Remaking Marlboro

Burning Stick | Beebower Productions

Growing up, everyone knew him.  He was synonymous with cool. The Marlboro Man brought the rugged, tough American cowboy to life for folks across the country.  And he sold an awful lot of cigarettes.

In 1955 the Philip Morris Company was looking to rebrand their cigarettes to appeal to a wider audience, namely men as opposed to its previous marketing just for women.  The Leo Burnett agency in Chicago had a great idea for an ad campaign, the American cowboy.

Sales skyrocketed in the first year of the advertisements.  Eventually the Marlboro Man morphed into Marlboro Country, a series of photographs showing cowboys on the range moving cattle, galloping through streams, roping and riding.  Like the Marlboro Man, Marlboro Country spurred tremendous sales so much so that the ad campaign would last for decades.

For commercial photographers, landing the Marlboro account meant very good things:  generous and steady income, a substantial expense account and nation-wide exposure.  For Dad, it meant a chance to create something he already loved—Old West art. 

So in the late 1980’s Dad set out to win over the advertising agency that handled Marlboro.  He started by studying existing Marlboro photos.  Then he began planning shots that had a similar feel, but with his own interpretation like “Burning Stick”. 

Over the next couple of years he assembled about 20-30 shots in between shooting for his regular commercial advertising clients.  He had a few adventures along the way too.  Dad’s model, a Dallas neighbor from a few streets over, was often mistaken for the Marlboro Man and occasionally Robert Redford (but that’s a story for anther blog). 

End of Day | Beebower Productions

While shooting “End of the Day” at the Wolfe Ranch at Arches National Park, Dad and crew overheard some tourists speculating that Marlboro must be shooting some ads today.  They, apparently, thought it was pretty cool.

Dad’s quest for Old West shots took him around the country to Utah, Arizona, Colorado and the far reaches of remote south Texas.  (You can read about Dad’s adventures at Big Bend National Park. )    At the same time his Western portfolio began to take shape, Dad met a number of people that helped him create the authentic Old West images.  Many of those folks would become friends too.

“Getting these shots wasn’t incredibly difficult.  You just needed the right people and the right equipment.  You needed people who knew the right skills to pull off a shoot and could work with you.  Once you found some of these folks who knew these things, you could really move forward,” Dad said.

Deep Snow Chase | Beebower Productions

With his new connections Dad began producing images like “Deep Snow Chase”, “Pony Express”, “Buggy in the Rain” and “Cowboy in Adobe Ruins”.  Eventually he culled the images down until he had a solid portfolio of 10-15 shots.  The next task was creating a slick presentation of his portfolio at the ad agency. 

Dad made small black boxes that contained a small, single-image slide viewer.  Each box had slides featuring Dad’s Western images.  After doing some sleuthing, he learned the names of all of the art directors at the agency who were connected to the Marlboro account.  Each one received a mini slide viewer package.

Dad’s photos worked their way through the art directors turning heads and generating interest.  His work finally reached the second in command.  Things were looking up.  That art director wanted Dad to participate in a shoot-off at a ranch in Albany, Texas.  That meant Dad was one of the few considered to potentially shoot for Marlboro.  They wanted to see him in action.  Dad said no problem, just name the date and time.  He waited.  And he waited.  And he waited.  Nothing.

This would be a good time to mention that politics play a large roll in the advertising world, specifically politics within advertising agencies.  Apparently, Dad learned later, the head art director already had his favorite photographers and he wouldn’t consider anyone else.  He quashed the photo shoot at the ranch in favor of his guy.

“It’s not as simple as I shoot good photos and you pay me.  There’s lots of political crap,” Dad said.  “But if you’re going to be in the advertising field you’ve got to deal with it and learn to pivot in a new direction at the drop of a hat.”

Dad was disappointed.  Who wouldn’t be after pursuing their goal for almost two years?  But there’s a silver lining to this story. 

