Things weren’t going well. Dad and his team were searching for a spectacular mountain backdrop for an elk-hunting photo. Besides the normal time constraints on a photo shoot, a giant winter storm was pressing down on Siskiyou County, California.
Semis were sliding off icy roads, wet snow was falling and one team member lost his wallet full of a large sum of money as the team scouted locations. Things just kept getting worse. Route 5 near the border of California and Oregon shut down one hour after Dad’s crew found a good spot for the photo. The team holed up at a hotel and waited for the calm after the storm.
The next day things were looking up. Dad retrieved the art director from the airport. The roads reopened. The snow stopped falling. The shoot was definitely on—with one little hitch.
Dad thought Mt. Shasta, a 14,162-foot volcanic peak in northern California, would be fantastic. He also knew the mountain was often shrouded in clouds. The day of the shoot, Dad needed a “Plan B” because the mountain was, indeed, completely obscured by clouds. When he turned around Dad saw “Plan B”. It was the perfect spot for his elk hunt photo, but it would prove to be a challenging place to reach.
The previous night the blizzard dumped 2 ½ feet of snow on Siskiyou County. In order to reach an elevated shooting spot, Dad thrashed his way through thick mountain laurel and a lot of snow in the semi-dark hours before sunrise.
He wound up with snow down his jacket and icy fingers despite heavy gloves. He wore layer upon layer of clothes for the early morning shoot because of freezing temperatures, but it was an arctic morning. In fact, Dad loaned the art director some extra clothing so he wouldn’t freeze on the shoot.
Everyone was cold, including the mules. They had to forge a way up to the ridge in the photo. There was no road or trail. Mules can be stubborn. To get the authentic look of working pack mules, the model, who also happened to own the mules, led the team in a circle across the ridge, down the ridge and back up again. The mules got a bit testy after the first two passes. They did not appreciate multiple trips sliding around and trudging through deep snow.
But things finally started to come to together for Dad. The sunrise was perfect. The assistant laid the fog in the background at just the right place and the mules were doing the right thing. Dad used a Mamiya RZ67 with a 50mm wide-angle lens for this shot and it proved to be the perfect fit for the shoot.
When he returned to Dallas and warmer temperatures, the only change he made in Photoshop was to remove a small part of Route 5 that was visible in the lower right part of the frame. Everything else looked great.
There was also good news for the team member who lost his wallet. After the snow melted in the spring, the distraught man found his wallet exactly where they’d parked the horse trailer. All of the money and credit cards were still there. The man decided he did want to remember the photo shoot after all and requested a print from Dad.
As Suzy Toronto said, “Plan A is always my first choice…the one where everything works out. But more often than not, I find myself dealing with the upside-down version where nothing goes as it should. It’s at this point the real test of my character comes in…Life really is all about how you handle Plan B.”
The “High Country Elk Hunt” photo shoot was indeed a character builder, as Dad would say. But despite numerous setbacks, Dad’s determination made a wintery mess look like a serene Old West photo.