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…. 

Pack a One-Two Punch

Black-chinned Hummingbird and Autumn Sage bloom

Shooting Wildlife

When you’re shooting wildlife, you need all the help you can get.  You’re dealing with a moving subject that’s leery of humans, creatively composing your shot in your head and making sure all of the technical stuff like f-stop is right.  In addition to all of that, you need to pump some light into your subject to open up the dark areas around the face.  That means using a flash.

 

Visual Echoes Better Beamer Flash Extender | Beebower Productions

Most often when you’re shooting wildlife, you’re using a long lens between 300mm-600mm.  The light from your average flash isn’t going to travel that distance on it’s own.  As a result your picture often lacks any fill flash at all.  That can turn a potentially great shot into a terrible shot.  But the Visual Echoes Better Beamer Flash Extender pared with Canon’s Speedlite 580EX II packs a whopping one-two punch in getting light on your subject no matter the distance.

The Better Beamer gets the light to travel further by concentrating it through a fresnel lens held in place by two long black arms that are secured to the flash by Velcro.  The light travels right down the barrel of the lens and to the subject.  

Dad likes to attach his Speedlite to the Wimberley flash bracket that in turn is attached to his Wimberley head plus side kick on a Gitzo tripod.  He uses an off-camera flash cord to connect the flash and camera.

This has been a winning combination on Dad’s hummingbird shoots.  He can give the birds some room at the feeders or flowers, but still highlight the amazing colors of their feathers with his flash from a distance.  Of course he also uses multiple flashes at different angles on each side of the bird, but the Better Beamer is crucial to lighting up the front of the birds.

Beyond the obvious benefit of shedding light in dark areas, the Speedlite and Better Beamer combo have other advantages.  Because the light is concentrated, the flash uses less power than it would minus the Better Beamer.  This is a major plus when in the field shooting.  The flash refreshes faster between shots and requires fewer battery changes.  That means Dad has a better chance of nailing a great picture.  

Side Note:  Even though the flash is using less power, Dad doesn’t want to run out of juice in the field especially if he’s in a photo rich environment.  He uses a Canon battery pack with each flash.  It gives him more shooting time between battery changes.

Green Jay with Worm | Beebower Productions

The Beamer also allows you to get more f-stop and/or shutter speed than before because the light is concentrated on your subject.  This can be critical in capturing details like feather patterns on a bird or freezing a running elk.  Dad was able to capture feather and worm details on a green jay and its breakfast thanks to the extra f-stop from the Speedlite with the Better Beamer.  The light also filled in the facial details of the bird.

Another benefit with the Beamer is that the entire unit can be assembled in mere minutes.  Whip out the flash, attach the arms with Velcro and slide the lens in place.  You’re done.  Each component pulls apart and can be stored easily in a Ziploc bag.  

The entire Better Beamer weighs next to nothing.  Literally.  The flash weighs a lot more than the Better Beamer.  If you’re hiking a good distance to photograph rare birds, you’ll really appreciate this feature.  Really what photographer wouldn’t want less weight in his camera bag?

You may be wondering how the wildlife reacts to the intense light coming from the Better Beamer.  Dad’s been using the Beamer for about 8 years and he’s never had a problem with birds or other animals running away from the flash.  In fact, he says it’s almost as if nothing happened.  

How does he know?  Dad’s seen “repeat birds” after shooting in one location for a while.  If the bird has a distinct personality or unusual physical marking, he recognizes them.   He figures the duration of the flash is so short it must not upset them.  The camouflage ghillie suit he wears and the Lenscoat camera camouflage might play into that too.  After all, it’s what they don’t see that’s just as important as what they do see.  Nonetheless, the Speedlite/Beamer combo is great for the photographer and the wildlife.

The Details

Have we sold you yet on this extender and flash combo?  Then you’re really gonna love the price!  The Better Beamer sells for about $40 at places like Naturescapes.net and B&H Photo.  That’s a bargain considering how many options it gives you when shooting long distances.

The flash, on the other hand, will set you back about $550.  But the old saying “you get what you pay for” holds true here.  To capture stellar wildlife photos, you need stellar gear.

If you do decide to purchase the Better Beamer Dad recommends running tests at home before heading into the field.  Use a door or a wall as your subject.  Shoot pictures using the flash extender with different lenses.  Study how the circle of illumination on the door changes with the different lenses and distances from the wall.  This will give you a good idea of what to expect when shooting real subjects.

