Models at a Movie Ranch

After the headiness of Ghost Ranch I entered the NatGeo workshop classroom with great eagerness the next day…our final day on location.  We were going to Eaves Movie Ranch!

Eaves is about a 30 minute drive from Santa Fe.  Originally an operating cattle ranch, Eaves hosted their first Hollywood movie in 1969.  The Cheyenne Social Club was directed by Gene Kelly and included the likes of Jimmy Stuart and Henry Fonda.  Other claims to movie fame include The Cowboys with John Wayne, A Gunfight with Johnny Cash and Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner.  It still operates as a working film set today, and when you set foot on its streets it’s easy to imagine yourself stepping back in time.  Real building facades (though don’t look in the back) represent a chapel, saloon, hotel, jail and the like.  And you can go inside the buildings and stomp around.   They’re that realistic.


We spent our morning in the classroom, receiving critique and feedback on our photos the day before.  After lunch Ralph and Carlan revealed the specific details of our afternoon assignment.

Now, I had read the blurb in our schedule and noticed that it said we would be photographing models in period clothing at Eaves.  I kind of poo-pooed that idea, thinking that I would just wander around photographing what I wanted.  Because….models??!! Huh-wuh?  That’s not in my repertoire…and not something I have even been interested in exploring.


But, then they made it complicated:  Ralph explained that we would be broken up into 4 groups and each group would be assigned to a different model (there were a pair on horseback, a single on horseback and two on foot, all in period clothes).  Each member of the group was to take turns directing and taking photographs of the model.


Gak!  That didn’t sound fun!  That didn’t sound fun at all!  Take me back to Ghost Ranch! Allow me to commune with the rocks and the trees!  And, obviously, because we were being broken into groups, with instructions to (as a group) scope out where we wanted to do our shoot (shall it be the jail or the saloon?) it was not going to be possible to opt out.

That shoot turned out to be the most difficult one of the trip.  More difficult than approaching perfect strangers in downtown Santa Fe to ask if I could take their picture. For one thing, I don’t know the first thing about directing people for photography.  I’m going to lose my before-workshop standard (I don’t photograph people) as I feel that limits me. However, I have very little experience photographing people and photographing people is not what floats my boat.  That’s not to say that I won’t ever photograph people…but…you know what I mean.



My group’s first model was a beautiful woman who made things pretty easy on us.  She has been modeling for Santa Fe Photographic Workshops for 20+ years.  She knows her stuff. The challenge was the light.  We began shooting at around 2:30.  Bright sun.  Dim interiors.  Hard to find places to shoot.  It was also a little nerve-wracking stepping in front of my peers to do all of this.  Luckily, we had adopted the “well, you direct but everyone can shoot” approach.  This meant that my peers were paying more attention to their own shooting than mine.


After 45 minutes or so we rotated to a different model.  We got the single guy on horseback. That’s the point at which things went a little sideways for me.  Were outside, with humans on horseback.  What do horses do?  They move.  In and out of sunlight.  In and out of shade.  Turning so the sun fell one way on him, then the other way.  I blew out so many highlights it was ridiculous.  I finally checked settings with Ralph and got a couple of pointers because it was either that or chuck my camera and stomp off.  I considered it.

We pulled back together as a group at that point and had a fifteen minute break, which allowed me to do a bit of my own work.  Ralph then pulled us together and refreshed our minds about our classroom discussion about panning.


Panning is cool.  Panning involves dropping your shutter speed and following a moving object (a car, a bicycle…two people on horses) while you continuously shoot.  The idea?  To freeze the motion of the moving object while creating a blur of the background.

We lined up in a row, adjusted our settings and the fun began.  The couple on horses galloped by.  Click-click-click-click-click-click-click!!  Take a glance at what you’ve got, adjust settings again and await for them to gallop back the other way.  Click-click-click-click-click-click-click!! (x25…the entire class + Ralph)  We were giggling like schoolkids. 200 photos and 15 minutes later and we were done.


200 photos for the day?  No.  200 photos just from panning.  Add that to the 500 other photos I took that day (told you…rough afternoon in the sun with humans and horses) and I had a heck of a lot to cull through that night to choose only three to take in for the final critique.

It was quite a day, pardner.  Not one I will soon forget.


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