Horse Stampede

Horse Stampede | Beebower Productions

Dad found himself buried underground in a steel water tank waiting for a herd of about 50 horses to stampede over the top of him.  Dad hoped to capture a unique angle from below the horses.  He knew this would be challenging to pull off safely.  He turned to his friend Red Wolverton, who knew lots about movie magic and even more about horses. 

The plan revolved around a steel tank with slits cut in the sides for cameras.  The tank would be buried inside Red’s corral with Dad and his crew inside.  The slits would allow Dad to be at eye-level with the horses’ hooves and still have a degree of safety.  Red selected an ordinary live stock water tank to accommodate a photographer, motion picture photographer plus their assistants and their cameras.

Steel Tank Photo Lair | Beebower Productions

On the day of the shoot, Dad and the three guys got situated in the 7-foot diameter pillbox, as Red and crew called the modified tank.  Red then used the backhoe to fill in the door area with dirt.  About one foot of the tank was visible above ground.  That placed the camera openings in the perfect position for some amazing pictures.   

Pretty soon fifty horses supplied by Red barreled down the road right toward the corral and Dad.  Wranglers on either side of the herd ensured the horses hit the mark.  Nobody really knew what the horses would do when they reached the buried tank. 

The photo crew could feel the ground vibrating before they saw the horses.  Then things happened fast and furiously.  The horses kept coming toward the pillbox and veered to the left and right of the tank at the last minute.  Dust.  Stones.  Dust.  Hooves.  Shoot.  Shoot.  Shoot.

Dad only had two chances to capture the perfect shot both in movie and still form.  It took about 40 minutes between the two stampedes just to get the horses back in place and the cameras somewhat clean.

The whole shoot from start to finish took most of the day.  Dad got his winning shot on the first run.  The horses’ hooves came within six inches of the camera lenses and about 10 inches from Dad’s face.

“When you do something like that you don’t realize how much nervous energy goes in to it.  At the end of the day you’re just beat and covered in dust.  I think that dust stuck with us for about three days even though we washed off with the garden hose a couple of times,” Dad said.

Despite the dust, Dad and his team managed to create a unique photo that captures the essence of the Old West.

If you enjoyed this story, check out these other cool horse photos!

Mendosa Canyon Packhorses | Beebower Productions

Wild Big Bend | Beebower Productions

Storm Horses | Beebower Productions

Old Mescal Bronc | Beebower Productions

Cowboy and Horse in the Snow | Beebower Productions

Horses Cowboy Dust | Beebower Productions

When Photo Shoots Fail (2)

Mysterious Sanctuary | Beebower Productions

Every professional photographer experiences failure. Sometimes we spend a lot of money to travel to a fantastic location for a limited amount of time and a giant storm hits tanking our plans. Maybe a crowded photo hot spot with lots of restrictions makes it challenging to get one photo much less multiple show stoppers. Occasionally the wildlife we drove hours to photograph decides to play hide and seek. Or maybe the mirror fell out of our camera halting all photos (true story).

Plenty of things can make photography stressful. What happens when photo shoots go awry? Do we give up and go home? Nope. We turn lemons into lemonade.

Plan B or C or D

When a shoot goes sideways, Dad and I take a step back to assess the situation. How bad is it really? We try not to get stuck in our preconceived shots and panic. We look around for a “Plan B”.

Take my situation at Garrapata Beach in Big Sur, California. I’d planned a sunset shot at the beach but a giant fog bank rolled in five minutes before the big show. I’ve done enough outdoor shots to realize things don’t always work out.

So when I arrived at the beach, I scouted out my sunset spot and then proceeded to explore other photo opportunities. Golden light bathed the entire coast in beautiful color, making it the perfect time to shoot other pictures. I photographed some unusual rocks and then I found one of my favorite photos, Footprints in the Sand.

Footprints in the Sand | Beebower Productions

It pays to ask, “What if this photo doesn’t work out? What’s Plan B or C or D?”

Because I remained flexible and I exercised the “what if” scenario, I walked away with a multitude of photos. I even shot the original sunset photo. It wasn’t the glorious explosion of color I’d imagined, but the cool, sinister look drew me in anyway.

Fog rolls into Monterey Bay often. Because it interfered with my planned shots so frequently I learned to use it in my photography. When I set out to photograph Asilomar State Beach, I envisioned beautiful sunrise colors and light hitting the rocky coast. But a giant fog bank rolled in early that morning. So I combined the fog and a long shutter speed to create Mysterious Sanctuary (the photo at the top of this blog) where the waves and fog blend together giving the photo a soft, enigmatic look. The muted colors add to the mystique.