Dad also suggests taking lots of batteries and a back up flash plus another extender.  You never know when a bear might dig through your camera gear looking for the granola bar you stashed inside.  The gear might not survive.  Of course, you might drop the flash and have similar results.  Dad’s motto:  Always be prepared so you don’t miss the perfect photo opportunity.

So to sum it all up:  You can’t go wrong with the Visual Echoes Better Beamer and Canon Speedlite 580 EX II combo.  They pack a hefty one-two punch that will have you singing their praises for a long time to come.

A Blue Ribbon Day

The Great Horse Chase | Beebower Productions

Festival Fun

The morning started off with a bang.  Square, an on-the-go payment system we use at art festivals, wasn’t working.  The folks had just an hour before customers would show up at the 43rd Annual Ruidoso Art Festival in Ruidoso, New Mexico.  Stress.  Major stress.

After rushing out to buy a new Square part at a local store, the folks were in for a nice surprise when they returned to their booth.  Dad had won first place in the photography category with his picture “The Great Horse Chase”.

We’re new to the art festival scene.  In fact the Ruidoso festival was just our third show.  So the blue ribbon was a wonderful affirmation of Dad’s photography in this new venue. 

 

First Place in Photography | Beebower Productions

Quite A Surprise

“It was quite a surprise,” he said.  “You know you’ve got good stuff, but will the jury recognize it?  There were eight other really great photographers at the festival.  You never know what a jury will think.  It was very nice to be recognized.”

Prior to the festivals, Dad and his brother Gordon ran a corporate advertising photography studio for 35 years in Dallas, Texas.  It was during the later years of the corporate business that Dad first began taking Western photos.  

The timing was perfect.  Western pictures were in high demand.  As Dad’s unique photos got more exposure, he began to get clients looking for a bit of the Old West.  The work was pouring in as fast as Dad could shoot.  

Dad built up a sizable collection of Western and wildlife photos because he loved what he was doing.   In 2012 Dad and Uncle Gordon closed the corporate side of the business.  We reorganized Beebower Productions, Inc. to showcase Dad’s Western and wildlife photography through our website and at juried art festivals around the country.  

“Retirement” has been anything but sedate for Dad.  In addition to traveling to shows, Dad continues to shoot new Western and wildlife photos around the country.

So what is a juried art festival and how did Dad get interested in them?  As the name suggests, a juried art festival requires each applicant to submit a portfolio, images of his booth, a resume of his work and a fee to a jury of art critics or peers connected to that fair.  The jury evaluates the artist for originality, creativity, technical expertise and also the appearance of the booth.   Then selected individuals are offered a spot at the festival for a set booth fee.  Going the jury route ensures that the highest quality of artistic items are offered at a festival.  To be selected as an exhibitor is an honor in itself.

In addition to the entry judging, each show usually awards ribbons for the best artists in categories such as photography, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, etc.  Again, the artist must submit 2-3 three pieces of his best work for the jury to review.  The prize may be a ribbon or sometimes a cash award.  Dad submitted The Great Horse Chase and Horse Stampede at the Ruidoso festival.

Many festivals also award “Best in Show”.  The top artists in each category advance to the “Best in Show” competition.  This person must not only have outstanding pieces of art, they also must have a snappy booth to showcase their work.   

Dad first considered the art festival route after visiting me in southeastern Arizona.  I took him to Sierra Vista’s Art in the Park festival.  We saw several photographers selling their prints successfully and I knew Dad’s work would sell too.

After taking some time to reorganize the company, Dad jumped into the art festival circuit and hasn’t looked back.  His first festival, of course, was the infamous Art in the Park.   

Dad’s really enjoyed meeting folks and talking photography during the multi-day events.  It’s been a steep learning curve, though.  Dad knew the advertising industry inside out, but trying to figure out what will sell at art festivals has been a challenge. 

“The trick is discovering what people like and how much they’re willing to pay for it,” he said.  “Obviously advertising folks deal in big bucks, so you have to adjust your expectations.  That and figure out how to get all the stuff you need (like booth walls and photo inventory) from point A to point B smoothly.  You don’t know what’s going to work, so each time you just try to get better and better.”

In that spirit, Mom and Dad will be heading out to their next festival in Oklahoma City over Labor Day weekend, armed with a new lighting system for the booth and a new product line—notecards of Dad’s most popular images.  Oh, and the confidence drummed up by winning the blue ribbon at the last festival.  

