Peruvian Pasos and a Small Miracle

William and the Mares

William and the Mares

In April of 2004, I attended a photography workshop with Tony Stromberg and on a late afternoon we visited a Peruvian Paso ranch in New Mexico. There, under towering Cottonwoods, we photographed Peruvian yearlings as they flew around a grassy pasture like a flock of birds. Manes and tails waving, heads held high…their eyes dancing…I fell in love with them as they braved the space between us to bless me with their breath. While the group was eating lunch, I was drawn to a chestnut stallion standing in the barn.  I loved him before I even touched him, and silently ran my hands over him and picked up a brush from a nearby tack box to trace the lines of him  before he was brought out to an area for us to photograph him. I didn’t know his name, yet felt I’d known him for years. When his handler, Ginger, introduced him to us as Domecq, I realized he was the same horse I’d admired when I saw him in a Robert Vavra book many years before. I am happy to say I got to meet him again and create images of him before time took him to higher pastures.

Now I travel to the Peruvian Pasos and stay with them for days, meeting them in the magical moments before the sun crests the mountains and weaves it’s way through the trees to light the steam coming off their backs in the winter or lay golden kisses over their shoulders in the summer. When the light is “not right” in the middle of the day, I sit with them as they lay in the grass and walk with them as they graze, enjoying watching their herd dynamics and integrating into the herd itself. I tell folks sometimes that I am 99% horse and the other 1% simply allows me to walk upright and carry a camera. When the light starts to dance it’s way toward the horizon I spend several more hours photographing the horses as they graze, interact, and frolic. Why ask them to “do” anything? The beauty of them is that they “are.”

On a recent trip to La Estancia Alegre, I was able to bring my husband with me and let him get to know better this breed of horse that he has rarely met. He is a novice horseman and is just becoming comfortable with the horses as he is also starting to truly love them. On a misty afternoon right before a thunderstorm, we wandered into one of the pastures where four chestnut mares perked their ears and focused bright eyes on us as we meandered toward them. About 100 feet away from them, I asked my husband to kneel down and invite them to come to him with no speech, using only his soul as his voice. I looped around to the left and watched. One mare bobbed her head and took a step toward him. That’s all it took for the other three to join her as they started walking toward him. They were so gentle, approaching him like a foal in the grass, circling to come up behind him and to his sides. My husband looked at me a bit nervously to see if it was “ok” and I smiled, nodded, and walked out to a space in front of him to get in a good position to photograph what I saw was going to happen. Each mare touched him on the shoulder or head with her muzzle and one mare in particular was very curious about him, breathing him in and whisking her muzzle over his head. All thoughts of concern went away and I could see the smile building on my husband’s face. A transformation occured as he found the joy in the experience and I believe this small miracle, gifted by these mares, will stay with him forever.

Below are some of the images I created while with the Pasos while we were there:

Tesoro

On an overcast late afternoon, I photographed the lovely stallion Tesoro by a patch of flowers next to the main barn. Within moments after this image was made, the rain started to pour down.

Paso Mare and Foal artistic poloroid transfer

The next morning a light mist still prevailed which saturated the colors of the horses. In this image, I’ve created a Poloroid Transfer Artistic Impression of the original photograph of this stunning mare and her young foal. Although the rain required cover for both my cameras/lenses and me, it sure helped with the otherwise ever-present mosquitos!

Paso Foal Sepia Artistic Impression

This brave young filly kept running off by herself in the evident  joy of simply feeling the wind over her body and hearing the sound of her own hooves making music. She often darted and dashed so fast that it was a challenge just following her with the camera. Isn’t she lovely? This sepia inspired Artistic Impression was a joy to create.

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Way Up High on the Mogollon…

William Merritt singing Glory Trail
William Merritt singing Glory Trail

My husband, William, and I were traveling back from a short vacation in Sedona and decided to take the long way back to Tucson through the Mogollon Rim area north of the towns of Strawberry and Pine, AZ. One of my favorite songs that my husband sings is The Glory Trail, a song based on a poem by cowboy poet Badger Clark originally named High-Chin Bob (read the poem on cowboypoetry.com ). I often ask my husband to play “the kitty-cat song,” which I fondly call it, and so we pulled the truck over at the top of the Mogollons and drove down a dirt campsite road to a spot surrounded by tall pines and no people. There, with two very interested chipmunks, a kaibab squirrel, and some bluejays as the audience, my husband recorded The Glory Trail. To hear him singing, visit his website music page and enjoy!