“I always wanted to do that kind of stuff–landscapes like Ansel Adams and Westerns like Marlboro.  So no I don’t regret going after the account,” Dad said.  “It was a great adventure trying to figure out how to do it.  I ended up with a great portfolio that opened doors to other big jobs.”

Clients like The Australian Outback Collection, Cabelas, Remington Arms Company and Busch Beer soon provided income for Dad to create other pieces of Old West art.   The Western stock photo market also took off and Dad’s images at Sharpshooters began to really sell.  He re-invested the money right back into creating more Western images.  Dad was in heaven.

Coincidentally anti-smoking legislation in the mid-1990’s and through the early 2000’s severely limited cigarette advertising.  The age of Marlboro Country was coming to a close.

“It was a sweet ride for those guys (photographers) that were connected to Marlboro until the anti-smoking campaigns started,” Dad said. “But once that happened, they were looking for new clients too.”

Dad’s experience with Marlboro proves that life is more about the journey than the ending.  He gained valuable experience, an outstanding portfolio and a handful of friends he wouldn’t have met otherwise.  While he didn’t land the account, Dad came out richer for the experience.  And like Marlboro’s cool dudes, Dad’s Old West photos keep a piece of our heritage alive.

Extending Your Lens

Whooping Crane Taking Off | Beebower Productions

Getting Closer

If only.  If only I had a 800mm lens.  If only I could get a little closer. Who hasn’t uttered an “if only” while trying to take wildlife photos?  Photography can be frustrating when you don’t have the right equipment and your subject bolts at the drop of a hat.

We have a solution for you.  Purchase an extender (also called a teleconverter).  This piece of equipment fits between your camera and your lens, increasing the focal length of your lens. 

So, for example, if you have a 400mm lens and you use a 1.4x extender, you’ll shoot as if you had a 560mm lens.  Dad used just such a set up to capture his image of a whooping crane taking off. 

He was shooting from a boat and the captain got Dad as close to the bird as possible.  But it wasn’t close enough. Dad’s shot would have been weak without the extender because he couldn’t fill the frame without the extra focal length the extender provided.

Pretty cool, right?  Let’s take a look at the benefits of using an extender.  Please note:  We shoot with Canons so this review focuses strictly on Canon products.


    • Cost:  A Canon EF 400mm/f2.8 IS II USM lens runs about $10,500.  That’s a big hit to the bank account.  But the extender can ride to the rescue.  A Canon EF 300mm/f2.8 IS II USM lens runs $6,600.  Add the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III for $450 and you’ve got a 420mm lens for roughly $7,050.  You’ve just saved a couple thousand dollars.
    • Several Options:  Canon makes two extenders, the EF 1.4X III and the EF 2X III.  As mentioned, the 1.4X provides 1.4 times the focal length of your lens.  The 2X doubles the focal length.
    • Weight:  Compared to hauling an 8.5-pound, 800mm lens around, the Canon extenders are lightweight.
    • Quality of Image: Dad ran extensive tests with the 1.4X and 2X before going into the field.  He found both the 1.4X and 2X extenders produced clean, crisply focused images.  The quality of the image really depends upon having a super sharp lens before adding the high quality extender.


Sound Great?  Here are a few things to consider

    • Compatibility:  Not all lenses and cameras work with all extenders.  You should check the fine print for compatibility before purchasing.  We actually recommend you purchase the same brand as your lens for the simple reason the manufacturer designed the two pieces to work together.  You’ll get a better quality photo.
    • Loss of Light:  You do lose some light coming into the lens when you use an extender.   As a result, you drop approximately one f-stop for the 1.4x extender and two f-stops for the 2X extender. 
    • For example, if you use a 300mm/f.28 lens with the 2X, your f-stop is reduced to f/5.6.  This can be a challenging factor when shooting a moving subject in low light.  That doesn’t mean you have to stop shooting.  Just have a “Plan B” in case the extender prevents optimal shooting.
  • Auto Focus: With older gear, you may loose the autofocus element of the lens if the maximum f-stop drops below f/5.6.  Newer and higher end cameras and lenses don’t have this problem. You can always manually focus if your lens goes on strike.