Virtual Photo Scouting

Float Plane | Beebower Productions

Back in the Day

The Valdez oil spill made a challenging situation even more so.  The year—1989.  Dad had landed the Red Man Chewing Tobacco ad campaign.  He needed to find the perfect lake for his photo and to make the advertising director a happy camper.  Dad’s research led him to Alaska and a red float plane.  He jetted off to “The Last Frontier” in search of picturesque lakes, tools and props for his photo.

Upon arrival, Dad discovered the oil spill made acquiring some of that necessary equipment difficult.  He not only needed a great location, his scouting trip also provided the opportunity to lock in the float plane, pilot and tools like a hale pump that would be used to create a rain storm.  Unfortunately all of the pumps were being used to clean up Prince William Sound.  Dad spent a lot more time and money tracking down the pump he’d use on this multi-photo expedition.

Location scouting used to be an expensive and time-consuming event for photographers.  How did a photographer even begin to find the perfect spot for his photo much less the props and tools for the shoot?

Back in the old days, Dad started by looking at coffee table books on travel photography.  In the case of the Red Man ad, Dad knew Alaska would have the lake plus the mountains necessary to make the float plane photo pop.  The photo books gave him ideas of where to start looking for the lake in Alaska. 

From there Dad would make oodles of phone calls trying to determine if the area was accessible to the public, if permits were needed and how to reach the lake.  He would talk to national park rangers, the state’s film commission, float plane companies and hotels.  He would try to nail down as much information as he could before leaving Dallas.

Sometimes those phone calls worked, assuming the recipients answered and knew enough to help Dad.  Eventually, though, he’d have to fly to Alaska.  He needed to look through the lens at the location and make sure it would work.  He also had to find that pesky Hale pump in person because phone calls weren’t cutting it.

Today the Internet and other technology make virtual photo scouting much more successful, cheaper and easier.  Let’s take a look at some of the tools Dad uses now.

 

Today’s Tools

Magazine websites

Dad doesn’t do corporate advertising photography any longer.  He’s into the Western, wildlife and landscape photos.  He’s found great information about bird locations at Bird Watching magazine’s website.  Outdoor Photographer’s site has a whole section titled “locations” complete with pictures and detailed information on landscape locations.  Surfing magazines on the web can provide some excellent leads for locations.

Industry websites

If you want expertise, go to the experts.  Dad uses websites like NatureScapes.net because it’s put together by photographers for photographers.  Under the “articles” section you can choose “travel”.  A plethora of wildlife and landscape articles appear, each containing photographs and reports on that location.

In addition to organizations, photographers today usually have blogs on their websites, many with detailed information on shooting locations.  Often their images also have captions that give the locations.  If professional photographers are spending time in a certain area it’s a pretty good bet there’s something really exciting there.  Dad can quickly get a visual of the location and information about the area from his fellow photographers.

E-books

You can purchase and instantly download all sorts of e-books written by photographers, outdoor adventurers, travel writers, etc. These books give you photographs and information about locations around the world.  Often they give you the nitty gritty of visiting the area, too.  Simply use Google to search for key words on the type of location you’re looking for and all sorts of e-book possibilities pop up.

An e-book about photographing Big Sur actually saved our bacon this spring.  We’d heard about the fabled Keyhole Arch in California.  Dad and I wanted to check it out, but after two fruitless trips down the coast we came up empty.  We had directions from a website, but many roads in the area weren’t marked with a sign.  We had zero success until we got the GPS coordinates from the aforementioned e-book. 

Keyhole Arch | Beebower Productions

Google

Google’s powerful search engine can provide a plethora of tips for location scouting.  For example, if you search for Mendoza Canyon, Arizona you’ll quickly learn about the landscape from rock climbing and hiking websites, YouTube videos and Bureau of Land Management websites.  Google even pulls up photos of the area under the “images” section.

Dad’s photograph of a duck hunter at Lake Pontchartrain would have been much easier if he’d had Google at his disposal, but he had to location scout the 630 square miles of lake old-school style.  It turned out to be quite an adventure.  (You can read about that photo shoot here.)

Duck Hunt | Beebower Productions

Google Maps

Another great feature of Google that helps Dad is the map.  He can calculate drive time from his hotel to the photo set, determine the best way to reach the set and even get a satellite view of the area.  All of this helps him plan a successful photo shoot by clearly showing him how to allot his time for driving, what hotels are closest, and what the area looks like.