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Art Spur: Heading Out

Heading Out

Heading Out

One of my images, Heading Out, was published on cowboypoetry.com as an Art Spur feature. Art Spur is described on the website as “It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words…we know many that are worthy of a poem. In Art Spur, we invite poets to let selections of Western art and photography inspire their poetry.” I invite you to visit the Art Spur page and read the resulting poetry that was inspired by this image. One of the poems is by my husband and is his first Western poem, about a son who is curious to know what his mother does out at the ranch when the rest of the family goes to church on Sundays. In the last verse, you will find that this woman and I have much in common in our feelings about the sacredness of the nature.

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Picture the West: August 31 publication

Today, several of my images were published for the Picture the West feature on cowboypoetry.com . I wanted to share them here with you as well.

Chasin' Clouds

Chasin' Clouds

This image was created for a project with Donnie Blanz (donnieblanz.com) which included his songs and my images and aired on Blue Highways TV (bluehighwaystv.com), a division of RFD-TV. Will Scott, a long-time cowboy and upcoming actor is the rider in this image, made at the Cocoroque Ranch just west of Tucson a couple of years ago. “Chasin’ Clouds” is the image that will be seen in all the promotions for the 20th anniversary of Festival of the West (festivalofthewest.com) in 2010.

A Cowboy's Reward

A Cowboy's Reward

Meet Colter Moore, a young cowboy and horseman who works on the Price Canyon Ranch in Rodeo, Arizona. While riding out one evening in 2006, Colter paused at the edge of a rim overlooking the valley and looked at the storm clouds rolling in. We made it home just as the rain started to hit.

Morning Gold

Morning Gold

In 2006, at the Price Canyon Ranch, I got up early to photograph in the early morning Arizona light…truly golden. The rancher’s daughter came into the meadow by the pond and this image jumped into my camera.

Dawn Blessing

Dawn Blessing

Kristin True, of the White Stallion Ranch in northwest Tucson, was out very early in the morning ponying one of her horses before the busy ranch day started. This image was made in 2006 and it continues to be one of my favorite images of a real working ranch woman. That summer, the entire riding program was being taken care of by women.

Synchronicity Ride

Synchronicity Ride

While out at the Price Canyon Ranch in Rodeo, Arizona in 2006, my novice horseman husband (left) came on a ride with Colter Moore and me. He was just starting to “find the canter” and I suggested that he and Colter ride across a stretch of land awhile and that he mimic whatever Colter was doing. The resulting synchronicity was beautiful.

Don Godard

Don Godard

Don Godard of Cornville, Arizona, is a true cowboy whose reputation is well known up in his part of the Arizona desert. In his seventies, he still actively works cattle. I met him while vacationing at a small ranch in Sedona two days after this year’s Arizona Cowboy Poetry Gathering (azcowboypoets.org) in Prescott. Our host let us know that he would be out by the cows early in the morning to take a few head off the ranch. Easy going, full of stories, he had the cattle loaded lickety-split and leaned on the gate to talk a bit before heading off. Sycamore Springs has cottonwoods for cover in a little valley with a spring running through it, and an hour passed in what seemed ten minutes. In that time we went from a handshake to a hug and I do believe I’ve found a new friend.

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Hollyhocks: A Poem by Audrey Hankins

Hollyhocks and Straw Bales
Hollyhocks and Straw Bales

My dear friend, Audrey Hankins, gave permission for her poem HOLLYHOCKS to be posted on my blog. This is the first poem I remember hearing Audrey recite. When I was photographing Wilbur-Cruce Spanish Barb horses by the Dragoon Mountains here in Arizona, I saw some growing by the stables and thought of Audrey. I plucked one stem and created this photograph just for her. Enjoy her poem! (© Audrey Hankins 2002. Do not print or re-post without permission.)

 Hollyhocks and old ranch wives,

Both thrive on so little care,

Bringing beauty to barren places,

Enduring year after year…..

 

They’re talkin’ again, the old men,

Reliving their glory days

Cattle they caught, horses they made,

Cowboy pride, cowboy ways.

