People often ask, “What’s the craziest or most dangerous thing you’ve done to get a photograph?” There have been quite a few wild and precarious situations Dad’s found himself in over 35 years of being a professional photographer. We’ve narrowed it down to the top ten stories involving our intrepid photographer. We’ll share five stories this week and the other five in part two. The rest of the stories, well, we had to protect the innocent so those are going into the vault.
#10 Duck Hunt
Folks love how serene and peaceful this photo appears. Looks can be deceiving. The shoot, however, started off well. Dad had found the perfect spot on Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. The lake wasn’t deep, but it had a thick layer of mud on the bottom. In order to pull off this shot, Dad needed a stable shooting platform, not a bobbing boat.
So he sunk an eight-foot ladder four feet deep in the mud. He built a platform that was held up by the legs of the ladder. The art director would watch from the platform. Dad had climbed higher up on the ladder and would shoot while perched on the steps.
Dad’s assistant Chris was on the far side of the lake in a special boat with a fog machine. His instructions were to lay down a thick wall of fog to mute the power of the sun and create softer light for the shoot. Task complete. Dad was ready to shoot, at least Chris thought he was ready.
Chris heard Dad screaming one thing on the radio, “Faster, faster, faster. The sun’s gonna burn through!”
Chris hit full throttle and screamed across the lake with mud and debris flying off the back end of the boat. Steering the boat while racing across the water, all the while laying down the thick fog bank, created enough air disturbance that nothing bothered him—unlike what was happening at the shooting platform.
Dad was in position. The model and decoys were in place. The fog looked good. Dad had coached the art director to remain very still during the shoot because of the long exposure of 1/15 of a second. Any movement would cause blurriness in the image. Just as he was about to click the shutter, the ladder began shaking back and forth. Then it stopped. Dad prepared to push the button again. More shaking. Then stillness. Dad’s finger inched downward toward the button. Shake. Sway. Shake. Shake.
“ENOUGH! What is going on down there?!” Dad demanded of the art director. “We’re about to loose the shot.” (OK. Maybe he used a bit stronger language, but it’s a family-friendly story here.)
Hundreds of bloodthirsty mosquitos had swarmed the art director who apparently neglected to use bug spray. Every time the A.D. swatted at a pesky mosquito, the platform and the ladder shook. Soon hungry mosquitos were running the show and causing a major headache for Dad.
This would be a good time to point out that mosquitos never bother Dad. It always annoyed my Mom and I when we were on adventures with him. Despite bathing in bug spray the suckers attacked us, but they never attacked him even without the chemical bath.
Anyway, the model and the decoys were perfect. The fog was just barely keeping the sun muted as the wind began to blow a tiny bit. In between shakes, Dad was shooting as fast as he could. The finishing touch was a pair of real ducks that flew through the scene at just the right time.
Dad managed to get seven to eight frames off before calling it a day. The art director was pleased with the picture even if he did look like he had bad case of very itchy acne over every inch of his exposed skin. Now they just had to dig that ladder out of four feet of mud.
#9 Storm on Caddo Lake
Dad loves to create the weather. Dust storm? No problem. Foggy morning? No problem. Torrential rainstorm? No problem. Except sometimes it does create a problem.
Dad traveled to Caddo Lake on the border of Texas and Louisiana to shoot “Storm on Caddo Lake”. It was an adventure filled with swamp creatures, electricity and lots of water.
Before the photo set up was even complete, Dad’s assistant Bob ended up in the swamp searching for a sledgehammer and his can of snuff that had sunk into the murky depths. If you’ve ever been around a swamp you know there are all sorts of reasons to stay out of the water—alligators, water moccasins and even leaches.
Yes, Bob emerged from the depths with the sledgehammer and his tin of snuff plus a few dozen leaches attached to him. Leeches can be a bugger to remove. After mumbling amongst themselves, the team eventually decided to burn the leeches off Bob’s arms.
Once Bob was dry and feeling better, Dad hung strobe lights in the trees around the dock. Everything that could be covered was enshrouded in plastic. Dad knew the next part of the shoot could give them all a big charge without a little protection.
The plan was to use the Hale pump to shoot swamp water up and onto the boat dock. Dad planned to deliver a severe rainstorm. However, the strobes needed a power source, so a generator was brought to the set. Water and electricity. Hmmmm…
That thought motivated Dad to shoot exceptionally fast. One small slip with the lights and everything could short out and explode. That truly would be a disaster.
There was another motivating factor to shoot fast, the swamp water falling on the set. You know, the water with leeches, snakes and gunk that fell on the model with alarming efficiency. Despite his raincoat, the model was trashed by the time Dad was finished shooting. He took several showers to wash the stench off and even while dry and clean the model vowed not to volunteer for a shoot ever again.
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.
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.
In order to get to 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 a sub-zero morning. In fact, Dad loaned the art director some extra clothing so he wouldn’t develop hypothermia on the shoot. (Remember the art director from “Duck Hunt” story? It’s the same guy in this story.)
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. 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.
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. You can read the full story here.
A rattlesnake almost ended this photo shoot. Dad and his assistant Chris were setting up the camera gear when Dad noticed a five-foot long rattlesnake just two feet away from Chris. It was hiding under a cholla cactus, but it was very aware of the duo invading its territory.
Without another thought, Dad grabbed the belt loop on Chris’s pants and told him to hang on to the camera as he yanked Chris away from the snake. Crisis averted. The camera was still in one piece. Chris was fine and the snake was relocated with the help of a shovel.
While Dad was distracted with the snake, the horses were creating a situation back at the corral.
Working with horses in a high-speed situation can be, despite all of the precautions you take, dangerous. In order to create the action in this photo, Red Wolverton and his wife Marge set up a temporary corral in Mendoza Canyon, Arizona. Red and Marge often provided horses, wagons, props and a great deal of expertise to Dad on his Old West shoots.
The couple was well acquainted with the horses in “The South Rim Horse Chase”. They owned the trio. One of the white beauties decided to act up during the photo shoot and created a ruckus as the horses were racing out of the corral toward the camera.
Marge, who was opening the corral gate, got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The horse stepped on her foot during the chaos. Thankfully it was just a bruise and not a broken foot. That’s not to say it didn’t hurt like the dickens, though.
A commercial advertising client wanted a photo with snow-capped mountains and a stream with rushing waters as a backdrop for his product. Dad already had the mountains and part of the river from an area in British Columbia. But the river needed a few more sections to be complete. Unfortunately his Canadian location was snowed in, so Dad had to look in Colorado to finish the photo illustration.
He did find the perfect spot near a campground in the Rockies. The stream had cut down into the rocks, so it was about a six-foot drop into the riverbed and down to the waterfall. The stream was really rushing because it had rained and snowed the night before. It was bitterly cold and there were sheets of ice along the edges that made moving treacherous.
No problem. Dad donned a homemade rope harness and the art director, a buff man with great upper body strength, held (yes, held) Dad above the river. Dad’s assistant Chris held on to the art director.
Dad shot like crazy. It began snowing. The river was spitting water all over him. It didn’t take long for the cold to really seep into his coat and boots and pretty much everything. He shot three magazines of film and then the group tore out down the mountain. Dad had a happy art director, a really nice photo and he managed to avoid hypothermia. You can read more about this adventure here.
Coming Up Next Week…
We’re just getting started with Dad’s adventures. Join us next week as we wrap up the top ten hairiest photo shoots of Dad’s career with stampeding horses, a little hypothermia, a scosh of dehydration, a tumble down the mountain and the craziest horse in the state of Arizona.