Roper At Sunset

Osprey in Full Flight | Beebower Productions


Like Indiana Jones, the lure of adventure gnawed at Dad. Big Bend National Park’s desolate, rough terrain dotted with cacti, stunning mountain peaks and a peaceful winding river persuaded him to hightail it south. Dad had seen some spectacular photographs of the park in a book and wasted no time. The next thing we knew, Mom, Dad and I were racing southwest to Big Bend for some exploration.

We weren’t disappointed, especially Dad. Big Bend National Park’s sweeping vistas and meandering river gave him plenty of Western and landscape photos over the next 20 years. In fact, one of Dad’s earliest adventures produced the image “Roper at Sunset”.

Dad envisioned a silhouetted, roping cowboy against the backdrop of a gorgeous, layered mountain sunset. Roping is an everyday event on ranches across America. Most of the time it looks mundane because of a cluttered, boring or distracting background. Dad wanted to make an ordinary event look spectacular.

Sunset at Big Bend’s Chisos Mountains certainly fit the bill. He’d previously scouted locations at the park and knew the South Rim would be perfect. He and the model hiked about six miles, climbing with photo and camping gear to the 2,000-foot rim.

Sure enough everything came together that evening when the rich colors burst over the mountains. Dad had his photo and enjoyed a nice evening camping on the mountain.

Dad thought everything in the photo came together nicely. He would, however, have to wait until the film was processed to actually see the results. When he finally saw the results, it was clear to him that something wasn’t quite right. Dad didn’t like the way the rope hung in the air and the cowboy’s arm placement.

In the past, the only option would have been a re-shoot, a time consuming and expensive proposition. But a novel type of software gave Dad some exciting new options photographers would come to love. Photoshop allowed him to remove the original roper from the photo and replace him with a cowboy Dad photographed in Colorado. The software also allowed Dad to add more layers of mountains in the background.

It was a brave new world in photography. His success with “Roper at Sunset” would spur Dad to use Photoshop to produce other spectacular images from Big Bend.

The Gear

Dad shot both images with his Nikon FTN camera. For the Big Bend sunset he used a Nikon 20mm lens. He photographed the cowboy with a Nikon 85mm lens. Both images were shot with available light. He used a Gitzo tripod for the sunset photo.


Technique Spotlight

For those not familiar with Adobe Photoshop, it’s a top-notch image editing software program that professional photographers use to do everything from processing a digital image to enhancing color to merging two photos. Photoshop is chock full of wonderful tools that replace and expand what we used to do in the darkroom.

Back in the dark ages there was a limit to what you could correct in the darkroom. You could darken or lighten an image. You could burn down overly bright elements or dodge to lighten up dark elements. Basic stuff. Honestly it was easier to learn to shoot it correctly than to fix it in the darkroom. So when Photoshop hit the markets in 1990 it quickly became a sensation.

To create this image Dad used multiple layers, a tool offered in Photoshop. On one layer Dad had the Big Bend sunset. On another layer he had the roping cowboy. On yet another layer he added more mountain peaks. Each of these layers functioned independently. This allowed Dad to adjust the color of the sunset image, but not the color of the cowboy. He could cut out the cowboy and never touch the sunset image.

Once he was satisfied with each individual layer, Dad merged the three photos into one image. This is a simplified explanation of the process, but you get the gist.

“Photoshop’s a real friend of artists,” Dad said. “You can make it ‘so’. It’s like you’re painting a picture. You know what you want it to look like and Photoshop helps you make it the way you know it should be.”


Fun Facts

  • The Big Bend National Park is named after the “big bend” in the Rio Grande River.
  • The park sprawls over 801,163 acres. That’s about the size of Rhode Island.
  • You can find 31 species of snakes in the park, including 4 types of rattlesnakes. You should definitely watch where you step!
  • The park is far from being a barren desert. Over 1,000 types of plants ranging from mesquite trees to agave call the park home.