Behind the Scenes: Shooting in the Great Outdoors

WESTERN PHOTOGRAPHY GUILD
Box 2801
Denver, Colo.

Along the Physique Trail

Setting out on a shooting session, the cameraman, poser and model (or models) look forward to a pleasant 70- or 80-mile ride, bright sunshine and a host of uninterruptedly good poses. Sometimes it's like that, but not always…

From May through October weather is seldom a problem. With 100 miles of front range of the Colorado Rockies within an hour's drive of Denver, we can head either north or south in whichever direction the clouds look photogenic rather than threatening. However, on arrival at the shooting site the situation can change in the time it takes the model to strip and get ready for the cameras.

One Sunday, while the sun played a maddening game of hide and seek, we waited the whole morning to photograph Paul La Briola and Phil Lambert in duals, all in vain. To work off their exasperation Paul and Phil spent most of the time rolling huge boulders to the edge of a 50-foot canyon and sending them crashing down to the floor below. It was an awesome scene of two muscular physiques in strenuous action, but we never got the pictures.

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When showers come, they can be over in ten minutes and the day sunny once more. Often it is necessary only to cover up the cameras and other equipment and take momentary refuge under a tree or over hanging rock. Many of the models, Eddie Williams in particular, prefer to remain in the open and enjoy the feel of the rain coming down on their bodies.

One afternoon a shooting session with Alan Derby in the Black Forest area was going well when it suddenly began to rain. We all headed for a group of protruding rocks which enabled us to sit down snug and dry although there was not room to stand up. When the rain persisted and intensified, however, we found our shelters had their limitations. Rivulets began to course down the ground where we were sitting, and we had to resort to crouching positions. Then the rain began seeping in cracks in the rocks overhead, and before long it was coming from all directions. Seeing it was developing into a full-fledged cloudburst, we had no choice but to head for the car, about 200 yards away. Five minutes later we were sitting in a warm tavern in the nearby village, drenched to the skin, and destined to remain for two hours before the downpour ended.

Ordinarily, blue skies, the smell of the pines, a myriad of native flowers and sweeping scenic vistas combine to make nature an inspiration for most models. Sometimes it is less benevolent. Willie Noffsinger had just finished an excellent pose on an outcropping rock and jumped to the grass below when Bill Larrabee, on the camera, yelled, "Look out, Willie," picked up a big weathered branch and ran toward him. Under the rock where Willie had posed, about two feet from where he had stepped down, a three-foot rattlesnake lay sunning himself. Close as Willie's bare feet had come, the snake had apparently not sensed him. When Bill hollered and came at him with the stick, however, he quickly headed for a hole under the rock and disappeared.

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On one occasion, with Pat Burnham on the camera and Butch Brunetti modeling, we found a large rattler had settled alongside our camera cases under a cedar tree. When we tried to get the cases, he set up a loud, unnerving rattle which was a challenge to the woodsman in Pat. He got a long sturdy branch with a fork at the end, and while Butch used this to pin the snake down, Pat dispatched it with one of the knives we sometimes use as a prop.

Ordinarily, however, we avoid known rattlesnake country and seldom see one. In general, we find them quite gentlemanly. Their warning rattle seems only to say, you go your own way and I'll leave you alone. Often the presence of a curious cottontail will indicate an absence of rattlers.

Strong sunlight in exceptionally clear atmosphere can make both models and those behind the camera thirsty. For a time we tried taking along various thirst quenchers -- Water, lemonade, orange juice. Eventually, however, we stopped, and found a denial of liquids kept everyone working harder in anticipation of slaking thirst (and often hunger, since many of the models avoid eating before a posing session) at the nearest roadside restaurant afterward.

Our shooting locations, a dozen or more, are carefully selected away from traffic, picnickers and the like. On three or four occasions, however, we have had a line of Boy Scouts come hiking by. Usually their voices can be heard in advance, and the model wraps a towel around his midsection until they are gone. One day this happened while we were photographing Johnny Rotolante, and the leader elected to bring the Scouts over. It developed he was a body builder and wrestler like Johnny, and after asking for a few muscular poses for his charges, he congratulated Johnny and took his band on over the hill.

Shooting duals of Larry Scott and Carter Lovisone one Sunday afternoon, luckily just about the end of the session, we were inundated with several teenage Sunday school classes. There was time for Larry and Carter to get their clothes on, and the confusion gave the playful Larry time to hide a net we used as a prop, which he did not like. We have since looked high and low for the net in vain.

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The locations we select for shooting are seldom game areas although occasionally we see deer, beaver and porcupines. Nevertheless we have to keep an open eye for hunters. One Saturday morning we were photographing Bob Wichmann near a stream in a winding canyon. Suddenly, without warning, we heard the unmistakable splat of a bullet on a rock across the stream about ten feet from Bob. TWO others followed in rapid succession as Bob leaped in the opposite direction and we all started hollering at the top of our voices. It developed the shots were coming from a pair of nimrods boresighting their guns around the bend in anticipation of the deer season. They apologized and said they'd scout further ahead next time.

Acoustics in the mountains can be deceptive. Sometimes ordinary conversational tones can be heard clearly several hundred yards. Occasionally, however, particularly on a breezy day, it is hard to hear a shout fifty feet away. One persistent acoustical mystery is The Case of the Whispering Couple. In a rocky canyon half a mile long near Red Rocks, where we did much shooting, we one day heard quite audibly the whispering voices of a boy and a girl. Though the words could not be clearly distinguished, the tones were obviously those of lovers, and we assumed the couple were somewhere nearby, oblivious to our presence. As we completed our shooting, we heard more whispers from time to time, and wondered why the pair seemed undisturbed by our activity. As we were about to leave, we noticed there were no other cars parked on the road, and decided to look about. We searched shallow caves, rock formations and the scrub oak, but there was no sign of anyone. Twice again that summer, in a dozen trips to the scene, we heard the whispers, and piqued by the mystery, searched the area carefully. We never found an explanation, and when we went to that area for the first time the following summer we found a newly built cabin had spoiled the location for picture taking.

Andrew Dimler