After repeatedly getting the question, “What’s the craziest or most dangerous thing you’ve done to get a photograph?”, we shared five of Dad’s hairiest photo shoots. This week we’ll count down the remaining five to find out Dad’s most precarious shoot ever.
Dad found himself buried underground in a steel water tank waiting for a herd of about 50 horses to stampede over the top of him. His idea was to capture a unique angle from below the horses. He knew this would be challenging to pull off safely. He turned to his friend Red Wolverton, who knew lots about movie magic and even more about horses.
The plan revolved around a steel tank with slits cut in the sides for cameras. The tank would be buried inside Red’s corral with Dad and his crew inside. The slits would allow Dad to be at eye-level with the horses’ hooves and still have a degree of safety.
On the day of the shoot, they could feel the ground vibrating before they saw the horses. Then things happened fast and furiously. Dust. Stones. Dust. Hooves. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.
No one knew exactly what the horses would do, but Dad got his winning shot on the first run. The horses’ hooves came within six inches of the camera lenses and about 10 inches from Dad’s face.
You can read the full story and see a picture of the infamous steel tank here. It was a close call, but a successful shoot.
Danger didn’t just lurk in the corral. One of Dad’s models came very close to hypothermia during a winter photo shoot. Dad, his assistant and his model had traveled to Sun Valley Ranch near Grand Lake, CO. The plan was to shoot photos of the model on his horse in the deep snow. But first, they were going to do some pictures at a little higher elevation up on a ridge.
Once the group, including the ranch owners Ken and Shawn Bruton, reached the ridge, the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped. Dad discovered a much deeper layer of snow than anyone anticipated.
After a few attempts at photos, Dad called the whole thing off because he was very worried about the model. He wasn’t used to the extreme conditions on the mountain and hadn’t put on enough layers of clothes to stay warm in the subzero temperatures. He was freezing. In fact, the whole group realized they needed to hustle the model down the mountain as fast as possible because he was going into hypothermia.
Ken Bruton knew the snow rescue team members and was able contact them. The photo group just had to get the model halfway down the mountain to meet the rescue team who would then get the model the rest of the way down.
It was a very close call. Once the group reached the ranch cabins, they hustled the protesting model into a very hot shower and kept him there for about an hour while pouring hot coffee into him. Between the shower and a roaring fire, the cabin must have been about 90 degrees. Eventually the model came around, but he was pretty lucky. As Dad said, it was pretty bad. So make sure you bundle up before heading out on a winter photo shoot.
Two minor problems plagued Dad on this photo quest: getting there and capturing the image. He ventured to Horseshoe Canyon, a remote location two and a half hours from Moab, Utah, where a canyon wall called The Great Gallery tells the story of people who lived there thousands of years ago.
Ancient artists chose well on the location for their masterpiece. Few have the fortitude to travel to Horseshoe Canyon. To see The Great Gallery, visitors must first traverse 34 miles down a hazardous dirt road filled with roving sand dunes and traffic-stopping, wandering cattle. On this trip, there just happened to be an epic windstorm to navigate through.
Next problem on tap, the extreme heat. Even in the early morning, temperatures hovered near 100 degrees. In fact, the National Park Service closes the canyon during certain times of the year due to heat. On this day, it would only get hotter on the trail to the rock art.
Dad, with his camera bags loaded and plenty of water, along with my Mom descended almost 750 feet down into the abyss, part of Canyonlands National Park, to view The Great Gallery. Going down was a piece of cake. Getting out would be challenging.
The 7-mile, round-trip trail led the couple through a dry, sandy creek bed. They quickly began seeing small pieces of rock art along the way. Their anticipation grew as they got closer to the Gallery.
The canyon that holds the Gallery is a steep, narrow space. Dad first glimpsed a gargantuan 10-foot tall, evil demon-like figure staring down at him from the canyon wall. As he peered down the canyon an endless array of faces popped off the stone for at least 200 feet. He quickly got to work shooting pictures, capturing what he thought was an excellent photo.
Now for the fun part. The real adventure on this hike was getting out of the canyon. The sandy streambed became a hamster wheel for Dad and Mom. There was a lot of walking but slow progress upward as the sand tried to suck them back down into the canyon. To make matters worse all of that water they’d packed seemed to have disappeared. By this time the temperature was well over 106 degrees.
After a grueling workout, Dad and Mom finally made it to the “parking lot”. Dad felt great about the images he’d captured. Mom felt great that an air-conditioned hotel room would be waiting for them.
You can read the full story of Dad’s adventures in Horseshoe Canyon here.
#2 Packhorse Tumble
As he used a sheath knife to slowly and painfully claw his way back up the embankment above the cliff, Dad reconsidered the wisdom of riding at the back of the pack. No one saw the packhorse directly in front of him back up causing his horse to side step, lose its footing and roll down the embankment toward the cliff.
No one saw Dad, who managed to get off the horse before it rolled, slide down the same embankment toward the cliff. No one saw Dad ripping the hemlock tree right out of the ground as he tried to stop his pell-mell rush down to certain death. And no one saw the bigger tree Dad crashed into that brought everything to a sudden and painful stand still.
Nope. No one saw any of that. All they knew was that Hugh was there and then he wasn’t. And the kicker–somehow the horse made it back to the trail minus Dad. The back of the pack wasn’t all it cracked up to be.
Dad’s Rocky Mountain trail adventure had started off great. He traveled to Sun Valley Ranch near Grand Lake, Colorado on a photo-scouting mission. Dad had a commercial advertising client that wanted to do a catalog shoot in the area. His friends Ken and Shawn Bruton assured him there were plenty of locations in the mountains near their home that would work.
So the trio set off on a weeklong packhorse trip. While they found plenty of amazing spots to shoot, the most memorable part of the trip would be the roll down the embankment toward the cliff.
But that shoot paled in comparison to “Old Mescal Bronc”. One crazy horse equals a lot of danger. On the other hand, Dad did ask for the craziest horse in Arizona. One of Red Wolverton’s cowboy acquaintances knew just the one. Now all Dad had to do was capture the cowboy and bucking bronc frozen in mid-air. No problem.
The plan: The crazy horse would be flanked by wranglers. The cowboy would approach the crazy horse on another horse and slide on to the back of the crazy horse. The wranglers would remain on either side but out of the picture frame to ensure the crazy horse moved in the right direction.
The horses were in place. Dad’s assistants blew dust in the background. Meanwhile Dad hunkered down behind some hay bales with a Hulcher sequence camera that could shoot 20 frames a second. He was ready. Action!
As soon as the cowboy slid onto the crazy horse, it went from calm to insane. The horse launched straight up in the air and began bucking its way down the dusty street and through a mesquite thicket near Dad. (You know that horse was crazy because mesquite trees have some really nasty stickers on them. The horse wasn’t phased at all.) Dad was shooting as fast as he could.
After the horse cleared the mesquites Dad began to wonder if it would stop before trampling him. Dad bailed left and the horse went right. The horses’ hooves were about three feet from his face.
The cowboy realized the shoot was over and managed to slide onto another horse. The crazy horse immediately stopped bucking. He suddenly looked as docile as a kitten.
Dad’s assistants came running to make sure he was still alive. One of them commented, “Damn! That was really bad!” And that was probably the closest call, except for sliding off the cliff, that Dad had in 35 years of shooting.