Garrapata Trio | Beebower Productions

Just like me Dad experienced weather issues in his quest to shoot a spectacular high country elk hunt for a client. He’d traveled to Northern California’s Mt. Shasta. A blizzard shut down his location scouting. But the next day dawned clear and snow free.

Unfortunately when the crew arrived at the mountain clouds enveloped in the peak completely. Dad’s “Plan B” involved turning around. Directly behind him was the perfect spot for his elk-hunting photograph. Had he remained locked in to his original plan, he would have run way over budget and his client would have lost confidence in him.

Dad said, “You certainly have to be flexible, sometimes almost instantaneously. One minute the area looked great and the next minute a big cloud covered up the mountain. The art director was getting nervous. But I always try to have something, a Plan B. Sometimes that ‘something’ actually might be better than the original, if you’re lucky.”

High Country Elk Hunt | Beebower Productions

That mentality helped Dad out years later when he traveled to Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur. He loved the photos he’d seen of a shaft of light blasting through the arch. But that phenomenon only happens for a limited time in December. Due to other circumstances, he couldn’t be there in December. That didn’t deter Dad though.

He shot the arch and sunset at the same beach, but separately. Then he used some Photoshop magic create a piece of art in his own unique style.

As Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

That requires staying flexible and alert for new possibilities on every photo shoot. Thinking outside the box doesn’t hurt either.

 

Keyhole Arch | Beebower Productions

Stack the Deck in Your Favor

Consistently making great photos entails being adaptable on location. However, a little preparation goes a long way in a successful photo shoot.

If you’re going to a new-to-you location, do the research. Find out things like the weather patterns for that time of year. Discover what challenges exist there. Find out about photography permits. Unearth sunset/sunrise charts and tide charts. Pinpoint services like gas stations, grocery stores and camera shops. See what other photographers share from shooting at that same location. And get reliable directions so you don’t miss the event because you’re lost. GPS coordinates often save the day.

If you’re photographing animals, learn all you can about that specific species. Dad and I delved deeply into the lives of hummingbirds before planning a shoot at Madera Canyon, Arizona. We learned their food preferences, including specific flowers, migration routes and times, behavior around other hummingbirds and where different types hung out in the United States.

That helped us narrow down a shooting location to Madera Canyon. Then we researched other photographers’ experiences in the canyon. That led us to the Santa Rita Lodge. We knew that the lodge kept year round bird feeders and that thousands of birds migrated through the area each year. We put ourselves in an area that had lot of the animal we hoped to photograph. Dad took one of his all time favorite bird photographs thanks to our diligent research.

When we go on a photo shoot, we know that it might take more than one day to shoot what we really want. Wild animals don’t necessarily cooperate and Mother Nature often throws us curve balls. So when possible we try to build in enough time at a location to work around those things.

We also realize we may need to return another time. We spent a week at Madera Canyon on two different trips. I returned to Asilomar State Beach five times before I shot Mysterious Sanctuary. Persistence, patience, and determination play a huge role in successful photography.

Broad-Billed Hummingbird at Yellow Bell | Beebower Productions

Test that Gear

While research sets us up for victory, our gear can literally make or break our photo shoots. We test and retest our gear before heading out in the field. Obviously that won’t prevent a mirror from falling out of the camera, but it does do two things for us.

First, we can quickly see if everything’s functioning well. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, I recharged my camera batteries before heading out to sea. Normally I test all of the gear before leaving, but I was in a hurry that day. If I’d run a quick camera check, I would have noticed the batteries weren’t holding the charge well. I could have purchased new batteries instead of sweating bullets and doing photo triage. Lesson learned.

Second, we know how to operate our gear without thinking so we don’t miss a shot. That confidence comes from lots of practice when the pressure’s off. When we’re in the middle of a shoot, we don’t have time to think about how to set our camera’s white balance or how to cut the power in our flash. It needs to be automatic so we can focus on composition and capturing the moment.

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly | Beebower Productions

Take a Chance

Sometimes, no matter how well you plan, things don’t turn out as you expected. Case in point: Dad’s trip to Antelope Canyon in Arizona. He’d researched and decided to pay extra for the “photography tour” because photographers supposedly got more time to shoot in the canyon.

