Nick the cowboy
A little over a year ago I did an outdoor session with my brother, Nick, while back in Vermont. Nick is an outdoor kind of guy: a wildlife management major, avid archer, member of the local rod and gun club. At the time we did a Daniel Boone-themed shoot , complete with coonskin cap, bow, and arrows. The results were pretty darn cool and Nick loved them. Which is saying a lot for a kid who has never liked having his photo taken.
So image my surprise when he asked me to do another session with him this summer while I was in town. Seems that he’d gotten a new .45 Henry rifle that he was keen to show off. And a new cowboy hat. The theme was clear – we were headed west!
Granted, the first obstacle was to find a setting that looked “western.” There isn’t a lot of open plain in Vermont, and while there’s plenty of milking cows, you’ll be hard pressed to find a herd of longhorns. But we did have a family friend who owned a gravel pit and, while the words “gravel pit” don’t exactly conjure up an image of John Wayne, it was as close as we were going to get to Wyoming in a visual sense, so we drove out one evening just before sunset to make the most of it.
And you know what? It worked out pretty darn well! As the sun set it moved in and out of the clouds, affording us a whole range of light intensities and colors, which we augmented with flash as needed. And even though we really only worked in a 10×10 meter area, we managed to get several unique looks out of it, all of which played to the concept that Nick and I had for the session.
The biggest challenge here was keeping the photos dynamic. In our last shoot, we were working in the woods along a frozen stream. So even though the lights were stuck in one position, both Nick and I were able to move about in the landscape and use it – the stream, the trees – as elements in the image. But the gravel pit was just an open space, so it was a little harder to get that same variety, to use the space as part of the images the same way. But we managed. We climbed on and around some small dirt piles, and even up the side of the pit bank itself.
We had a great time, but in all honesty this isn’t the sort of session that I’d do with most people, just from that standpoint of having a rifle pointed at me! Yes, it’s unloaded – we didn’t have any ammunition with us at all – and Nick is truly an expert, to say nothing of being a stickler for safety. He took Mandy and I shooting at the range last fall and I was very impressed with how much he knew, and with the emphasis he placed on safety. Plus he’s my brother, so I trust him, enough to put myself on the business end of a Henry rifle.
But that’s not something I think I’d be comfortable doing with most other people.
I finished the photos in Photoshop with a light application of old film toning. It skews the colors just a little, giving the photos a slightly faded, slightly warmer red look than they’d usually have. Again, in keeping with out theme, trying for a slightly vintage look. I guess that as I was working, both on-site and later on the computer, I kept trying to channel a bit of Sergio Leone and that spaghetti western feel.
The main thing is that Nick was happy with them. Another happy client – and a brother who has twice now enjoyed modeling for photos more than he’d ever have expected. I can only hope that our sessions will continue, although I’m not sure what we’ll come up with for the next one. A fishing-themed shoot? Or maybe I can get him to wrestle a bear…
As we finished that night, we shot a few frames of Nick walking away from the camera, sort of that “end of a long day on the range” feeling. So I’ll close with that, and then one last photo, a near silhouette against the sunset. Because really, that’s how westerns are supposed to end.