I have been snapping shutters for many years, but only in the past 2 years have my photos begun to really show the mood and personality that I want in an image. The reason I am beginning to capture great photos, is largely due to two secrets I’ve learned. I am shooting with the same entry-level DSLR camera that I was using 5 years ago – but the quality of my images has greatly improved.
Last week they preg-checked about 800 cows. It was an ambitious undertaking, even in good weather! With shorter days, just getting it all done in daylight would be a challenge. As if things weren’t interesting enough – a snowstorm rolled in during the night, and preg-checking would happen in an all-day snowstorm!
But ranchers are tougher than most, and they bundled up, saddled up, and were out at the first gray light – pushing cows through the alley to the chute. The vet was there, apron on and wand in hand. The snow swirled as they worked – a couple guys in the back, pushing cows, a couple in the alley, moving the cows into the chute, a few guys at the head – checking numbers, running the chute, writing down info.
One man sat in the truck, out of the snow, so he could write down each cow’s information. That seemed like the best spot to be, on this stormy day! (Although he’s the kind of guy who’d rather just be out there working with the others, I think. ) Anyways, each man had his job to do, and they did it well. I didn’t help, but I did go out and take pictures. As Dave Stoecklein said:
“The worst weather makes the best pictures.”
He is so right! My photography made a huge leap when I read that and started implementing it. I wanted great photos, but my natural instincts and personality make me stay indoors (or at least in the truck) when it is bad weather. Especially cold! But I read that by Stoecklein, and decided to put it into practice. It worked! I started getting images far more interesting than those I captured from the comfort of my truck or house or behind the fence.
I started getting up early to catch sunrises. I bundled up to get snow images. I just got wet capturing spring rainstorms. (maybe I should get a slicker? 😀 My fingers went numb from standing on a cold hillside on a chilly fall day. But my pictures began showing mood and interesting elements that they’d been missing.
I still dislike cold. I would much prefer to live somewhere tropical – somewhere that palm trees grow and the worst weather is storms over the ocean! But for now, I am here in Wyoming where weather is usually bad and always cold. And I will continue capturing the ranch life through snow and below-zero temps. 😉
Another secret to great photos is one I learned from Chris Dickinson. I stumbled across his images on Instagram several years ago, and was immediately struck by the amazing action moments he captured! In your face brandings, over-your-head horses, and hooves just inches away. (that’s how it looks, anyways!)
“Don’t be afraid to get in close to the action!” Chris Dickinson
Chris is not afraid to get in close! He will let calves nearly run him over – and his photos show that intensity. It is mesmerizing – I study each picture at length, feeling the whoosh of air as hooves rush past, smelling the cow-trampled dirt, hearing the swoosh-and-thwack of the rope as it settles around the neck.
You don’t get that kind of action from the other side of the fence! You have to be in there, smelling, hearing, feeling. I have no desire to become the next CD Photog, (even if I could) but I did learn to get in a lot closer, feel the action, not insulate myself from the experience. Again, my photos improved. I began catching the cowboys’ expressions, the cattle’s motion, the mood of the moment.
You can read all day about photography, but the best way to improve is to get out there and start experimenting. If you make some terrible shots, ruin some perfect moments – that will teach you faster than anything else, what not to do. It will force you to learn how to fix it and get better!
Another great way is to invest in a photography course or workshop. This will give you hands on help for your specific issues. It will teach you how to get great photos faster than just google or experimentation.
Leave me a comment and tell me what is your biggest challenge in making great photos?
Branding season is upon us, and it is great! Warmer weather, lots of friends, and of course, roping – if you’re into that sort of thing. 😉
We went to our first branding on May 6, and had a great time. There was quite a crowd to help out, and we got to catch up with lots of friends. Some I hadn’t seen since last year.
The older kids rode along and Jenni even roped a couple calves. I kept the two little ones with me, and we came later, helped with the food, and played with friends.
I did enlist my teens to check on the sleeping toddler while i snuck in the pen and grabbed a few closer photos. It is hard for me to get in there and get the shots I want – I am always afraid I will be in the way, ha!