Unfortunately other tours ran through the same space at the same time, so it was a sea of humanity. Dad traveled light with one lens and a monopod. But even with that limited amount of gear he couldn’t maneuver well because the tour guides packed them in like sardines.

My Dad’s a perfectionist. So these conditions caused him to itch like a bad case of poison ivy. He knew he had limited time in the slot canyons. He also knew he wouldn’t be back in the area for a long time. So even though he really needed a tripod for a long exposure, a few hundred less people walking through his picture and something to keep the blowing sand off his camera, he took a chance. He hung back from the tour group, braced himself on a wall and waited for a two second break to snap this photo. He didn’t even have time to bracket before people started flowing through again.

If you know this is your one chance to capture an image but the conditions aren’t exactly right, take a chance. You might just be surprised at the results. Dad was.

Antelope Canyon | Beebower Productions

Sipping Lemonade

So the next time a photo shoot doesn’t work out as planned, take heart. We’ve all been there. Get creative, come up with a Plan B or C or D and take a chance. A positive, can-do attitude goes a long way in photography. These character-building situations create wisdom and confidence in dealing with future “failures”. Plus you might just get some tasty lemonade out of those lemons.

When Photo Shoots Fail

Pfeiffer Beach Drone | Beebower Productions

We arrived early and staked out our spot on the beach.  We waited patiently with other photographers for sunset at the magical Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach in California. 

Then we heard it.  A distinct hum filled the air and the heads of 12 photographers swiveled to and fro searching for the source.  It was… it was a drone, the bane of still photographers.  Most of us assumed the drone operator would be polite enough not to fly through our shot.  Flying above us was fine, but not through our scene.  We were wrong.

By now the sun had begun its slow descent into the ocean, so our gaggle of photographers, including Dad and I, quit looking at the drone and focused on capturing the moment.

Not two seconds later, that hateful little drone sped in front of the arch and zipped down the beach.  I heard a few muttered curses as our fellow photographers realized what was happening to their beautiful sunset shot.

I, meanwhile, focused on a rock formation far down the beach.  I thought I was in the clear.  I, too, was wrong.  The drone raced toward my rock.  Sure enough, it flew right through my photograph.

For anyone that possesses Photoshop skills, removing the drone from the image isn’t a big deal. I readily admit drones have produced some amazing footage never seen before.  But they’ve also annoyed a lot of people.  In this case 12 angry photographers kept shooting while plotting the drones’ demise.

So what happens when photo shoots go awry?  Do you give up and go home?  Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons photo shoots fail.  Next week we’ll show you how to turn lemons into lemonade. 

Garrapata Trio | Beebower Productions

Mother Nature’s Grumpy Side

Everyone talks about the creative and nurturing Mother Nature.  Photographers give her credit for stunning sunsets, beautiful rainbows and amazing fall colors.  But this venerable lady has a petulant side.  It’s not pretty.   Mother Nature can ruin the best-laid photography plans.

Dad needed a spectacular backdrop for an elk-hunting photograph. A blizzard in California nearly spelled defeat.  Semis slid off icy roads, wet snow fell and one team member lost his wallet full of money as they scouted locations.  Things just kept getting worse.  Route 5 near the border of California and Oregon shut down one hour after Dad’s crew found a good spot for the photo.  Mother Nature forced the team to hole up at a hotel and wait for the calm after the storm.

Mother Nature’s bag of tricks includes other elements like fog.  When I planned a sunset shot at Garrapata Beach in Big Sur things looked great.  A few puffy clouds floated above the ocean, suggesting a spectacular sunset with the colors of the sinking sun brushing the sky in rich hues.  I could see a fog bank way out in the Pacific, but it seemed so far away that I didn’t think it would be a factor.  Wrong.   That fog bank hopped the express train to the shore and completely blacked out the sunset.  I took a few shots anyway, but they were duds.

Coastal California’s winter storms pack an even more debilitating punch than fog.  High wind gusts knock down trees and giant waves wash away parts of the coastline.  After these storms Point Lobos State Park often shuts down until the staff gets things cleaned up.  I frequently found myself patiently waiting for the gates to open.

Closed Point Lobos Beach | Beebower Productions

Even after getting in the park, one beach remained closed every single time I tried to visit.  A storm washed out the staircase down to the beach and then harbor seals used the beach for pupping part of the year. Over the entire two years I visited the park, it never opened.

Photographers have a love/hate relationship with Mother Nature.  But she’s not the only force that can sabotage your photos.

