Bugaboo Falls

Bugaboo Mountain Falls | Beebower Productions

The wheels were turning in his mind.  Spectacular waterfalls.  Cascading streams of water.  Powerful torrents pounding the rocks below.  Dad could see it in his mind.  Now he just had to find it.

From the minute that Dad learned advertising executives were looking for a spectacular waterfall as part of their new ad campaign, he began researching potential spots even though the advertising execs hadn’t decided which photographer would win the assignment. 

Undeterred by this minor detail, Dad flew to Canada, a place his research confirmed had many spectacular waterfalls, to hunt for the perfect one.   First stop on his quest–the remote Bugaboo Falls in British Columbia, Canada. 

To reach the waterfall, he and his assistant zoomed down 50 miles of rutted, rough logging roads in their rented truck. The duo then hiked down into the river valley lugging camera gear (which meant they hiked back up hill too) for Dad to get this shot. 

This photo could have been taken with any number of cameras.  Dad chose the Horseman SW-612 for several reasons.  The waterfall was quite wide.  Since this was taken in the days of film and Photoshop was in its infancy, shooting the picture correctly was of primary importance.  A panoramic camera would allow Dad to show the full width of the falls without distracting distortions that could happen with a regular 35mm camera and wide-angle lens.

The Horseman is a lightweight camera compared to other medium format rigs.  Since Dad was hiking to the falls, every ounce counted. 

The camera also had a viewing lens on top along with masks to fit three different size lenses.  It was almost like using a view camera, a tool that many landscape photographers routinely used.  A view camera is a heavier and more expensive option than the Horseman.

Finally, the size of the film played in Dad’s favor.  Knowing that the advertising execs would blow the image up to billboard size, Dad chose the Horseman because he could use 120 roll film as opposed to 35mm.  The large size of the 120 roll film provided more detail and resolution, something you definitely wanted if a photo of epic proportions would be greeting you along the highway.

To create that epic photo Dad got up very early one morning waded knee-deep into the water at the base of the falls and set up his heavy-duty Gitzo tripod in the swirling, churning waters.  He shot for about two hours, choosing a slow shutter speed to create the foamy streams of water cascading over the rocks.

All of that hiking and shooting created a big appetite.  Once the shoot was in the can, Dad scrambled out of the river and exchanged his muddy duds for clean jeans.  He and his assistant headed up river for some goodies at the ski resort along the creek. 

They didn’t stay long, though, because a giant storm was pressing down on the area.  They needed to get off the logging road before it turned into a muddy monster that could suck a small truck into its depths.  The pair made it safely back to Radium Hot Springs before the worst of the storm hit.  Despite the quick exit, it had been a successful day at the waterfall.

Upon his return to Dallas, Dad learned that the advertising folks did want him to shoot the ad.  He showed them the Bugaboo Falls photo along with several other locations and then waited on their decision.  He waited.  And waited.  And waited. 

The advertising team finally decided they wanted to use the Bugaboo location, but it was December and the range was buried under 30 feet of snow.  (That wasn’t a typo.  They really get at least 30 feet of snow in the winter.)  That extreme weather also freezes the waterfall during wintertime.  So Bugaboo Falls was a no-go for this particular ad campaign.

Luckily Dad knew how ad agencies worked.  He already had a “Plan B” ready for the ad folks in case they took too long deciding on Bugaboo.  He would piece together three different photographs from Canada and Colorado to create the perfect backdrop for beer sales.  At one point, he would find himself dangling over a half-frozen creek to get “a part” of the shot.  You can read all about that adventure here.

While the advertising folks weren’t going to use the Bugaboo photograph, Dad realized he had a very nice image to add to his portfolio.  Plus he had a great story on the lengths he’d go to make his clients happy. 

 

If you like this photo, check out some more fun Outdoor Art!

Canadian Mountain Wilderness |
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Packhorse Rider Fog | Beebower Productions

Keyhole Arch | Beebower Productions

Waterfall People | Beebower Productions

High Country Elk Hunt

High Country Elk Hunt | Beebower Productions

Things weren’t going well.  Dad and his team were searching for a spectacular mountain backdrop for an elk-hunting photo.  Besides the normal time constraints on a photo shoot, a giant winter storm was pressing down on Siskiyou County, California.

Semis were sliding off icy roads, wet snow was falling and one team member lost his wallet full of a large sum of money as the team 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.  The team holed up at a hotel and waited for the calm after the storm. 