I have been so stinkin’ busy with the spring rush, that I just haven’t taken much time to write. I have been working in my garden and taking care of kiddos… I will write a garden update in a few days or weeks, haha!
“A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations,
but look what they can do when they stick together!”
The snow started last night and kept right on falling all through today. It is still snowing, even though night has fallen and all the children are tucked in bed. I think we have over a foot of snow, not counting the drifts. Of course, there were drifts and several inches already here – but now the lowest spots are still over a foot deep!
Today I spent 6 hours decluttering, sorting, and organizing my house. When I was finished, I bundled up and went outside with my camera. It was my reward for a hard job well-done. I walked down past the barns and corrals, down to the horse pasture. I walked through the ditch, and the snow was up to my waist! I snapped some photos of the horses for my online gallery. It was fun to get some fresh air and some good pictures. I really enjoy taking time to indulge my creative side!
I opened my online gallery this week, and to celebrate, I am offering 15% off when you use the code WELCOME. The sale only goes till January 7, though, so hurry over and check it out!
You can buy prints or ready-to-hang wall art, like canvases. Or you can buy digital downloads that you may print yourself.
Check it out here—> ~Kay Schrock Photography~
While these storms rage – for there have been several – my husband feeds the cows and works in the shop. But me and the children, we stay warm and cozy beside the fire inside our little house. When the children are finished with their schoolwork, they get out books to read and games to play. Sometimes they play Chess or Candyland. Sometimes they draw pictures or write stories. Sometimes they watch Netflix shows like “CHOPPED” or “Dick Van Dyke”. We drink hot tea and eat thick slices of homemade bread, slathered in butter and crabapple jelly. It is all quite cozy and satisfactory.
A good bed of coals in our stove.
I hope wherever you live, wherever you call home, is as cozy and sweet as it can be. May your winter be warmer than ours, but if not, may your stove be warm and your hearts full of love.
“So all night long the storm roared on: The morning broke without a sun; In tiny spherule traced with lines Of Nature’s geometric signs, In starry flake, and pellicle, All day the hoary meteor fell; And, when the second morning shone, We looked upon a world unknown, On nothing we could call our own. Around the glistening wonder bent The blue walls of the firmament, No cloud above, no earth below,— A universe of sky and snow!” ― John Greenleaf Whittier
Last week was the TA branding. For many of the buckaroo guys in this area, it is the highlight of the year. They have lots of calves to rope, and they head & heel them. There were people from as far as Texas and Nebraska and Colorado, this year.
Cliff surprised me by setting up a babysitter and hotel so I could go with him! It was my first time to the TA, but hopefully not the last. I’m sorry to say I did not react very well when Cliff told me that he was taking me along. I immediately said: “I don’t want to go!” He looked at me like: ‘what is wrong with you?’.
“You will be riding and I will be sitting in the dust”, I explained.
“No, you’ll be riding with me – I’m taking a horse for you.”
“But you will ride over a hill, and that’s the last I’ll see of you! Then I’ll have to figure it out alone with strange people I don’t now!” I was verging on panic. My heart was racing just thinking about it. I’m not the most rational when I am faced with the terrifying thought of being left alone to look like a dunce in front of talented people, I admit.
“No, you just ride with me. Go wherever I go,” he said calmly.
It sounded nice – kind of like Ruth loving her mother-in-law; I’ll go where you go, and stay where you stay, and all that. I relaxed a little. Maybe it would be ok. Surely he wouldn’t leave me stranded in a strange country.
We started out about 5 pm, then stopped at a neighbor’s to pick up his horse, so he wouldn’t have to drag a trailer over there, too. We headed up through the tight little valley road between Chugwater and Bosler. The sun was beaming its golden evening rays over the grassy hills, the road was nearly empty of vehicles, and the occasional homestead nestled among the willows and cottonwoods like a child curled up in a cozy blanket.
But the tranquility was not to last. About halfway through the valley, our truck lost power. We pulled over on the grass at a wide spot in the road, and shut it off. Cliff looked under the hood and couldn’t find anything wrong. We let it set a few minutes, then started it up again. Yep. Ran ok, so we continued. But the peace was gone. When you have a trailer full of horses on a winding narrow road, and it’s nearly dark and no phone service – well, it bids fair to be a long night.