GPS coordinates

No matter how much research you do on a location, eventually you have to actually visit the spot to see if it will really work for your photo.  Dad’s found that even with the best directions, there’s one piece of modern equipment that can save you hours of frustration—a GPS unit.

Some locations can be buggers to find.  Take for example, the Keyhole Arch adventure I mentioned earlier.  We didn’t find Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, CA until we returned with GPS coordinates.  We wasted a lot of time and gas driving back and forth.  This little piece of technology can save photographers some major headaches when location scouting.  

Photoshop

We have one other piece of technology that gives Dad an advantage when trying to find the perfect setting for a photograph.  While Dad fully embraces the Internet for location scouting, Photoshop allows Dad to take images in multiple locations and merge them together into one image.  That means Dad doesn’t have to find the perfect location, he can make it in Photoshop.  That gives him great freedom compared to the old days where one photo had to have all the elements the advertising director wanted.

These tools have provided great information to Dad and allowed him to spend more time taking the photo rather than scouting the photo. 

What modern tools have helped you find the perfect location for your photos?

 

Working for a Living…On Vacation

Delicate Arch Runner | Beebower Productions

I found myself in the most miserable place on earth and it was my Dad’s fault.  Gnats swarmed so fiercely I took refuge under a canopy of towels.  That made a very hot summer day in a desolate stretch of Utah even hotter. And the dust.  Dust crept under the towels, into my sleeping bag and clung to every inch of my clothing.  And it was all my Dad’s fault.

When I was a child we spent almost every summer camping out West while Dad scouted photo locations.  He called it a vacation.  But my “What I did on my Summer Vacation” paper at school never sounded remotely like my friends who went to the beach or the Big Apple on their summer vacations.  My paper recounted camping with mountain lions, dealing with gnats and hiking trails in 100 degree heat.

I sort of blamed my Mom for some of this.  After all, she went along with the “working vacation” idea.  I did, however, realize she was my one hope of vacationing in a city with air conditioning.  So I laid most of the blame at Dad’s feet.

 

Canon EOS-ID Mark IV camera, Canon 400mm/f5.6 lens

Why, Dad?

A couple of days ago I asked Dad why he pursued the working vacation idea all those years ago. He said, “I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but we had limited resources so I thought it might pan out.  Look at it this way.  We kept going on these things.  I don’t know if that was good or bad.  Maybe both.”

Over the years we’ve wandered around Big Bend National Park, the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, Canyon de Chelley, the Hubble Trading Post, Mesa Verde, El Morro, Newspaper Rock, Chaco Canyon, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, White Sands, Arches and Canyonlands National Park to name a few.  I think Dad would have gotten along famously with Lewis and Clark.  All three have a penchant for discovering the unexpected out West. 

Back to the Gnats

That brings me back to the gnats.  Our campground at Arches National Park seemed to be infested with the gnats.  Our first clue should have been the campground’s name—Devils Garden.  We should have run in the opposite direction as fast as possible because those little gnats were devils in disguise.

Naturally none of the gnats were attracted to Dad, just Mom and me.  Even with bug spray the darn things wouldn’t leave us alone.  Apparently this is a well-known seasonal affliction at the park.  Lest you doubt me, the park even has a webpage describing the little buggers’ life cycle.   Of course back in the mid-80’s there wasn’t an Internet, so we walked into our camping spot none the wiser.

To escape the gnats and to help Dad find great photos, we spent a great deal of time hiking around the park.  We’d start off super early in the morning to avoid the heat.  Early morning.  Not a great time for a kid.  There may or may not have been some serious grumbling at the alarm clock (a.k.a. Dad).  Anyway we’d hunt for the perfect arch, landscape shot or whatever else Dad dreamed up.  

 

Mom and Dad | Beebower Productions

Even Troupers Have Limits

One morning we headed out on the appropriately named Devils Garden trail hoping to see all 8 arches.  Everything was hunky dory until we reached ankle deep sand, the heat skyrocketed and the breeze jerked to a halt.  So did Mom.  She’d been a trouper, but she calmly declared she was done and looked for a big rock with shade she could sit under it for a while.  I can’t really blame her.  It was a 7-mile, hot trail.  Dad and I forged ahead making it to the spots he wanted to see.  We picked Mom up on our return trip.

While Dad didn’t take too many pictures on this trip, he actively looked for locations.  He would return two years later to take his photos of Delicate Arch.  So despite the traumas, the trip to Arches was a success.

