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Cowboys and Canyonlands of the Texas Panhandle Photography Workshop - A Field Report


If you close your eyes tight enough, you might hear the mournful whine of Bob Wills' fiddle in the classic country tune, Faded Love, emanating from the red rolling hills and cotton patches around Turkey, Texas. In a way, these small Texas burghs have seen their better days as shifting economies, and the extreme ebb and flow of weather and agribusiness take their toll on these tiny towns in the Texas Outback. But these towns are too tough to die, and the people who live therein are warm, gracious, and generous to a fault. In a lot of ways, this is the real Texas. The real Texas whose mythology is still strong - even in the face of an ever-urbanized and constantly growing state, it's places like this that people still think about when they think about Texas: sleepy, small towns, friendly people, and an independent spirit that forsakes everything else.

Cotton boll on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Cotton Boll

Canon R5, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lens, 1/1000 sec. @ f4, ISO 100

 

Canyonlands on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
The Caprock at Sunrise

Canon R5, Sigma 24-105mm lens (shot at 24mm), 1/800 sec. @ f6.3, ISO 640

 

It's our second day of the Cowboys and Canyonlands of the Texas Panhandle photography workshop, and we've already seen so much. This morning, we watched the sun rise over the canyons and badlands and paint the slick sandstone walls a surreal shade of reddish-orange. As everyone is engulfed in ISO settings, shutter speeds, and apertures, I take a moment to look up and enjoy the scene. The wind is just shy of cold as it dumps over the Llano Estacado and slows through the creases of the Caprock Escarpment. The land before us is gloriously wide open and wild. It's the haunt of bison, Comanches, and cowboys, and the allure is unmistakable.

Modern artist Georgia O'Keefe once remarked of this land, "Last night I loved the starlight—the dark—the wind and the miles and miles of the thin strip of dark that is land—it was wonderfully big—and dark and starlight and night moving," She wrote that in 1916 and her sentiment, in a lot of ways, still holds true today.


Cguckwagon supper on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Cowboy Cooks at the Chuckwagon

Canon R5, Sigma 24-105mm lens (shot at 24mm), 1/500 sec. @ f4, ISO 160

 

But this stop… this stop amongst the juniper, prickly pear cactus, and semi-arid scrub, is only a singular occurrence as we've got other places to see and experience during our visit here. While in the area, we see quaint shops, an unbelievably old railroad tunnel, and abundant wildlife. The adventure doesn't stop there, however.

We've already visited places like an old Texas ghost town and an old Texas store that's straight out of a Hollywood movie, we've eaten at the best and most authentic restaurants you'll find anywhere, and we've enjoyed fellowship and camaraderie that only diverse people with like-minded interests can when you search for fantastic photographic experiences.


Biscuit Prep at the Chuckwagon on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Biscuit Prep at the Chuckwagon

Canon R5, Canon 85mm lens, 1/6400 sec. @ f1.2, ISO 125

 

Early one morning, we headed to an old church that's iconic in these parts. We meet a local cowboy who agrees to pose for us for a series of images. He's no drugstore cowboy. Each line on his face and each crease in his chaps tell the story of a lifetime spent on the range, tending to cattle and keeping the tradition of the cowboy alive.


Church on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Old Church on the Prairie

Apple iPhone 13 Max

 

Television shows like Yellowstone dramatize the experience of modern cowboys, but the dramatization isn't too far off. Encroaching developments, fickle weather, and unpredictable markets made even more manic by crazy politics in some far-off cities, making earning a living out here tough. However, there's a love for the land, and that love shows in every piece of accouterment that a cowboy wears. We take all of that in…


Cowboy on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Cowboy in the Morning

Canon R5, Sigma 24-105mm lens (shot at 24mm), 1/1600 sec. @ f4, ISO 1250

 

Nighttime falls, and a full moon rises. Its golden light, while faint, paints the landscape with a color that's surreal and only a well-thought-out exposure and composition can capture.

"My Goodness!" I hear the statement of exclamation from one of our guests. It's a declaration of amazement and satisfaction as she looks at the back of her camera as the results of a four-minute exposure emerge. The old grain silos glow in the reflected light of an object that's nearly a quarter of a million miles away. It's a perfectly surreal way to capture the otherwise mundane. That's the magic of photography, however: capturing beauty in what others find passé. And so it goes for the next couple of hours.


Night photography on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Grain Silos and Moving Clouds

Canon R5, Canon 15-35mm lens (shot at 19mm), 240 sec. @ f5.6, ISO 200

 

Grain silos night photography on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Grain Silos and Train Tracks

Canon R5, Canon 15-35mm lens (shot at 19mm), 20 sec. @ f5.6, ISO 3200

 

Just hours before, we enjoyed an authentic chuckwagon supper that’s been prepared the same way on the range since Charles Goodnight built the first chuckwagon and sent it bouncing across cattle trails back in the 1870s. While the era of the cattle drives and Wild West was short-lived, its mystery and allure still exist in the contemporary zeitgeist. The chuckwagon experience captures it perfectly.

On our last full day, we do a wildlife cruise while a low cloud ceiling spits rain enough to make the day challenging but not so much it keeps us indoors. We visit broken badlands on area rangelands, but when we are out with some local cowboys on a ranch near town, the skies lighten, the rain stops, and we begin to shoot.


Detail photography on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Cowboy Accoutrements

Canon 1DX Mark III camera, Sigma 24-105mm lens (shot at 24mm), 1/500 sec. @ f4, ISO 320

 

Silhouette photography on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Cowboy at Sunset

Canon R5, Sigma 24-105mm lens (shot at 51mm), 1/500 sec. @ f4, ISO 100

 

While there, the sky darkens to the south, and a November thunderstorm rattles to life. Here in the sandhills where we are, a cold front begins to push through, and the sky alights with the waning rays of a sinking sun. By this time, the entire group has become a family of sorts. Everyone supports the other, and we gel in our mutual love for capturing spectacular moments on a digital medium forever.

I feel like I'm a thousand miles from nowhere. It's a feeling I'll always cherish.


Chuckwagon meal on the Cowboys and Canyonlands Photography Workshop
Our Group at the Sunset Chuckwagon Meal


★★★


Do you want to join me for future photography workshops in this part of Texas? Then check out these similar offerings:








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