 

An old wife moves among them,

Invisible but for coffee pot,

They don’t see her leave, or care that she goes

To smile and tend her hollyhocks.

 

She shares no glory stories,

Her choice, a supporting role.

Freeing her man to follow his call,

She felt privileged just to fill a hole.

 

She was the one left holding the gather,

For hours she’d highpoint alone,

‘Til  she often wondered if they’d changed the plan,

Forgotten  her and gone on home.

 

Ridin’ drag with her little kids,

She ate dust while planning meals.

No good hand could be spared for that,

He wouldn’t remember how it feels.

 

She did up the jobs left undone

By men with better things to do

Doctored horses, milked the cow,

Ran the kids to school.

 

She brushed the backs of  her bucket dogies,

The way mother cows lick their calves,

‘Til they glowed and gained on her tender care.

She never nurtured by halves.

 

Now her waist is thick, her hair is thin,

And her knees are stiff when she walks.

A solitary figure out in the yard, 

Humming and tending her hollyhocks…..

Hollyhocks and old ranch wives,

Both thrive on so little care,

Bringing beauty to barren places,

Enduring year after year.

 Audrey Hankins, 2002

 Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2004, COWBOY POETRY THE REUNION

To see more of Audrey’s work and read about her, visit her page on cowboypoetry.com

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Ever Feel Like You're Being Watched?

Burrowing Owl in the Sunlight

Western Screech Owl in the Sunlight

For the past few years, we’ve seen what I thought were burrowing owls, but I’m finding are Western Screech Owls, at night by our home, but never during the day.Today, while photographing a dove nest in a cholla, I felt like I was being watched and then heard soft owl sounds. I turned and saw bright yellow eyes staring at me through an Ironwood tree behind me. Walking just a few steps to one side, I was able to find an opening in the branches to photograph one little guy through. We’ve seen four, and three of them made themselves known while I stood there.

Burrowing Owl in the Shade
Western Screech Owl in the Shade

 

A few more steps to the side…barely breathing…I tried to see the second one from where I could hear him. One more soft chortle and I saw him through another set of branches, in the shade. I made a few images, then backed away and and watched them settle back into the root structure at the base of the tree. I lost track of time as I quietly knelt in the shade of a nearby tree and watched and listened to these magical little beings.

 

Dove nest in a cholla cactus
Dove nest in a cholla cactus

This is the dove nest I was photographing when I heard the owls. The owls were only about ten feet behind me, deep in an Ironwood tree…if I hadn’t been at this nest, I would have not known they were there.Isn’t this a really well made, and safely placed, dove nest? Taking lessons from the Cactus Wrens, it seems. Mama Dove was eating Saguaro fruit just a few feet above and to the side of me. Didn’t seem bothered at all, which pleased me. I don’t like to disturb any of the critters I photograph.

Dove on her nest, two eggs under her
Dove on her nest, two eggs under her

Here is the dove who was eating Saguaro fruit. When I knelt in the shade to watch the owls, I heard a flutter to my left and this Mama settled back into her nest no more than six feet from me. Keeping an eye on me, to be sure, but confident enough to return to her nest and rest.

Between her and the owls today, I got some lovely, peaceful moments.

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Our Companion Cats, and a Surprise Feline Portrait Session for my Mom

Neysa

Neysa

Our cat Neysa, a manx, in one of her favorite “safe places”…between my husband’s feet while he’s sleeping. Although I was a bit sneaky in making this image, when my husband woke up he loved it and it’s still one of his favorite images.

Neysa

Neysa

My manx girl, rescued from the Humane Society. She came home with me after several trips there and several dreams that wouldn’t let me NOT bring her home. She was pretty wild at first and is now a close friend and lovely “little bobcat”. When we pet or pat her, she wags her little stump of a tail like a dog.

Gypsy Rose

Gypsy Rose

Our cat, Gypsy Rose. She came from a woman who’d lost her husband and had to let many of her animals go. Rosie was “Sissy” when I found her, but she told me her secret name and so it goes. She also came to us pretty skittish, although bursts of affection defined who she’s become now. She is everywhere with me, my pocket kitty, who is a kisser. Rosie is a Turkish Van, with one green eye and one blue eye. And yes, she KNOWS she’s beautiful!