Naturally that success fueled more trips.  Mom always seemed to be game for the expeditions.  She enjoyed traveling and seeing new things.  She did, however, have her limits.  

“I hate trudging through sand and it seems like there’s a lot of it in the West.  I enjoy the outdoors and the scenery to a certain point but I wanted to see something else eventually.  My favorite places were historical spots, like the Native American sites,” she said.

Dad tried to accommodate her by visiting places like Chaco Canyon or the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad.  But Mom always came prepared to entertain herself while Dad was out exploring.

“Sometimes I went and other times I stayed at the campsite.  I always had music, a book to read and some sort of needlework.  If you went to a site to photograph, you could be with him for hours.  It just became boring,” she said.

In my young mind, I agreed with Mom.  These trips could be boring when waiting for Dad to finish a photo.  So I resorted to building rock houses for my doll, making up wildly imaginative stories about stuff that happened in the park we were visiting and reading a lot of books.

 

Dad at White Sands | Beebower Productions

Looking Back

Eventually the family vacations came to a close.  I headed off to college and Dad’s commercial photography business reached a point that he traveled extensively to exotic locations on fully funded business trips.  

Looking back, I can see the value of all of the “working vacations” that I so bemoaned as a child.  I love our great country from the bustling cities to the vast wilderness out West.  It’s hard to imagine the pristine ribbons of sand running through White Sands National Monument without seeing it in person.  I doubt I would appreciate the numerous Native American cultures in America had I not spent summers visiting Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelley and Mesa Verde.  I certainly wouldn’t have learned to enjoy the stillness and serenity of the sun rising over a herd of bugling elk at the foot of the Grand Teton Mountains.

So thanks, Dad.  Thanks for dragging me all over the West and making me get up super early to see sunrises.  Thanks for driving thousands of miles with a companion who constantly asked, “Are we there yet?”  Thanks for all of the great family stories we created.  And thanks for instilling in me a love for capturing the moment with my camera.  Those working vacations weren’t too bad after all.

P.S.  Thanks Mom for indulging me with that much coveted summer trip to the city.  The air conditioning was heavenly! 

Chasing Dollars

South Rim Horse Chase | Beebower Productions

So you want to be a professional photographer.  It’s expensive, right?  You buy high-priced gear like cameras and lenses. You purchase a computer and photo processing software.  You find  a studio or workshop plus some advertising.  And you might want to throw in a few photo classes and some insurance.   That all adds up really quickly.

But I bet you’ve never considered the cost of actually taking a photo.   We’re giving you a peek behind the scenes this week and sharing what Dad actually paid to create some of his favorite photos.

Producing these images is more than just snapping a photo.  Dad choreographs these photo events like a ballet.  They require photo assistants, wranglers, land permit fees, modeling fees, props, expensive camera gear and travel expenses.

Big Budget Shoot

We’ll start with the South Rim Horse Chase.   During the peak of Dad’s Western shooting in the early 2000s, he dreamed up a simple action shot of a cowboy roping horses.  Executing that shot would be anything but simple and definitely not cheap.  

Dad hired cowboy extraordinaire Red Wolverton from the Wolverton Mountain Movie Ranch to coordinate the horses, the wranglers, the roper and handle safety issues.  Red lived in southeastern Arizona and knew just the spot to shoot this action packed scene.  He negotiated fees with the owners of the King Ranch at Mendoza Canyon.  The day of the shoot, Red showed up early to create a temporary corral and a chute made out of orange construction fencing.  

Meanwhile Dad made preparations from Dallas.  He hired a photo assistant to accompany him to Arizona.  He arranged with his brother (and business partner) to run the studio in his absence.  He packed up gear, bought the film and drove west.

Then it was show time.   Red’s wranglers moved the white horses through the corral and to the chute.  Dad only had four passes to capture the action of the cowboy roping the white horses.  Timing was everything.  Plus he needed to finish the shoot in one day to keep costs down.  

He succeeded!  Then he roared back to Dallas to get the film processed and scanned at his professional lab.  So the South Rim Horse Chase’s price tag included:

Red Wolverton’s Services

$3,500

King Ranch Fees

$500

Photo Assistant Fees

$800

Travel Expenses

$500

Film Processing & Scanning

$800

Grand Total

$6,100

The bottom line would be much higher today due to inflation.  Have we shocked you yet?  Yes, these old West puppies were pricey.  