The extender also may slow the focusing speed of the lens.  Dad noticed a slightly slower speed of tracking with the 2X compared to a regular Canon 400mm/f2.8 lens.  However he was able to capture a great shot of moving sandhill cranes using the 2X and auto focus without any problem.

If you decide to purchase an extender, definitely buy the highest quality you can afford.  That goes for the lenses too.  If you skimp on the gear, you will, as Dad likes to say, pay dearly in the field.  You certainly won’t be happy with the results when you get home and download your photos.  The cheaper optics have issues with focusing speed and image quality.

Dad’s had a great deal of success using the 1.4X combined with his 400mm.  During his shoot at the Martin Refuge, he nailed a number of bird photos including this one of a green jay eating breakfast.

The key to success with extenders is thoroughly testing your equipment before you leave home.  Understanding how the extenders work, their limitations and possible solutions will save you a lot of grief in the field.

“Put it together and don’t wait until you’re in the boondocks with rattlesnakes.  Test it in your nice, cool air conditioned house, “ Dad says.  “It doesn’t matter if it costs $600 or $6,000.  If you don’t know how to use it, it doesn’t do you any good.”

So learn all about this handy tool and leave the “if onlys” at home.  You can start making images you love with the help of extenders.  You might just be too close to your subject this time.

Snow Geese Symphony

Snow Geese Symphony | Beebower Productions

A Flying Fanfare

Their take-off sounds like a discordant 80’s rock band on steroids, but once airborne the geese morph into a symphony, each swoop, dip and honk coordinating with their fellow geese. Mozart would be in awe of the Snow Geese Symphony.

Each November Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge along the shores of Lake Texoma looks like a snow globe with thousands of migrating snow geese and ducks that mow down fields of grain planted just for them.

Free entry and a photographer-friendly atmosphere make Hagerman the perfect place to learn the finer points of photographing wildlife.

The refuge sits on the border of Texas and Oklahoma. Since 1946 the park has provided marshes, creeks, lake front property and grain-loaded farmland for birds as well as resident wildlife like coyotes and armadillos. It’s especially important for the birds because the 12,000-acre sanctuary is smack dab in the middle of the Central Flyway, a major migratory route for many birds in the United States.


Cormorant | Beebower Productions

In our experience, winter is the most successful time for photos at the refuge. The shear number of geese and ducks make it unlikely you’ll return home without photos. The geese often mass along the fields of Wildlife Drive or not too far off shore on Lake Texoma. There are great opportunities to practice action photography as the birds fly between these destinations. You’ll also have many chances to practice close-ups of individual geese in the fields.

You’ll find plenty of ducks, great blue herons, double-crested cormorants and egrets in the marshy areas along Wildlife Drive and the Pad roads that extend like fingers into Lake Texoma. I can’t recall any season that we didn’t find at least one of these birds out on the Pads.

Each season at the refuge brings a new type of wildlife to photograph, although not in such abundance as winter. Some of the highlights are bobcats, white-tailed deer, the aforementioned coyotes and nine-banded armadillos, snakes, turtles, bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks, American white pelicans, scissor-tailed flycatchers, painted buntings, owls, butterflies and wildflowers.

Great Blue Heron Soaring | Beebower Productions

As Dad says, “You can photograph these other guys, but you’re going to have to work harder at finding them. To find them you’ll have to hike some of the trails early in the morning and later in the evening when they are most active. You’ll also need some patience waiting for them to show up. Camouflaging yourself and your gear also helps.”

Five hiking trails take you back into the woods or prairies where you might find coyotes or deer. For a complete listing of the trails, check the refuge’s website.

The Snow Geese Gang | Beebower Productions


We love to use the rolling blind when shooting at Hagerman. As you’ll see once you visit the refuge, it gets regular vehicle traffic all day. The birds and other animals have become used to cars to the point they allow you to get closer than you might think.