After a few more minutes of driving, we repeated the scene. Lost power, stopped, sat, re-started. At this point we knew we weren’t going to make it another 2.5 hours that night without help. We turned south to Laramie instead of north to Bosler. We found an auto parts store, and had the guy read the codes with his code-reader. Then we called our buddy (whose horse we were hauling) since he was just behind us, and he came and hooked onto the trailer. Cliff replaced the fuel filter right there in the parking lot. (Shout-out to handy men who know how to fix their own trucks!) While the men tinkered and fixed and talked; I sat in the truck and read a book. I was glad I had tossed in a book as an afterthought – I had an entire 2 hours to read uninterrupted! (Yes, I am a mom, why do you ask?! 😉
Anyways, they finished just as the sun was setting and a massive thunderstorm was rolling in, obscuring the remaining light behind giant brooding clouds. We fueled up and grabbed a burger before continuing on. Our friend Tim followed us, to be sure we made it ok. Just after we started out again, the heavens opened, and it poured buckets of rain! Lightening lit up the sky, turning the low clouds a soft pink.
Cell phone lightning
We made it to the ranch about 11:30 pm, instead of the 8 o’clock we had planned. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, and we unloaded the horses in the dark. By the time we got to the motel, it was midnight, and we had to get up at 3:45 to make it back to the ranch and saddle up by 5:30…
The landscape was wide open, as it always is in Wyoming, morning sun streaming over the clean prairie, birds swooping and jackrabbits sitting quite still – pretending to not exist as we drove past. I soaked in every piece of it, from the tiny wildflowers to the high, long plateaus in the distance. We were driving over an hour through Wyoming’s back country, over knotty dirt roads and winding two-tracks.
As we rounded a final corner, the old ranch homestead came into view, nestled beside a stand of aspens, and surrounded by tall, lush grass, dotted with black cows. There were cattle panels set up to make a branding trap, and trucks with their trailers were lining up just beyond the trap. The guy in charge of parking stopped us to tell us where to park, but he didn’t realize we were in a very mushy spot in the grass. We got stuck. And the 4×4 wouldn’t kick in. Of course. So we jumped the horses out (to make the trailer lighter), and still we were stuck. They had to pull us out.
Soon we were mounted, got instructions, and we were off. Mind you; I had knots in my stomach the size of baseballs. I hadn’t ridden since last September, and this was a horse I hadn’t ridden before, and I was in a group of more than 50 of the best horsemen in this area!
I started off about the middle of the pack, and my horse was fresh, as expected. As we picked up to a trot, my hat flew off. Of course. Cliff picked it up for me, and I literally wadded it up and stuck it inside my jacket. I knew the wind would blow it off again.
Then I began to feel like I was falling. I wasn’t, not really, but it sure felt like it! Here I was, in the middle of a pile – I mean a pile! – of great riders, and I am hanging on to the saddle horn! These guys swing into the saddle and trot off as smooth and easy as riding in a car. They re-coil their rope, check the horizon for cows and the best place to cross the creek, and they never mind their horse.
Then here I am, kerflopping along like a schoolgirl on a draft horse, hanging on with both hands and panicky yelling over to Cliff; “I can’t do it! Something isn’t right! I’m gonna fall OFF!” I truly thought I was gonna fall off my horse right in the middle of all those cowboys. If I had – I hope I would’ve been run over and please be knocked unconscious, because – oh the shame! My horse was happy to be going, and she wouldn’t slow down for me, I was scared to stop her completely, for fear we’d get run over, and also, I was worried I’d get left behind and I didn’t dare go on alone, my first time to the ranch, and all. But I didn’t fall off. I finally realized what was wrong – my stirrups were much too long, and trust me; too-long stirrups are the worst. After we got out of the pack and everyone pulled up a bit to go separate directions, we stopped and Cliff adjusted them for me. Whew. Much better!