McWay Falls with People | Beebower Productions

People Creating Problems

If there’s a rule, people love to break it.  I, along with about 20 other photographers, waited on the cliff high above McWay Falls in California for the sunset.  My mouth hit the dirt when I saw a group of people scrambling down the cliff toward the waterfall. 

Every two feet there’s a sign stating the beach was closed for safety reasons.  Not only that, the giant gaggle of photographers stretched from one end of the overlook to the other.   Obviously they were trying to shoot the waterfall.

This group of people walked right up to the waterfall and began a private photo shoot on the beach. I know they are hard to see this small version of photo but if I blew it up for a large print they are definitely visible.  Like the drone shot, the people could be removed in Photoshop.   But it was rude.

Sometimes the problem isn’t respect rather a lot of people crammed into a single small space.  One summer Dad found himself squished into the mass of humanity touring Antelope Canyon in Arizona.  The elder Navajos consider the canyon a cathedral where one should stop and prepare to be in touch spiritually.  While Dad was in awe of the slot canyon’s grandeur, it was hard to be in sync spiritually or photographically due to the sheer number of tourists running back and forth. 

The enormous traffic jam stretched through the entire narrow, winding quarter mile canyon.  Dad realized it was going to be mighty tricky to capture a decent photo without folks stepping into his picture.  He also battled sand that blew down from the rim on to his camera gear and mixed lighting that made him wish for a tripod.  But the rules said no tripods.  He would have to work very hard to capture even one image.

Whether they’re photo bombing pictures or squeezing photographers out of a prime shooting spot, people often force photographers to be more creative and work harder to get the shot.

Hugh on Monteray Bay | Beebower Productions

Animals on the Run

Like people wild animals can be downright uncooperative.  Recently our whole family embarked on an adventure to photograph elk in Pennsylvania.  After a lot of research we developed a very solid plan.  We’d stay in a cabin near a known elk hang out.  The cabin came with a built-in photography blind plus we’d be able to use the van as a rolling blind.  We tallied the odds heavily in our favor.

Unfortunately we got stuck in traffic and then took a meandering detour, so we were running late for our check in time.  We blew past a herd of elk on the way up the mountain.  Turns out those would be the only elk we would see on this trip.  Yep.  Not a single elk for two days.

On another adventure I took Dad on a whale-watching cruise in Monterey Bay, California.  I planned it during peak whale season, so a photo should have been pretty easy to come by.

I’d sailed with the Sanctuary crew before and always returned home with some treasure: photographs of a whale, a dolphin, sea lions, harbor seals, something.  Dad wasn’t so lucky.  We stayed on the water two and half hours.  Zilch.  Zero.  Nada.  Dad’s never looked at whales the same since that ill-fated trip.

Wild animals often disappoint photographers.  They are, after all, wild.  Capturing images of them requires persistence and patience.  But it really hurts when your gear fails you.

Variegated Fritillary Butterfly | Beebower Productions

Gear, Gadgets and Disasters

Beautiful light hit the flowers perfectly.  The butterflies flocked to my garden with the warm summer air.  I was getting great stuff.

The tinkling, clinking noise totally caught me off guard.  It sounded as if it came from inside my camera.  With dread I removed the lens and realized the mirror had completely detached and fallen out.  Thankfully it wasn’t broken but it did need a trip to Canon’s repair center for some TLC.

A couple years after the dreaded mirror incident my rechargeable camera batteries began playing mind games with me.  Unfortunately I first noticed the problem while bobbing on a boat in Pacific Ocean.

I’d diligently recharged my batteries the night before my big boat trip.  In fact, I had five batteries charged and ready.  So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed the low battery icon flashing on my camera display.  I’d only taken five photos.  It was strange, but I swapped out the old batteries for new and focused on shooting.

A few minutes later, the low battery icon flashed again.  What in the heck?!  Every battery did the exact same thing.

I was forced to shoot a frame and turn off the camera. Then I’d turn it on briefly with a fully charged battery to shoot another frame before the display began blinking again.  Not ideal.  I missed shots.  I got angry.  Then I drove home and bought five new batteries.  Rechargeable batteries do have a shelf life.

The Bottom Line

Nobody likes to discuss it, but there are plenty of reasons photo shoots fail—even for professional photographers.  But you don’t have to give up in defeat.  Next week we’ll take those lemons and tell you how to turn them into lemonade.

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