The next day things were looking up.  Dad retrieved the art director from the airport.  The roads reopened.  The snow stopped falling.  The shoot was definitely on—with one little hitch.

Dad thought Mt. Shasta, a 14,162-foot volcanic peak in northern California, would be fantastic.  He also knew the mountain was often shrouded in clouds.  The day of the shoot, Dad needed a “Plan B” because the mountain was, indeed, completely obscured by clouds.   When he turned around Dad saw “Plan B”.  It was the perfect spot for his elk hunt photo, but it would prove to be a challenging place to reach. 

The previous night the blizzard dumped 2 ½ feet of snow on Siskiyou County.  In order to reach an elevated shooting spot, Dad thrashed his way through thick mountain laurel and a lot of snow in the semi-dark hours before sunrise. 

He wound up with snow down his jacket and icy fingers despite heavy gloves.  He wore layer upon layer of clothes for the early morning shoot because of freezing temperatures, but it was an arctic morning.  In fact, Dad loaned the art director some extra clothing so he wouldn’t freeze on the shoot.

Everyone was cold, including the mules.  They had to forge a way up to the ridge in the photo.  There was no road or trail.  Mules can be stubborn.  To get the authentic look of working pack mules, the model, who also happened to own the mules, led the team in a circle across the ridge, down the ridge and back up again.  The mules got a bit testy after the first two passes.  They did not appreciate multiple trips sliding around and trudging through deep snow.

But things finally started to come to together for Dad.  The sunrise was perfect.  The assistant laid the fog in the background at just the right place and the mules were doing the right thing.  Dad used a Mamiya RZ67 with a 50mm wide-angle lens for this shot and it proved to be the perfect fit for the shoot.

When he returned to Dallas and warmer temperatures, the only change he made in Photoshop was to remove a small part of Route 5 that was visible in the lower right part of the frame.  Everything else looked great.

There was also good news for the team member who lost his wallet.  After the snow melted in the spring, the distraught man found his wallet exactly where they’d parked the horse trailer.  All of the money and credit cards were still there.  The man decided he did want to remember the photo shoot after all and requested a print from Dad.

As Suzy Toronto said, “Plan A is always my first choice…the one where everything works out.  But more often than not, I find myself dealing with the upside-down version where nothing goes as it should.  It’s at this point the real test of my character comes in…Life really is all about how you handle Plan B.” 

The “High Country Elk Hunt” photo shoot was indeed a character builder, as Dad would say.  But despite numerous setbacks, Dad’s determination made a wintery mess look like a serene Old West photo.

Madera Canyon Magic

Broad-billed Hummingbird at Cardinal Catchfly Bloom | Beebower Productions

Hunting Hummingbirds

If you want stunning hummingbird photos head to the magical Madera Canyon in Southeastern Arizona.  At any given time, 15 different types of feisty little hummingbirds pass through this mountain oasis.

These little birds have their own magic act.  Their speed makes them appear and disappear as fast as Harry Houdini.  They can fly forward, backward, side-to-side, straight up and even hover.  They are fascinating little creatures.

Our first trip to Madera sprang from Dad’s quest to perfect the art of hummingbird photography.  Dad didn’t just want a picture of a hummingbird, he wanted to see every colorful feather and stop the wing action.  But the birds’ amazing flight speed, agility and small size made them hard to photograph. 

In order to fine-tune his shooting, Dad needed lots of willing hummingbird models.  Madera had them by the hundreds.  Over the next couple of years we would repeatedly visit the canyon.

 

Santa Rita Lodge | Beebower Productions

The Santa Ritas

Madera Canyon and the Santa Ritas are part of a sky island chain, mountains that rise up out of the desert floor creating several habitats that support an astonishing array of plants and wildlife.

Madera Creek provides a seasonal supply of fresh water that draws bears, bobcats, mountain lions, coatimundi, deer and over 250 types of birds.  You won’t run out of stuff to photograph here assuming you can actually find all of these wild guys.

Our base of operation each time we visit this mountain sanctuary is the Santa Rita Lodge.  Not only do we have a cabin overlooking the creek, the owners have created a huge feeding area that attracts hummingbirds, woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches and a plethora of migrating birds.   Since the birds are used to stopping by the lodge, it’s a cinch to attract them to your cabin’s backyard.  Put out a few extra feeders and potted flowering plants and your yard is irresistible to hummingbirds.  Get a recipe for hummingbird juice here  .