I managed to drop back to the back of the crowd, so as to avoid being watched. I was having a hard time choking down my slice of humble pie. It was better from there out.
Till we hit the creek. The first few crossings were ok, the paint horse jumped over easily. But then we came to a wider spot, and at this particular spot, everyone was waiting till we all crossed. I came up almost last, but they were sitting there watching. Of course now my horse decides she doesn’t like to jump creeks She gingerly stepped around by the edge, until I finally poked her a little with my stirrups. She instantly LEAPED across, nearly leaving me behind! I hung on – I didn’t fall off! But it wasn’t pretty. I sure hope those guys got a little chuckle out of it, because I was sure not feeling amused. I was rather grumpy with the whole proceeding at this point. Wondering why on earth I even tried to ride… a new place, a new horse, a crowd of 50 strangers – I only knew 3 of them – what was I thinking?!
The cowboss told me and Cliff to stay at a certain spot to guard the creek crossing. OK, he asked Cliff to watch it; I just ‘helped’ because I wasn’t leaving his side for anything! So we’re sitting there, waiting for the cows to cross the creek. After they get across pretty good, Cliff tells me: “Just stay here, I am gonna go check something.”
And there he went, trotting up over the hill.
That was the last I saw of him.
I sat there till the last of the cows crossed, then trailed slowly behind the cowboys as they pushed the cows up the hill toward the branding trap. I couldn’t see Cliff anywhere. I kept brushing my bangs out of my eyes, (stupid hat!) searching for him among the spread-out crew. But men look amazingly alike when they are all wearing the same type of clothes, wearing the same type of hats, and riding brown horses! The Paint horse had figured out by now that I wasn’t Cliff, and she decided she didn’t want to do anything. So I went from hanging on for dear life, to kicking her in the ribs to even walk. She was just moseying along, taking her sweet time and disdaining my gentle guidance.
I saw a few guys glance back at me, straggling along there in the back, like: “What is she doing back there?” So I trotted up closer, and pretended to act like I knew what I was doing, by riding the flank. Finally I did see Cliff, but he was busy pushing the slow calves, so I didn’t bother him; just kept meandering along the flank.
When we had pushed all 700 cows and their babies into the branding pen, Cliff helped hold them, while I actually did something useful for the first time all morning; I ran after a few calves that squirted off. I was hanging back to stay out of the way, but ended up being in the perfect spot to run after the calves. Thankfully, my horse is pretty cowy, and she liked to run after the calves, so I basically just pointed her in the general direction and she’d dash after and turn it back. I just had to hold on.
Well, eventually they had them all calmed in the pen, and held with a solid line of cowboys. At that point I tied my horse to the trailer, and dug out my camera. The rest of the day was spent taking photos and talking to a friend that was also there with her husband and family. It was such gorgeous weather, the breeze kept the hot sun bearable, and it wasn’t very dusty.
Ranch mommas unite!
I enjoyed myself – after those first crazy minutes running in the crowd. The thought that kept running through my head that day was: “just another chance to humble yourself, Kay. You’re really not that great of a horsewoman, are you? Just humble yourself and ask for help. Stop being so proud.”
I talk to myself a lot.
I also told myself: “Well, it’s your own fault for not crawling on a horse in the past 8 months. Get out there and start riding!”
Sure, I had a foster baby the past 6 months, but still. Now I don’t.
Now I need to ride.
Still madly in love with this man after 15 years!
Tell me; have you ever made a fool out of yourself? Really? I’d love to hear about it! 😀
A few weeks ago, we drove to CO to help a friend brand his calves. We took several friends along to help rope. My husband enjoyed it more because it was a head & heel branding. We are kinda partial to the buckaroo style.
I am leaving this as a photo post, hope you enjoy!
Early morning in the horse barn.
Waiting for their turn in the branding pen.
Head and heels…
There were several kids who had never been at a branding before. They enjoyed setting ropes and just holding calves.
We went to help our friends brand calves yesterday. Cliff loaded up the horses and older kids and left by 5:30 am. I woke the little ones and fed & dressed them and followed in the suburban by 6 am. (We can’t all fit in the truck, so I had to drive separate.) It was a gorgeous morning, sun rising through a bit of clouds and into a clear sky.