Gypsy Rose

Gypsy Rose

Shhhh…she’s sleeping with her little friends by the Christmas Tree. This is our Gypsy Rose in a moment when she didn’t know the camera was on her. I guess she wanted to make sure the little blue pegasus didn’t fly away.

Silver Sage, aka The Button

Silver Sage, aka The Button

This is Silver Sage, aka The Button (as he’s cute as one). He is an American Shorthair, with “ticking” (stripes on the legs and tail that make him unshowable that I LOVE). He came from a woman who lived in a little trailer with far too many cats and I paid more for him than any other cat I’ve had in my life (more than one weanling colt I bought several years ago), but he is worth all the gold in the world. I’ve had cats since I was bequeathed one at 20 minutes old, and he is one of the most special (shhh…don’t tell my other cats) felines to grace my life. He came home “on trial” for a Christmas Eve present and the decision was made to never let him go, within seconds of placing him in my husband’s lap.

My Mom's Bengal, Suki

My Mom's Bengal, Suki

While my Mom was away on a vacation, I took the opportunity to photograph her cats so I could present her with Mother’s Day photographic prints of them. My husband graciously wiggled feathers, made funny noises, and kept the other kitties occupied when I got the attention of one in a particularly delightful moment. The cat above is Suki, who like a hummingbird flitted and flew around the room during the entire “session”, then settled for one moment on top the couch and gave me this beguiling look when I squeaked at her.

Mom's Rescue Kitty, Phoebe

Mom's Rescue Kitty, Phoebe

Mom’s sweet rescue kitty, Phoebe…yes, named after the “Friends” Phoebe. At first a fairly wild, skittish kitten, she has matured into a loving, elegant cat.

My Mom's Cat, Mystye

My Mom's Cat, Mystye

What is making Mystye so focused? And, OK, a bit crazy eyed? Why, it’s the Australian Shepards outside the French Doors looking in. The windows on the doors are typically “kitty TV” and she sees lots of bunnies and birds…but the DOGS are on the WRONG side of HER house! Next image is of her “barking” at them…otherwise known as the officially correct term “macking”. Any of you cat folks out there will know what sound I’m talking about!

My Mom's Cat, Mystye

My Mom's Cat, Mystye

This blog entry is dedicated to all the people who have asked if I only photograph horses. 🙂

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The Visible Horse

Visible Horse

Visible Horse

     When I was growing up with my horses, I was passionate about drawing them. I was not very good at it, hence my becoming a photographic artist. I started with the form as I saw it and wondered why the legs looked all wrong and the shading was somehow “off”.  I found a wonderful book by Sam Savitt that unlike all the other books on drawing horses that emphasized circles and lines concentrated on the skeletal and muscular anatomy of the horse.  The light went on in my head and my horses developed some beauty as they galloped and reared on the pages of my sketch book. When I joined the veterinary science 4-H club, I was fascinated with the intricacies of what truly “formed” the horse.

     I was blessed to live in Tucson, where Al Marah introduced me to the Arabian breed. Although I’ve yet to own one, I’ve managed and trained on Arabian ranches, and have enjoyed the breed on other ranches I’ve worked on…and many of the horses I photograph are Arabs. Bazy Tankersly and her horses intrigued me, as most of my horses were Quarter Horses and the Arabian was so different. In addition, I was an ardent fan of Marguerite Henry (author) and had read about the foundation sires in King of the Wind a couple dozen times by the time I was 12. The first crush I remember having on a horse was Mrs. T’s Canadian Beau…a stunning bay stallion with a heart of gold and a truly sane temperament.

Visible Horse: Skeletal side

Visible Horse: Skeletal side

      Somehow I’ve never bought or been gifted with the Invisible Horse model that I’ve seen for years, nor as yet do I own the Breyer model of the Visible Horse. But I have been blessed to see a living vision, a visible horse painted onto a champion Arabian, moving from a stand through the walk, trot, and canter as it was presented at Al Marah a couple of months ago. I don’t believe there was a person in the audience, from child to experienced equestrian, who did not learn something from Susan Harris’s presentation. God bless Susan Harris for not only her creative vision but for traveling around the world to paint horses everywhere for us to see and learn from. Now I KNOW why horses get “cinchy”, beyond any knowledge or intuition I had previously, as well as a deeper knowledge of why it is so important to keep your horse active to condition it properly.