The first time we visited Madera, it was a trial run of what Dad thought would work to photograph the hummingbirds. He’d run successful test shots with the birds in his own backyard and figured he was ready for Madera Canyon.  Nothing prepared him for the hordes of hummingbirds that began showing up at our cabin.  That sounds like a great thing, right?  Our plan was working with one little problem.

An Early Version of the Hummingbird Set | Beebower Productions

Testing and Trying

Dad said, “I thought, ‘Holy mackerel!  Look at all of the hummingbirds coming to our feeders.’  But I found out really quickly how frustrating photographing hummingbirds can be when they show up in mass numbers.  We had to revise the lighting and the feeder, move the stands and recalculate the distance of the camera from the background.  It was challenging.  But I finally found a combination that really worked.”

Bringing out the full array of iridescent feather colors requires light to hit from many directions.  To capture these glittering jewels of the garden, Dad experimented with many lighting and background options. 

In the end he devised a custom-made light ring that holds five Canon 580EX Speedlite flashes set at 1/64 power.  The light ring sits in front of the modified hummingbird feeder.  Two additional flashes illuminate the green-screen background located behind the feeder.  Dad uses one flash on the camera with a Better Beamer Flash Extender to light up the front area of the bird.  Phottix Strato II radio signal devices trigger all of the flashes.

Broad-billed Hummingbird at Yellowbell Bloom | Beebower Productions

Lessons Learned

The Canon EF 400mm/2.8L IS II USM lens with a Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II helps Dad fill the frame with these tiny powerhouses of the bird kingdom.   On average his camera settings were ISO 250, f/22 at 1/500 of a second.  This combo gave Dad his favorite Madera shot “Broad-billed Hummingbird at Yellow Bell”. 

Does all of this sound complicated?  It is!  In November we’ll be unveiling a downloadable hummingbird diagram with instructions in our store.  The diagram will include set-up pictures and information like the distances between the camera and light ring, flash instructions and hardware resources.  OK.  That’s the end of our shameless commercial. 

Over the next couple of trips to Madera, we learned some valuable lessons.  Always use sandbags on your light stands.  You never know when a nice gale-force wind might whip down through the canyon. 

Bring lots of umbrellas, scrims or flags.  There are plenty of trees shading the cabin backyards, but throughout the day you’ll have periods of choppy light hitting your photo set.  Blocking or softening the light creates better images.

If you run out of umbrellas or flags, you can race down the mountain to Wal-Mart in Green Valley and buy several patio umbrellas on clearance.  Just remember those gale-force winds might shred your recently purchased emergency umbrellas.  So keep an eye out for wind changes. 

Use radio signal devices on your flashes.  That annoying choppy light can really mess with infrared triggering systems.  Dad had to switch to the radio signals because the sun would set off half of the flashes before he fired a shot.  Premature flashes drain batteries quickly.

One other lesson, don’t forget to enjoy the rest of Madera Canyon.  The hummingbirds are amazing but we had other creatures like baby squirrels and acorn woodpeckers hanging out on set with the hummingbirds.  Taking a hike through the wildflower meadow while butterflies dance around you, following the soothing sounds of Madera Creek and eating an ice cream bar while enjoying your porch swing have their own magic.

Baby Squirrel | Beebower Productions

Bee on a Wildflower | Beebower Productions

If You Go

  • Stay at one of the three lodges or the campground in the canyon to save you valuable shooting time in the morning and evenings. Make reservations well in advance as everything in the canyon books up quickly.
  • Fill up the gas tank and buy food in Green Valley, AZ.  Bring lots of water.  There are no stores to buy supplies in the canyon.
  • The best time to see large numbers of hummingbirds is during the spring and fall migrations in March/April and September/October.  You also might get to see migrants like elegant trogons, lazuli buntings, grosbeaks, tanagers or a variety of warblers.
  • Make sure you pay the $5-a-day U.S. Forest Service use fee.  Rangers actively patrol and will ticket you.
  • Watch out for rattlesnakes, mountain lions, bobcats and bears.  The most common of these guys are rattlesnakes.
  • If you’re not used to a 5,000 foot and higher elevation, take it easy for a day or two and drink lots of water.  Some people aren’t bothered at all and others feel terrible.  Among other things, you can develop shortness of breath, headaches and sluggishness.
  • Cell phone service is spotty in the canyon.  Plan accordingly.

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

Techniques

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.

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