By Martha Mintz, Coral Creek Communications, 2019 First Place Winner, Feature Picture Category
I hate directing and setting up a posed shot. I’d much rather sift through the fray unnoticed seeking out just the right moment to capture. Rarely do I get such a luxury on shoots, but on a hot, dusty Arizona day in late June, I lucked out.
On day 5 of a 6-day highway-heavy tour through New Mexico and Arizona I was none too thrilled with my 3 a.m. wakeup call. I had arrived late the night before at the Padres Mesa Demonstration Ranch on the Navajo Reservation in middle-of-nowhere (and I don’t say that lightly) northeast Arizona. With no hotels for miles, I stayed at the ranch, starting my day with the rest of the crew.
I was shooting and interviewing for a story in John Deere’s THE FURROW on how tribal cattle producers had teamed up to overcome management and marketing struggles. With each rancher having only a handful of cattle, they found they wielded much more power when their cattle were managed uniformly and grouped together for marketing. They eventually created their own branded beef product.
At the center of the project is the Padres Mesa Demonstration Ranch where those participating in the program come to learn various management skills. The day I was there, branding was on the agenda.
I love photographing an event like branding because people repeat the same task over and over. It gives you time to explore every angle, observe subtle details and produce amazing shots. I shot hundreds of photos as I circled the bustling corral.
While I had freedom to wander, there were challenges. They set up workflow so my preferred background for many shots would have meant shooting directly into the rising sun. And it was all sun. There were no clouds to add interest. That meant getting creative.
I crawled on fences, lay in the dirt—which brought about the usual laughter and yelling from riders, vaccinators, branders and wrestlers, hey, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do—tried framing shots, close ups and more. I got some good images, but I wasn’t happy just yet. When crouched down I realized the sun had hit a point where I could incorporate it into some silhouette photos, and what’s better for a silhouette than a cowboy? I stalked the often running, branding-iron wielding gent long enough for him to be annoyed. Finally, I got the perfect angle with the sun haloing his hat and a good plume of smoke curling from the iron. I didn’t have to wait to download the photo, I knew it was going to be my favorite of the day.