Visible Horse: Musculature

Visible Horse: Musculature

     When the arena presentation was over, I asked if the horse might be able to come into the sun for some formal portraits as the shaded arena had not allowed for great photography. Very kindly, one of the Al Marah staff accommodated the request and immediately a couple dozen cameras and cell phones came out to document this living work of art. Hoping to photograph the horse in action as well, I also requested that the horse be put at liberty in a small arena.  A few minutes later, I was in the arena with him and two wonderful gals who moved him around while I photographed him at the trot and canter. I got down low and created some head portraits and worked to create an image that would allow the viewer to see both sides of him at once. This was very challenging, as he was distracted by all the action and crowds outside the arena and was at liberty. I only had two micro-moments when he turned quickly and I saw THE image I was hoping for. The resulting image is the one at the top of this entry.

     I do not know the name of the horse or of it’s owners. I hope to find out so I can gift them with a print. Susan is on an extensive tour, and I will be contacting her to show the images to her to see if she’d like to use them on her website and promotional materials. She is a treasure and the people who host her, offer their horses, and assist her in the painting of them are gems as well. I encourage you to visit Anatomy in Motion to learn more and to see if Susan is coming to your area. If she is, grab your local pony club, 4-H group, riding club and a herd of your friends and go!

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Passionate Portfolios

Simplicity: Water and Stone in Sedona

Simplicity: Water and Stone in Sedona

    Commercial assignments. Media marketing. Publication deadlines. Portrait session proofs enhancement and viewings. Print order fulfillment. Website updates. Image file uploads and archival. Client communications. Traveling. Planning, implementation, and follow-up.

     Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. And remember to exhale.

    As a photographer, sometimes we feel like it’s impossible to find the time to relax. After all, if we step away from our business how will we catch up when we come back to it? Finding time to work on personal projects becomes a distant dream as we commit to our creative service for others. How many times have you looked through your portfolio and realized that it has become the work you ARE doing, rather than the work you WANT TO do? You know what I’m talking about. Those passionate images that dance in your dreams…the ones that inspire everything you do. If you could just find the time to create them, you would be happier and your realized visions would have clients coming to you who were excited about the unique images you would create for them. Can’t FIND the time? Then pull out your cookie sheets and warm up the oven and MAKE the time.  
   
Mustangs in the Mist

Mustangs in the Mist

     If you know exactly what your passion is and have already seen the images that are just waiting for you to come get them and bring them home, skip the next step. If, however, you are sure you love photography but have not discovered “the one door out of thousands” to go through, try this. This is a three hour exploration that may help you focus (pardon the pun) on the images that speak to you. Find a place that you are comfortable in that inspires you, with a good amount of diversity. The farmer’s market, the local zoo, a church, a park, etc. You’ll need your favorite camera and lens, a back-up battery and a good sized media card (or several rolls of film), and preferably an extra lens you are not as familiar with.
    
Skyscape in Tucson

Skyscape in Tucson

For the first hour, photograph in the style you most love. For example if you enjoy your zoom lens over a wide angle, and if you have a preference for non-moving over action or people over buildings, that’s what you’ll concentrate on. Now, for one hour photograph without pausing to “think”.  Move constantly, access every angle and look in every direction, then press the shutter whenever you see something that inspires you. Unlike your structured sessions, you are looking for quantity over quality. Restrain yourself from “chimping” (looking at your images on the back of your camera) by pretending you have film in your camera (if you are using a digital camera).

     Your second hour will be very different and more challenging. You may continue to use the same camera/lens, but I suggest you change it up. Use a point and shoot instead of your SLR (or vice verse) and if you’ve been using a zoom to get those close-ups change to a wide angle. What you’ll be doing in the second hour is to continue to travel continually throughout your location and create a large quantity of images. The difference is that for this hour actively seek out what you would NOT normally photograph, even things that might “repel” you, in addition to very beautiful things that are not usual for you (IE: buildings instead of people, people instead of animals). If you like close-ups include the whole picture, exchange backlit for harsh contrast or full on sun, and try to find at least ten things you’ve never photographed. Challenge yourself! Again, don’t “think” while you fire off that shutter.
Crystal and Zeus: Personal Project

