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Stampeding Longhorn Cattle

Image ID# 1239

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Stampeding Cattle

Stampeding cattle hurtle towards the viewer at full gallop in clouds of dust.

Creating a Conceptual Stock Photo of Stampeding Longhorn Cattle

The heart of my photography work is the creation of conceptual stock photos. The following is an explanation of how I went about creating one of my “concept” stock photos. This image is now distributed by Getty Images.

For years I wanted to do a stock photo of a stampede of longhorn cattle. I felt it would be an exciting image that could be used to illustrate the popularity of something (as in a stampede of customers) or mass hysteria or even situations that are out-of-control. But the logistics of such an image seemed just too enormous for me to deal with. Then one day, while shooting some cats with an animal trainer I asked her if she could get me a herd of longhorn cattle. “Sure”, she said, “I know of a herd about an hour from here we could probably get for a thousand dollars.” Here I was thinking that I would have to go to Texas and that it would be enormously expensive! I immediately asked her to set up the shoot.

I had a great plan to shoot the stampede. I purchased several six-pack sized coolers and cut holes into the sides. In each one I placed a Nikon with wide-angle lenses an auto-exposure and a remote firing device. When we got to the ranch I told the owner that I wanted to set the cameras up in the pasture then drive the cattle over them while I triggered the cameras remotely. “Won’t work”, she said. “Why not?” I inquired. She informed me that the cattle would be too wary. They would see the coolers and give them a wide berth. Undaunted I suggested that we could place the coolers next to the posts on each side of a gate, disguise them with weeds and drive the longhorns through the gates. “Won’t work”, she said. “They will still see them and won’t go near them”. I asked if we could try anyway and she agreed.

After setting up the cooler-enclosed cameras and hiding them with weeds, the owner began herding the cattle towards the gate. While not exactly stampeding at least they were trotting at a good clip, at least they were going at a good clip until they got within about fifteen feet the gate. At that point they came to a screeching halt. Under much urging by the owner, one-by-one, they slipped cautiously through the gate. Uh, that is until I used the remote to fire a camera off. At the barely audible noise they turned and ran the other way!

We all put our heads together and came up with plan B. We would place a bucket of grain in front of a steer, then I would get up close and personal with a 20mm lens. When I was ready the owner would sneak up behind the animal and slap it in the rear with an empty grain sack. Now, keep in mind, these are huge beasts with horns that measure six feet from tip to tip! The owner was adamant that it was actually a pretty safe procedure. Even though startled, the longhorns would not want to run into or over me. Despite my doubts I crouched down about three or four feet in front of one of the happily munching steers. As the owner began to swing her empty grain sack I began to shoot. The startled steer launched past me and I fell onto my butt. A process we repeated about thirty times with different animals. But we got our shots! After that we put a leaf blower into the dirt road and shot some more film (yes, this was back in the days of film) of the resulting dust clouds.

Back in the studio I selected and pen-tooled (created clipping paths around) about fifteen of the cattle shots and began to copy and paste the shots into a single image. Then I began a long, arduous process of working with layer masks to paint the animals in and out, along with the dust, until we had a convincing stampede image. For the background we used a bluff that I had shot in New Mexico.

It was very gratifying that the first stock sale we had paid for the entire undertaking. It has been even more gratifying over the years to have many people ask how I managed to get that image. Once, in an article on my work, I was horrified to read that I had shot from a hole in a barrel in the middle of the stampede to get the shot. When I confronted the writer, to whom I had indeed told the accurate story, he replied “Hey, isn’t it a lot more exciting the way I wrote it?” I had to admit that he was, at least in that case, correct!

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