You’ll need a driver and a vehicle with an open section in the back. We use a mini van with the seats removed. The photographer hangs out in the back of the van with the side door open and his camera on a tripod. The driver slowly moves down the road until the photographer has a good position. Once the photographer has captured enough images, the driver slowly rolls on to the next position on the road.

Using this technique, the photographer never leaves the vehicle. Even so, we still recommend using camouflage on your gear like LensCoats’ line of camera, lense and tripod covers. Anything you can do to break up your human form is also great. A ghillie suit or even forest colored shirts, jackets, pants and hats help keep the wildlife relaxed.

We also offer a friendly word of advice. Stay on the park roads. These regular park roads will give you plenty of shooting opportunities because they pass very close to the grain fields the geese favor. If you veer off into the fields a game warden will come retrieve you. And, that my friends, will be the end of your photo shoot.

Gear to Bring

We suggest bringing a range of gear with you. Most of your photographs will require a long lens, anything from 200mm-800mm. So bring the big guns and extenders if you have them. Depending on how close the birds are to you, you may also want a 70mm-200mm zoom lens. For more scenic shots, you’ll want a wider-angle lens like a 24mm.

You’ll definitely need a tripod with a Wimberley head (if you have one) to hold up those long lenses. Throw in a flash with the Better Beamer extender (read about it here) and plenty of batteries.

We recommend shooting with two camera bodies if you have them. There are two reasons. First by having two bodies with two different lenses you’re ready when the animal decides move closer or farther away. All you have to do is pick up with camera with the right lens for that distance.

Second, you never know when your camera may die or be damaged. It’s important to have back up so your day isn’t wasted. Also be sure to bring plenty of camera cards and batteries so you don’t run out of storage space or juice for all of those practice shots.

If You Go

  • Call ahead to see what’s been spotted recently at the refuge. Take note of where the animal has been seen to give you the best chance of photographing it. Some days are dead as a doornail and other days are hopping at the refuge, so a phone call can save you a lot of frustration.
  • Check the weather. The Lake Texoma area gets some pretty bad storms during tornado season. In the summer, the area can be broiling and you never know when a winter storm will produce a sheet of ice up there.
  • Watch out for water moccasins, copperheads, timber rattlesnakes, poison ivy, oak and sumac and tree bark scorpions. Bug spray is a lifesaver in summer. It really is wild out there!
  • Make sure you know the rules of the refuge before heading out. Game wardens do actively patrol the area and you don’t want your photo shoot to end before it’s started.
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks. Fill up the gas tank before leaving home. There are no services in the immediate area of Hagerman, although Sherman and Denison, Texas are both about 25 minutes away. You’ll find food, gas and other services there.
  • The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset year round.  To get further details for your trip, visit the Hagerman website.

Big Bend Adventures

Roper at Sunset | Beebower Productions

The Lure of Big Bend

Like Indiana Jones, the lure of adventure gnawed at Dad.  Big Bend National Park’s desolate, rough terrain dotted with cacti, stunning mountain peaks and a peaceful winding river lured him out of Dallas.  Dad had seen some spectacular photographs of the park in a book and wasted no time. The next thing we knew, Mom, Dad and I had hightailed it southwest to Big Bend for some exploration.

We weren’t disappointed, especially Dad.  Big Bend National Park’s sweeping vistas and meandering river gave him plenty of Western and landscape photos over the next 20 years. 

Big Bend sits on the border of Texas and Mexico in far southwest Texas.  It really is in the middle of nowhere.  The park stretches for 801,163 acres that appear devoid of any type of life.  But a closer look reveals a Chihuahuan Desert teaming with plants, animals and insects, some of which you want to avoid and others that are fascinating to capture in a photo.  And nothing can beat the intense reds, oranges and yellows that burst across the Chisos Mountains at sunset in Big Bend.

