Dad knew his taxidermist would be able to find a stuffed mountain lion for him. He’d just have to convince the fellow to let him “rent” the stuff cat.
As it turns out, the taxidermist had just been given a mountain lion. He and Dad agreed on a $500 rental fee. Dad created a giant plywood transport box and the cat was ready for the big photo adventure.
Dad knew exactly where he wanted to shoot the photo—at Vermejo Park Ranch’s Castle Rock in New Mexico. In the early 1990s Dad spent a lot of time photographing at Vermejo, a sprawling ranch that spanned the borders of New Mexico and Colorado. He was very familiar with the best photo spots on the ranch.
But he needed a little help finding the hunting dogs. One of his connections at the ranch knew just the fellow. He had a pack of trained big game hunting dogs. These hounds didn’t think twice about hunting bear or mountain lions.
On the day of the shoot, the hunter and his dogs drove over from Colorado. He kept the dogs in the truck while the set was being prepped. Dad got the mountain lion on top of the rock formation and employed a little trickery. He tied a monofilament line to the lion’s paw. Every so often Dad would have the assistant who was stationed behind the rock tug the wire to make the dogs think they’d cornered a live cat.
Dad also set up several strobes that ran off a Honda 3500 generator to light the main portion of the photo. In the background another assistant would spread a thick layer of fog with an Igeba fog machine.
Photographers often have a short time to get a photo. A hard deadline, financial considerations, model availability or a photo permit with specific date restrictions often create pressure to get the photo quickly. That’s when photographers like Dad begin to wonder how they can create the weather. In this case, the weather was fog. Dad wanted fog to help create a mysterious mood.
“Fog is a wonderful element that puts mystery into photos,” he said. “If you take a horse and guy out there it’s not the same as a horse and guy in the fog. It’s ambience.”
So Dad turned to the Igeba fog machine. The machine the assistant would use for this photo had a gas engine with a long exhaust pipe in the front. A mister sprayed the fog solution on to the exhaust pipe and the solution instantly vaporized into fog.
Dad loved this fog machine. The fog didn’t dissipate quickly which gave him time to make sure everything else in the photo was right before taking the image. You can read the full story of how Dad created the weather in many of his photos in our post called “Creating the Weather“
Back at the ranch on the day of the shoot, the hunter let his dogs out just before sunset. They immediately zeroed in on the mountain lion. The baying from the hounds was deafening. Dad began shooting furiously. He had about 10 minutes shooting time before it got too dark.
Everything began to gel and Dad was almost certain he’d nailed the photo. Of course, back in he days of film you had to wait until the roll was processed to know if you’d really nailed the shot.
“Looking back on it, lady luck sure was shining on us. Everything was working out as smooth as glass,” Dad says. “It was a short and easy shoot. It was unbelievably easy. You’d never think something like this photo would be so easy, but it was.”
Dad, upon his arrival home, returned not only the mountain lion, but he also brought a picture for the taxidermist. The fellow was so impressed the mountain lion was returned in pristine condition and that Dad had such an amazing photo, he actually returned $250 of the $500 rental fee. Apparently the taxidermist didn’t believe Dad could pull off such a crazy photo idea. But he now agreed. Dad nailed it and another piece of the Old West came to life.