A Dog On A Man On A Horse On The Cover of Garden & Gun

“Got an interesting cover shoot for you…”

I love an email that starts this way. When it’s from Garden & Gun Photography Director Maggie Kennedy, I know it’s going to be epic, and probably something they haven’t done before. In this case, a horse on the cover. So began a trip to the plains of South Dakota to photograph an epic Buckskin named Patron. Then there’s the field trials champ Luke Eisenhart. Then of course, a dog. Always a dog. Sitting on Luke is a pointer named Erin’s Wild Justice. 

…and oh yeah, ON a horse? Handlers often let a bird dog ride shotgun after a long hard training day.

Missouri River and South Dakota Plains, outside Pierre, SD
Luke and Petron

Luke is a professional trainer out of Georgia who works with horses and dogs up near the tiny town of Isabel, South Dakota. Patron’s owner Claudia McNamee also owns several of those dogs and was on location for the shoot. Lee Phillips was on hand to handle both horse and dogs. It’s a working training farm out there and all were generous with their time over three days to make this shoot work!

Me and my man Kody Kohlman. The final commute from the farm to the location was via four-wheeler.

Assisting me was Denver photographer Kody Kohlman. It was a couple hours drive from the nearest airport in Pierre up to our last-chance hotel in Mobridge, which was still an hour’s drive from the farm: a commute we made well before sunrise and after sunset every day, fueled by bad coffee and Spotify, then a four-wheeler ride to our location.

I did grow up around horses, but I’m not a horse expert, which is why you need experts. Gotta have the horse groomed, calm but alert, tack has to be sharp and authentic, dog looking regal and not panting… It got hot pretty quick out there and once the sun is up over the plains, IT’S UP, so we had a very small window to get it all right. That means a really early setup and plenty of days to scout and test. Since we couldn’t shoot in the evening (sunset) we used that time to see what the light was doing near the horizon, then used an iPhone app called Sun Surveyor to see exactly where the sun would be at sunrise.

Scout shot
Scout shot
OK. Found something. Just enough relief and a 360 degree view. What a location for a cover shoot! We scouted at sunset, shot at sunrise.
Dawn at the ranch, Isabel, SD
Luke and Scout arrive on horseback among the prairie grass and thistle. OK so this is really how photography works, there is a lot of trial and error and problem solving no matter how well you plan it. I think this morning we didn’t quite get the light we wanted. The dog got too hot earlier than expected and started panting. I think that’s when we decided to have the dog on horseback rather than on point below, which turned out to be awesome. We also made some wardrobe changes I think, and had an extra dog on hand!
… and more manpower, including handler Lee Phillips (in red). This morning was perfect. Shooting here with multiple Profoto strobes, some bounce and just beautiful light. I usually walk around handheld for awhile then get a final shot on the tripod. I wanted to keep things soft, natural looking, all earthy pastels and buckskin. Photo by Claudia McNamee
Kody breaking down after a good morning
Kody breaking down the tripod. A new Really Right Stuff rig. Killer piece of gear I might review later.

After wrapping, Kody and I spent a night at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge, outside Pierre, celebrating with fine whiskey and a feast prepared by Chef Sean Finley, who also manages the lodge. Clink! Oh, and I caught an epic pike down on the Missouri. Keeping it interesting.

Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge

Published on Sep 18, 2019
Filed under: Behind the Scenes,Outdoors,Photography
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