In fact, one of Dad’s earliest adventures produced the image “Roper at Sunset”.  He and the model hiked about six miles climbing with photo and camping gear to the 2,000-foot South Rim.  Dad knew he wanted the roping cowboy to be a silhouette in front of a gorgeous, layered mountain sunset.  He was certain the South Rim was the right spot.  Sure enough everything came together that evening when the rich colors burst over the mountains.  Dad had his photo and enjoyed a nice evening camping on the mountain. 

Dad thought everything came together nicely.  When he returned to Dallas, it was clear not everything was working in the photo.  He didn’t like the way the rope hung in the air and the cowboy’s movements.  A novel type of software gave Dad some exciting new options photographers would come to love.  He removed the original roper from the photo and replaced him with the current cowboy using Photoshop.  The software also allowed him to add more layers of mountains in the background.  It was a brave new world in photography.  His success with “Roper at Sunset” would spur Dad to use Photoshop to produce other images from Big Bend.


Rio Grande | Beebower Productions

The Second Trip

The next time Dad returned to the park, he managed to capture another sunset over the Rio Grande.  It was an opportunistic moment.  While doing a photo shoot with two models on the South Rim, Dad noticed a storm building up over the distant mountain range and quickly switched modes to take a landscape picture.  It would become his image called “Rio Grande”. 

Back at the studio, Dad decided the river needed a focal point.  Always one to study great artists, he remembered a painting with a fur trapper on the river in a canoe.  He decided “Rio Grande” needed a canoe to give the photo a little punch.  Without further ado, Dad shot a floating canoe in Dallas and then used to Photoshop to add it to the Big Bend image.

Perhaps his most challenging Western image was “Big Bend Country”.  Dad had shot the cowboys and cattle at the Goemmer Ranch in Colorado.  But he needed a dramatic background.  He remembered a desolate area near the Cottonwood Campgrounds at Big Bend that would be perfect.  He hit the road and photographed the mountain peaks.  Then he threw in a bit of dust for good measure.

The trick to blending this photo with the Colorado cowboys was the dirt.  Some of the dust coming off the horses and cattles’ hooves was part of the cowboys’ photo.  But Dad also needed some dust from Big Bend to make the scene believable.

He got the dust by creating a special hoof-shaped tool that his assistant used to hit the ground, stirring up the dust.  The tool was encased in blue screen, a fabric that is used in the movies.  Special software detects the blue color and efficiently cuts it out as if it had never been there.  So when you look at Dad’s photo all you see is the dust, not the tool.  And, yes, there were two colors of dirt naturally occurring in the Big Bend half of the photo.

Big Bend Country | Beebower Productions

“Big Bend Country” was one of Dad’s earlier creations using Photoshop.  It was, at that point, one of the most complicated images he’d produced.  It made him pretty happy because it was a major effort.

As you can see Big Bend National Park played a major role in Dad’s early Western and landscape photos. 

“It was really a neat experience going there,” he said.  “It was like an adventure movie because you might find caves or Indian artifacts or a mountain lion.  You just never knew what kind of photos you’d take home after spending time in the park.”

Big Bend has a lot to offer Western, wildlife and landscape photographers.  You can choose your own adventure.  We definitely recommend a trip if you’re looking for inspiration and some outstanding images.

If You Go

Because of its extremely remote location, there are a number of things to consider before visiting Big Bend.

Weather:  In the summer it’s broiling.  May and June are the hottest months with temperatures in the high 90s to 100s.  Hats, long sleeve shirts and sunscreen are a must.  At any time during the rainy season of mid-June to October heavy rainstorms can crop up with lighting and flash floods.  Winters aren’t too bad, but you should dress in layers and be ready for anything.  Keep in mind that at the higher elevations, like the Chisos Mountains, there can be a significantly cooler temperature than down by the river. 

Wildlife:  The Park teams with birds, reptiles and mammals, which is great if you’re looking for wildlife photos.  However, be aware that black bears, mountain lions, javelinas, coyotes and four types of rattlesnakes roam the land.  While any of these critters can be a problem if cornered, we recommend being especially vigilant while hiking.  Rattlesnakes are a dime a dozen while the other animals are less likely to be encountered.  Creepy, crawlies also abound.  Check shoes before putting them on and sleeping bags before settling down.  Scorpions, spiders and centipedes love these cozy spots.

