Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer Jay Dickman has shot more than 25 assignments for the National Geographic Society. Having led many workshops in the American West, he has been instrumental in helping us craft this unique cowboy photography workshop. Here he reflects on the stunning landscape, “genuine” town of Dubois, and special opportunity to photograph working wranglers, which provides a look into a lifestyle that is rapidly disappearing.
Q: What makes Wyoming's Cowboy Country a great subject for photographers?
A: In this workshop, we provide incredible access and opportunity to photograph working wranglers in a setting only found in the West. Wranglers driving horses up a beautiful “draw” in early morning light; opportunities to photograph horse and rider racing past the camera; early morning/later afternoon photo ops of mounted cowboys with stunning and rugged mountainous backgrounds; sessions creating iconic portraits of wranglers, horses being driven into beautiful pastures in afternoon light, all building to the Friday night rodeo with incredible “behind the scenes” access to the participants. This is truly a workshop about access to this western lifestyle, which brings together rider, horse, landscape, action, moment and light. Most participants take a vacation after this workshop to rest!
Q: What is unique about the National Geographic Photo Workshop in Wyoming?
A: All the photographic opportunities are built around light—early morning sessions followed by edit and projection sessions with critique, time built in to enjoy this incredible ranch, with another shooting session in the beautiful western evening light.
Q: What is the most important thing a participant should bring to this workshop?
A: It would be easy to say this lens, or that camera body, but I think the most important item one needs to bring to this workshop is an enthusiasm, an open-mind to learning, and a readiness to see light and moment in a new way. This workshop is all about improving one’s ability to “see photographically,” which is really the most important component in the process of image-making.
Q: What are some key learnings participants take away from this workshop?
A: In a workshop like this, our participants expect to come away with images for their walls. And, that will easily be accomplished. But, I think the way we’ve structured this event, with our photographers shooting essentially the same photo opportunity, one of the most powerful dynamics we offer will be for them to benefit from seeing how others see, and to broadly interpret, the same situation. One participant will capture a powerful, wide-angle image of the morning horse drive while the participant standing next to that photographer will use a long lens to capture a totally different, yet equally powerful image of solo riders in the golden dust of that moment. This is a huge part of this workshop: improving the process of “seeing photographically” by observing each other’s work.
Q: Tell us about a favorite photo you took in Wyoming's Cowboy Country.
A: We structure our shooting opportunities carefully. I won’t give away how we do this; one needs to experience, firsthand, the process. Our participants have several opportunities to shoot, then improve upon that process, so that “wall photo” that is achieved in the workshop will be very powerful, not a process of luck.
A favorite photograph (noted in the gallery on this page), moving horses up a draw in early-morning light, is typical of the photographic opportunities we provide participants in the Wyoming’s Cowboy Country photo workshop. I love this photo as it illustrates so many components of this workshop: beautiful light, incredible scenery, power of moment.