Sunday, July 26, 2009

Creative Lights

I left the ranch last year a little disappointed for not capitalizing on certain opportunities. Failure, in some cases, can be a great catalyst for action. Luckily, I gave my self-loathing a break by coming out for a second summer.

One of the famous hikes on the ranch property leads up a steep and craggy trail to a peninsular outcropping where a 14-foot wooden cross looks out over the North Platte River and Medicine Bow National Forest. High and away from the lights of the ranch, it serves as a favorite destination for adventurous stargazers. The image I imagined was a long exposure of the Wyoming night sky around the time of a quarter moon. The moon would serve as ambient light to render detail in the rocks and background. With my GPS pointed North, I could get a clear reading on the position of Polaris. Over an hour and a half during the exposure, the earth slowly spun creating an effect of swirling constellations.

About ten years ago, the ranch contracted a craftsman from New Mexico to build a traditional chuckwagon. The covered wagons were used back in the late 1800s as the preferred method for travel across long distances, especially in the west. I wanted to create an image that paid homage to the brave and hopeful souls that wondered through these rough and endless expanses. On a clear night, just before sunset I headed up to Slim’s Draw with one of my photography students. We positioned the chuckwagon to line a series of pines looking off into the western skyline. With two strobes and two cowboy hats we climbed into the chuckwagon and set my camera on a wireless trigger system. While the camera exposed the image we popped two flashes directly behind our heads to project our silhouettes on the canvas. We tried this several times before adjusting our positions to create the father and son look that you see now.

Camping in the backcountry of the ranch is always an adventure. From mountain lions to bears, to curious cows that wonder in from the hillsides, you never know what tracks you’re going to find surrounding your tent in the morning. The nighttime is especially beautiful when the firewood is dry and the cloud cover is at a minimum. I always enjoy taking pictures of my favorite campsites and this one in particular, alongside the slow trickle of South Mullen Creek, ranks in my top ten. To make this photo, I lit the inside of the tent with a high-powered flashlight and then doused the fire with water to send a plume of smoke into the sky. Then, during a 30-second exposure I painted each lodgepole pine with another flashlight.

Here, with two of my favorite students Lucie Coleman and Willis McCrickard, we gave a quick shout-out to the A Bar A Ranch using logs we lit on fire. Fun!

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