallery section, and she is also featured at Arts Prescott Gallery, in Arizona.