However, during this time, Western images sold like hotcakes in the advertising world.  Dad, through his fabulous stock agency Sharpshooters, would make enough in sales to cover his next Western shoot.  He continually re-invested in the business.

Mendoza Canyon Pack Horses | Beebower Productions

Back to the Canyon

Next up, Mendoza Canyon Packhorses.    This shot didn’t require coordinating action, but it Dad needed two photo assistants.  One ran the fog machine in the background of the photo and the other assisted Dad with film loading, moving equipment, etc.

Again Dad brought Red on as the photo coordinator.  Red scouted locations, settled on the King Ranch and negotiated the fees.  He provided the horses, the pack gear and was the cowboy in this shot.

Dad paid travel expenses from Dallas to southeastern Arizona for himself and two assistants, plus film and processing back in the city.  He also would need scans and duplicates made at the lab.

Mendoza Canyon Packhorses comes in well under the massive South Rim Horse Chase budget but the bill still packs a big punch:

Red Wolverton’s Services

$2,000

King Ranch Fees

$500

Photo Assistant Fees

$900

Travel Expenses

$500

Film Processing & Scanning

$400

Grand Total

$4,500

Whooping Crane Taking Off | Beebower Productions

Wildlife vs. Westerns

How does shooting wildlife photos compare to the super expensive Western photo events?  Animal photographs also carry a big price tag, although not the staggering amount of the Westerns.  Photographers must find the wildlife, travel there and, in many cases, pay fees to access the land where the animal lives.

A couple of years ago, Dad decided to photograph the endangered whooping cranes near Port Aransas, Texas.  Whooping cranes forage in marshes and shallow water for plants and animals like mollusks, fish and frogs.  One of the few ways to get close enough to photograph these birds, even if you have a 400mm lens or longer, is by boat.

So Dad hired Captain Kevin Simms with Aransas Bay Birding Charters to take him out one cold February day.  When I say hired, only three passengers went out on the Jack Flash—Dad, my Mom and her friend.  That cost a pretty penny.  But it was worth it. Captain Kevin got Dad to the right spot for some spectacular photos without the hassle of shooting of around 10 other semi-serious photographers all vying for the same image.  That can get pretty ugly.

So here’s where the money went:

Travel Expenses

$500

Boat Charter

$550

Grand Total

$1,050

That’s certainly better than the South Rim Horse Chase budget, but still a big chunk of change.    The whoopers, however, paled in comparison to Dad’s next photographic quest, hummingbirds.

Broad-Billed Hummingbird at Yellowbell Bloom | Beebower Productions

Madera Madness

Dad traveled to Madera Canyon, Arizona to capture this broad-billed hummingbird’s photo. Madera’s known as a birding hot spot, especially during the spring and fall migration season.  You could see up to 15 different species of hummingbirds not to mention rare birds like the elegant trogon in a trek through this mountainous area.

We stayed the Santa Rita Lodge’s cabins, one of three lodging possibilities in the canyon.  Since the closest town is down the mountain, you save time staying at the lodge plus they maintain feeders that bring hummingbirds in droves.

Before he left Dallas, Dad created a special five-flash light ring and a two-flash backdrop for this shoot to ensure all of the feathers glittered on the birds and the wing action was frozen.  That meant he bought the wood, hardware, paint, foam core and five new Canon Speedlite flashes.  

Dad saved money by using me as a photo assistant.  We purchased hummingbird feeders and several native potted flowers to help attract the birds to our cabin.  

Using all of these items, we created a photo set just for hummingbirds behind our cabin.  Here’s how the costs break down:  

Travel Expenses

$500

Santa Rita Lodge (4 nights)

$520

Props

$100

Hummingbird Photo Gear

$3,000

Grand Total

$6,100

As you can see, photography isn’t a cheap business.  Capturing amazing images requires a great deal of work and money on the photographer’s part.  

By now you may be wondering how on earth do photographers make any money?  I find the term “starving artists” very useful.   However, there are a couple of ways to recoup the money invested in a photo.    But we’ll have to save that for a future blog.

Now that you’ve gotten a glimpse behind the costs in photography, what do you think?  Will you be jumping into professional photography any time soon?  I think Dad’s happy with his choice to pursue photography even if it meant skipping a few meals out because he was a starving artist.  

Get Great Beebower Photos & More!

Receive our Photo of the Month Newsletter with tips, techniques, and more fun stories!
Plus be the first to know about events and special promotions!

You have Successfully Subscribed!