By the time I reached the ranch, the cowboys were almost done gathering the cattle. The lane runs through the pasture, so I was surrounded by cowhands at one point. It always feels a bit like I’m living in a western movie set, when I see cowboys riding down the hills on either side of me. Never gets old.
Looking for strays.
The wind wasn’t too bad, thankfully, so the baby didn’t have to gasp for breath. 😉 Babies just don’t appreciate this Wyoming wind much. I strapped him in the stroller, and assigned an older kid to keep track of Reata while I ducked around horses and cowboys to take as many pictures as I could. I knelt in some questionable damp stuff with my new jeans – yuck. And I was awash in branding smoke most of the time, but I did get a couple of nice ones, in between feeding and changing the baby, and getting him to sleep.
My 3 older kids.
Brandings are a favorite time of year for most ranchers. We reconnect with friends and neighbors – some we haven’t seen since last year’s branding! We share jokes and tips and stories of the past year. We gather for a huge feast afterwards, always a highlight! Yesterday they served prime rib, which is a very delicious cut of meat. Most of the time if a fellow ranch wife comes to a branding, she will bring a dish to add to the table… a pie or salad or some rolls. It is not required, but always appreciated.
Dragging to the fire.
Cliff and Jenni wrestled calves a while.
And remember, calves hide (skin) is ‘way thicker than yours, so branding them is not nearly as painful as it would be for you. 😉 And besides that, it is required by law.
The snow started falling on Wednesday evening. The kids looked worriedly out the window, afraid the storm would prevent our friends from driving up for Thanksgiving. The snow continued through the night and most of the day Thursday, but our friends bravely ventured out and made it in time for lunch! We were so happy to host a large gathering this year. Our house has a huge dining room in it so we seated everyone with ease. (23 people)
This morning it was snowing again, lightly, softly – and I laced up my Whites, zipped my parka, and headed out with camera in hand. I love catching ranch life during a snowstorm. There’s so much ‘feel’ to it!
At one point, my fingers were freezing from being out of my gloves too often, so I hung out in the barn and blew on them warm them up. The barn is always full go fun things to photograph, anyways. A good day to not be a horse! Although their thick winter coats keep them toasty, don’t worry! God designed them in a very special way to insulate them and protect them. The cattle were enjoying some hay, unmindful of the snow piling up on their backs. That’s a good thing, by the way, when the snow piles up on their backs. It means they are not losing body heat. The hair and hide do such good job of insulting them, that the snow doesn’t even melt! God is an amazing Designer, and you can rest assured knowing His plan is perfect. I hope your Thanksgiving was pleasant, and your days warm!
One fine, windy day in October, my husband needed to doctor a couple heifers. It was close to the house, and my mother-in-law was visiting, so I drove her out to watch her son rope stuff. I parked in the pasture and snapped the shutter as my husband was chasin’ cows.
Gettin’ his eye on the sick one.
This heifer had foot-rot, (if I remember correctly) and in typical cow-fashion, the minute you start swingin’ that rope, the ‘sick’ bovine decides it is quite healthy after all! Off she goes, fast as her legs will take her… which isn’t really very fast, if you know anything about cows. (calves, on the other hand – those babies can make time!)
Not every catch is picture-perfect. Sometimes he catches only one foot, other times he misses altogether. But that’s real life with pasture-doctoring. We don’t go to many rodeos, but when we do, we often remark: “hmm, would like to see him do a little pasture-doctoring on a windy day!” 😉 You keep practicing and improving, but you have to get the job done, whether it’s a windy day, your horse is feeling cranky, or the snow is blowing. Cattle health waits for no man. (or woman!)
Meanwhile, the rest of the cattle were just taking it easy… munch a little here, taste a mouthful there…
And just plain relaxin’! Once the cow is down, my Man gave her a shot and a couple pills. HUGE pills, by the way, called bolus’s. Yuck.
Then he let her get up, and off he went to catch the next sick cow. Hope your day is lovely, warm, and not windy — especially if you’re chasin’ cows!