I know the title of today's blog post sounds trite and trivial, but in this case, it’s the truth. When it comes to procuring research material, the time spent behind the sketchbook and camera are, I find, the most fruitful, next to actual painting time.
However, in my case, the temptation is to always leave my work behind and saddle a horse and be with the cow crew, or load my gun and head out with the bird dogs and shooters. It’s easy to forget that I’m there in a professional role and my purpose is to gather images, not partake in the proceedings. In both cases it requires a strict discipline to leave the gun and saddle in the truck.
But, Mark, you might ask, “Aren’t the best images where those guys are?” Yes and No. It requires looking at the opportunity you’re given and trying to make an informed decision.
I’ve learned that big gathers rarely translate into spectacular images, but once in the branding pens, or when horses are being roped, it usually means there are photos everywhere. You’ve got to be where the action is, but once there, you should slow down and look for good vantage points and good subjects.
Trying to shoot from horseback while gathering generally results in a poor composition, unless I pull away from the activity. I am usually wary of creating a distraction to the cattle, so in my opinion, it’s better to wait for a more controlled area, like the pens.
It’s very much the same for shooting birds and hunting scenes, or fly-fishing subject matter. I’ve discovered that trying to shoot birds over a dog with a camera is just not enjoyable for me. So I much prefer to walk away from the subjects and start looking for paintings. If I’m moving around pointing dogs, it isn’t a problem like moving around cattle. And shooting images for fly-fishing paintings is the least imposing of all. I’ve had good luck shooting fishermen without treading into their space at all.
There’s a time to participate and a time to ply your craft. Be a professional and get your work done, without getting in the way. There will be a time to play on most every trip. If the ranch needs you to work on the ground, then set the camera down and pull your weight. (Or in my case, I send Pam into the fray---she has her own stories to tell!)
Generally speaking, most of my photo gathering requires a lot of money, effort and travel, and is subject to conditions over which I have no control. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, there is little I can do about it. But when opportunity knocks, and offers good images, it’s time to get to work and act like a pro.
All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.