Crystal and Zeus: Personal Project

  
     Once you get your images home, upload them ALL into one folder. If you used film, have your slides or negatives scanned and put on a CD so you can work with them this way. Now, give yourself one more hour. Phones off, TV and radio off, and no distractions. Just you and your images. You know how you flip through the channels on your TV? Quickly. Without thought. Looking for something to inspire you to spend your time looking at someone’s creation. A color or composition catches your eye and you stop there and check it out. That’s what you are going to do with your images. Open the folder in your favorite picture editing program and go through them as fast as you can, labeling the ones that catch your eye. Don’t really “look” and certainly don’t judge for content or quality. Let them choose you like a puppy in row of shelter kennels. Whatever ones call to you with their color, form, or that unmistakably un-identifiable charm, label them. When you are done, select all of your choices and move them into their own folder. Take 15 minutes out and go have a cup of tea or lie down and rest your eyes, something peaceful to get you out of the room after all that fast paced editing.
     When you return, open your new folder and size the thumbnails so that you can fit as many as possible onto one page and still be able to view them comfortably. Hopefully you’ll see many images similar to what you normally photograph and equally important will be the ones unlike your “normal” photography. Scan them with your eyes and your heart, looking for ones that are evocative in aesthetics and emotion. Look for a theme that carries throughout them such as vivid colors, high action, deep calm, ecstatic joy, heart-wrenching sorrow. Find the passionate ones, ones that touch you strongly and move those into their own folder…as many as desire. Once you’ve created this folder of passionate images, open it and again size your thumbnails to fit on one page if possible.
Friendship

Friendship

     Now, for the first time, you are going to evaluate what you see. All of the  images up to this point were created and chosen based on the flow of emotion and aesthetics, with as little “thought” and regard to content as possible. Make one more folder and name it Passion. From your last folder of images choose only 20-25 images that are the strongest in color, contrast (low or high), clarity, composition, form, gesture, and content…those that inspire you mentally, spiritually, and emotionally….and move them into your Passion folder. Open up your new treasure box and size the images to fit on one page.

     Using one sheet of paper, look at your images and write down words and phrases that best describe them. Are they warm or cold? Independent or connective? Joyful or sorrowful? Curves or angles? If they were a song, who would have been the songwriter and/or singer? Who would have written the visual poem of them? Pick a few and use their inspiration to write what could be the first sentence of a book. It is likely that you will find that many of these images are “you”. You will also find ones that open doors to places you’d forgotten or have never been before. Explore them, be-friend them, listen to them. These are your new mentors who will guide you in creating  your passionate portfolio.

Dawn: Water Blessing

Splash: Water Blessing

     To those of you who have known exactly what your passionate portfolio of images would look like if only you had the time to create it, join in here. For those who’ve traveled the path of the exploration discussed above and are inspired to do more, welcome to the ranks of dreamers. To make your dreams a reality and share your unique vision with the world, find a date on your calendar no more than two weeks from NOW and make an appointment for a Passionate Portfolio photography session of 1-3 hours. Within 24 hours, draw at least one story image and write down the details that will go into creating it. Think like a photo-journalist. Who, what, when, where, how? Within 48 hours after that, have everything planned out (people, location, animals, assistant, etc.). Over the next week , make a daily 15-20 minute block of time available to “dream” in a quiet place with no distractions. Close your eyes and see the images you’ll create. When your session comes, your planning will be the springboard for your dreams. Dive in and swim hard. Don’t hold back! Have faith in your personal vision and let it guide you. The resulting images may not look exactly as you had “planned”. That’s ok. The important thing is that you’ve created a space for preparation to meet opportunity. If you go with the flow, you might be surprised by better images than you had planned. 
     Try to plan and follow through with one Passionate Portfolio session a month. If that truly is a hardship, schedule them at least quarterly. You may find that your sessions of just a few hours inspire you to make more time available for them, especially when you see how your photography improves and your stress level goes down. When I have assignments in other states, I make sure to plan at least one day to work on a personal project. Also, on the way to and from local photography sessions, I gift myself with a little time before and after in case I see something to photograph. For example, coming home from an equine portrait session I photographed the Skyscape shown here. After a portrait session in Sedona, I photographed Simplicity (the rock and water), and on the way to a equine photography workshop I photographed Splash, a horse taking it’s first drink in the early morning light.
     I’m excited to see what you create. How about you? Well, the gate’s open. Run toward your dreams!
     