Roads:  We can’t stress enough how remote the park really is.  Therefore it’s a great idea to be prepared.  Fill up your tank at the Rio Grande Village or Panther Junction before heading out.   Take an extra tire or two in case you blow out on a dirt road while hunting the perfect photo location.

If you plan to explore the primitive dirt roads, two vehicles are better than one.  These roads should be tackled only if you have 4WD.  They can be very rocky or sandy depending on the area.

Make sure you bring lots of bottled water, snacks and a first aid kit in case you’re stuck in the desert during a heavy rainstorm or other situation.  Ultimately you should take a survival kit with you.

Cell Phones:  They may or may not work because of the isolated location.  If you plan to do a lot of long hikes or visit the farthest reaches of the park, a satellite phone is a great idea.  It can even save your life if something goes wrong.

Border Issues:  Big Bend has its fair share of turmoil with criminals crossing into the US.  If at all possible, avoid these folks and contact the local Border Patrol agent.  Don’t pick up hitchhikers.  Don’t make yourself a target.  Travel with another person and make sure you don’t leave valuables in your vehicle or campsite.  It’s also a great idea to check with park rangers at headquarters to learn about the latest risky or questionable areas within the park.

Despite these drawbacks, Big Bend National Park is a worthy adventure for any photographer.  You just never know what kind of photographic treasure you’ll bring home.

Why Shooting Regularly Matters

Old Mescal Bronc | Beebower Productions

It was without a doubt the most embarrassing moment of my short life.  I finished a photo assignment and realized there was no film in the camera.  As I sat in the car and contemplated my options, I broke into a cold sweat.  What kind of photographer forgets to put film in the camera?

I’d just started my college summer internship at a newspaper.  I knew I had no choice but to drive back to the lady’s house, admit my mistake and beg for a “do-over”.  I was so worried about the whole situation; I ignored the woman’s directions about approaching the house.  I was supposed to stay in the car and honk so she could retrieve her giant German shepherd from the yard.  He was a giant, over 100 pounds of protective dog.

In my shock and horror over my atrocious error, I skidded into the driveway, flew out of the car and rang the doorbell completely ignoring the furry goliath.  The dog, which was used to folks taking him seriously, stood in the yard swiveling his head between my open car door that dinged and me ringing the doorbell.  I think we were both shell shocked for completely different reasons.

I could have cared less about the dog.  All I could think was, “No film.  Seriously?  I’m never going to make it in a real job because my current boss is going to kill me.”

I’m happy to report I did finally get the shot on film and the woman was very gracious.  She never did tell my boss about the mistake.  That was a relief because I sure wasn’t going to mention it.  Lesson learned:  Obsessively checking your camera for film before arriving at the shoot is a great idea.


Practice Makes Perfect

My internship disaster illustrates a great point.  You should shoot everyday to keep your skills sharp.  As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.  (You knew I was going to work that trite but true phrase in here somewhere, didn’t you.)  I’d taken a couple of weeks off between the end of my college semester and my internship.  Bad idea.

Photography is a complicated business with many moving parts.  Obviously you need film in the camera, but there are many other things like choosing the right exposure, composing the best picture, determining lighting and speed in shooting that require attention to details.  The more you practice shooting, the more those details become a habit.  Then you’re better equipped to handle problems when they crop up (and they will).  

Dad’s classic Western photo “Old Mescal Bronc” required him to be at the top of his game. In addition to the basics like composition and exposure, Dad had to direct the model, the wranglers and make sure he wasn’t trampled by a crazy horse. (The hooves were about three feet from his face by the end of the shoot.) There was no time to figure out how the camera worked. Dad needed to know his gear inside and out in this situation. The problem was getting the best picture and staying safe. Regular shooting allowed him to do both.

Other problems you could encounter involve equipment malfunctions. Your camera meter dies and you need to know what a good exposure on a sunny day would be.  (This really happened to me.) No problem.  You’ve been shooting sunny beach scenes all week, so you know from experience what will work in a pinch.  (It’s ISO 100 at f16 and 125 second in case you’re wondering.  You can calculate many combinations of f-stop and shutter speed once you know that starting point.) 


Black-Chinned Hummingbird at a Bat-Faced Cuphea bloom

Humminbird Daze

Some photo shoots are so technically challenging, you really need to practice daily before undertaking them.  

Dad started photographing hummingbirds a couple of years ago.  If you’ve ever seen hummingbirds zipping around a garden, they are fast little buggers. The average wing beat of hummingbirds found in North America is 53 times a second.  

Most hummingbird photos fail to stop the wing action.  Dad was determined to learn how to not only freeze the wings, but also how to illuminate the amazing colors in the birds’ iridescent plumage.  

Over a period of about six months, he began developing his technique.  It required regularly shooting and accessing his progress on his Mac.  In the evenings he’d do some more research on shooting techniques and tweak his equipment.   The next morning he was out shooting again.

Eventually Dad found the right equipment combined with the right technique to capture the pictures that satisfied him.  The equipment list is pretty long.  You need to know how to run flash slaves, use Canon Speedlites on manual settings and anticipate the birds’ actions on your photo set.  Shooting everyday helps you overcome all of these obstacles when you’ve spent a lot of money to reach a great hummingbird location like Madera Canyon, Arizona.

Dad says, “Gazillions of little things go together in order to take the hummingbird pictures.  If you don’t do it regularly you forget stuff and your shoot fails.  Then you really begin to hate yourself because you know you could have done better.”


Burning Stick | Beebower Productions

How “Regular” is “Regular”?

We recommend taking pictures a minimum of once a week, but daily would be ideal especially if you’re a beginner.

Dad said, “Even if you only shoot pictures of targets on a backyard fence or wagon wheels rolling down the street, just shoot a lot of pictures.  My brother Gordon used to say film is cheap so make sure you got the picture by shooting a lot.”

Dad and I don’t shoot as often as we’d like to simply because we have a business to run.  There are blogs to write, photos to process, prints to make, website meetings to attend, new products to develop and on and on and on.  You get the idea.   Small businesses are built with a lot of sweat equity.  Nonetheless we try to shoot a minimum of once a week.  

I actually schedule time on my calendar for photo shoots.  Not only do I pick a day and time, I also choose an assignment.  For example, one week I might be shooting a landscape near the ocean and the next week wild turkeys in my neighborhood.  I like to mix up different types of shooting to keep all of my skills sharp, including thinking outside the box in creating shots.

Dad captured this classic Old West photo because he was noticing everything around him and considering how it might be turned into a photo.  “Burning Stick” was a last minute deal.  Dad and his model spent the night at Sun Valley Ranch in Colorado where they were doing a big commercial shoot the next day. 

Overnight a storm dumped several feet of snow on the ranch.  The next morning Dad got up and noticed the perfect spot on the cabin porch for this photo.  If he hadn’t been in “photo” mode, observing the warm porch light, the blue tones to the snow and using his imagination to create this shot, he would have missed out on a picture that’s still very popular today in his Old West photo collection.   Shooting regularly matters.  It helps you recognize a good photo when the opportunity appears unexpectedly.

The School of Hard Knocks

So not only does shooting regularly keep you up to speed on using your camera gear and good composition, it also helps you recognize great pictures you could take.  I’d rather shoot on a daily basis that visit the school of hard knocks.  You can bet I never made the “no film” mistake ever again.  In fact, I obsessively checked for film after that fateful day.  

Obviously someone else made that mistake at Canon. In the latest cameras you can’t take a picture without a media card in the camera.  Brilliant!  Now I just need to check the f-stop, shutter speed, lighting, composition…. 

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