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Ron Olson: Follow-Up Session

Ron Olson and Cisco

Ron Olson and Cisco

     Ron Olson was kind enough to volunteer his time, and that of his horse Cisco, for a “model” photography session for a student of mine a couple of weeks ago. As that session was “micro-managed” I offered a session to him as a gift and promised we’d head out in to the desert just south of his home and “play”. On Saturday, May 16th, we did just that…my assistant (husband) and I following Ron into the desert at 5:15 am to catch the first light as it rose over the Santa Catalina mountains of Tucson.
     Growing up on the outer limits of northwest Tucson, horses were my greatest friends, partners and freedom. The ones who graced my life in true partnership were often ridden as close to liberty as possible. I learned from the horses to ask rather than demand, let them show me what they did as their natural best, and ride without getting in the way of the horse in them. Ron and I are kindred spirits in our philosophies of Equus. Cisco has not had the horse trained out of him, which I very much admire as I’ve encountered many horses that have come to me for training that are either so confused that they can’t even gallop freely in pasture or they have become push-button horses who would walk into a tree if you didn’t turn them. I often  rode with only a halter or a lead rope around their neck with my tack left behind on the branches of a tree. Reckless? Not with the horses I trusted. If a horse really wants to buck or run away with you, not the severest bit is going to help. Ron has almost been banned from trail rides when they’ve seen him ride up without a bridle or halter. I say almost. Once it’s shown how he works with his horse it’s obvious that he is a true horseman and his horse a true partner.
     I was impressed to watch him and Cisco as they came to a stop with no words or movement of the neck-rope, only a slight shift of weight in the saddle and the intent to stop. More impressed still to watch them move through the desert trails and off trail through the trees and brush with alertness, ease, and seemingly with none of the typical “cues”. As I never shared this type of riding with anyone, except as arena demonstrations, and have never seen anyone else do it outside an arena I felt blessed to photograph the two of them as they enjoyed the desert morning. Incidentally, Cisco was an “outlaw” when he came to Ron.
Ron and Cisco backlit

Ron and Cisco backlit

     When I discovered photography as a child, I followed all the rules I knew and made up what I didn’t. First and foremost, I was taught to stand with the sun behind me over my shoulder and concentrate on the subject in front of me. Long before I attended a workshop or picked up a photography book, I grew bored with that and started playing with the light after a few “accidents” became some of my favorite photographs. I am drawn to how the light paints and often am influenced by that light to move to where I like it best and THEN concentrate on what I photograph in that light. Challenging sometimes, yet I love the light that rims a subject when the sun is directly in front of me and also how the wash of light in side-lighting creates depth and texture. This image of Ron and Cisco was created about 10 minutes after the sun had crested the mountains as I stood under my Sunbounce mini reflector to eliminate sun flare. I thank my patient husband who got an arm workout as I moved to different positions and he held that reflector high and steady.
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     This is another favorite from the session. The Santa Catalina mountains are ones I’ve lived close to since 1969. Here they serve as backdrop to a man and his horse as they ride through the rarity of open desert with the early morning sun bathing them in soft light. The colors are complimentary, with Ron’s shirt connecting with the sky, the bit of red drawing the eye to the horse, and the black standing out in sharp contrast to the gentle shadows on the mountains. When photographing black horses, I underexpose by at least 1/3 stop of light and in this image I brought it down by 2/3 stop to ensure a deep black.
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     It took years for silhouettes and I to become friends. I’ve always loved the look of them, yet I struggled to create ones that I felt were worthy to join my portfolio images. A silhouette is so different from a “lit” image and often people and animals need to be positioned more carefully and sometimes in ways that feels a bit awkward to show detail. A leg forward more or a face aligned just right or an arm lifted away from the body to show spacial definition. I tried many ways to properly expose these particular works of art, including simply underexposing them. The ways that work best for me are to expose on the sky and then set the camera manually for that exposure or for a faster solution I expose on the sky/hit the exposure lock button/auto focus on my moving subject and I’ve got my silhouette.
    
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