First of all, thanks to everyone who offered feedback on my previous post about dealing with asshole neighbors. I decided to take down the post, though, since our situation with them is ongoing and well, you never know. So for anyone wondering what happened to it, that’s what happened. Moving on.
My self-portrait-taking manic phase ended as suddenly as it overtook me; one day I set up the camera to take photos and felt bored halfway through, and that was that. I also became interested in taking more shots outdoors after processing the photos from my niece’s prom and enjoying playing around with the light and color in them, but taking self-portraits outside has always been complicated for me, so last week I decided to just focus on taking pictures of things outside other than myself, and made a last-minute decision to visit the George Ranch Historical Park, which is about 10 miles from my house, and bring my camera with me.
Heavily edited; I might as well just admit that the sky in all of these shots is fake. In reality it was grey and cloudy out, and also high noon
I’d never visited, even though I’ve lived out here for 17 years, and in thinking about where to go take photos I landed on this park because I knew there would be volunteers there working the farm in character, and I figured I could get some interesting portraits. Being primarily a studio shooter who doesn’t venture out much with her camera, I also figured taking photos at a park like this would be more comfortable for me than going somewhere photographers aren’t already expected to be wandering around snapping pictures of everything that moved; I still tend to get self-conscious and/or nervous street shooting because I don’t want to offend or upset anyone by taking photos. I did get some good portrait shots, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the park as much as I did, or to photograph as many other things as I did, or for the park to be as HUGE as it was (20,000 acres, to be exact). In fact, I only got halfway through the park before I had to turn around and go home, since my phone had quit working and I knew Doug would be getting worried having not heard from me for several hours, and I had errands to run later in the day.
The ranch has several historic sites on the grounds, spanning from the 1830’s through the 1930s, and focusing on several different families who were key to developing the area. At the majority of these sites, visitors can walk around freely, talk to the ‘interpreters’ who are really volunteers/actors dressing, working, and living as they would have during the time period – to walk the entire path linking all these sites together covers about a mile.
I went by myself, but there were three other groups of people who arrived around the same time I did (all three groups were, interestingly, in groups of three), so I basically wandered the park alongside this big group of people. One group was from Italy, another was from France, and the other one was from Illinois – I was the only local out and about that day. I started out walking the trail on my own, but this is Texas and it’s already getting hot outside, as well as being terribly humid on this particular day, so after the first stop I ended up riding the tram around (which is pulled by a tractor) to the other sites, along with the rest of the group. Kind of sad that I wasn’t up for just walking the mile, but I didn’t want to get too sweaty since I had errands to run later. Excuses!
We had about 30 minutes at each site before the tram came back around, and most of the guests would gather around the actors and listen to them tell stories about what life was like during their time period. I didn’t do much of that, choosing to wander around the site instead and take photos without having to navigate around too many people. As such, I ended up taking all sorts of photos I didn’t intend to take. In fact, I took way more photos of ‘stuff’ than I did of the people. No real reason for that, just that there weren’t too many people around (maybe 1-3 at each site) and once I’d taken one photo of them, well, I had to move on to other things. It was funny though, because I could tell they are so used to people taking their photos that they did have a tendency to “pose” rather than just stand around – like this guy:
He just stood there until I got my shot, and I didn’t have to say a word
This was another reason I was comfortable taking so many pictures here; my subjects were expecting me to take their picture and giving me some nice setups in the process. You can tell they know how to provide people what they’re looking for! When not telling the visitors stories or posing for photos, the volunteers are doing chores around the site and basically working, for the most part, as they would have back in the day. So, someone at the site might be churning butter, or herding cattle, or – whatever the hell it is settlers would have been doing way back when.
Not sure what’s she doing here, but it involved fire. You’re welcome.
The first stop in the pictures above was a stock farm, which represented a farm that had — livestock, I guess? I dunno, I have a brochure somewhere but I never read it. The next stop was the Ryon Prairie Home, which sure looked like a mansion compared to the stock farm:
Yep, the sky is fake in this one too
At least, it looked like a mansion until the next stop, where I saw the real mansion. Still, the volunteer dressed up as Polly Ryon, the owner of the home, had a pretty interesting story to tell, at least the part I listened to – when she married her father actually made an arrangement that the family money would stay in her name instead of transferring to her husband, and throughout her life she was influential in capitalizing on the family’s considerable fortunes and preserving their legacy. It was kinda funny – one of the men in the group from Illinois was asking a ton of questions at every stop and creating this really anachronistic atmosphere, which was interesting to watch the actors navigate. He was particularly interested in this aspect of her story: “So, it was an early form of a pre-nup?” and then the woman had to acknowledge what he asked while at the same trying to stay in character. I’m sure they get that a lot, but this guy was so uber-inquisitive it made me wonder if the actors are under pressure to stay in character and might get in trouble if they do break it. I guess they are all volunteers, so the pressure can’t be too great – although, maybe I’m wrong, and they are all paid workers on the ranch. That would actually make more sense, as it sure would take one hell of a dedicated volunteer to dress up in all those layers of pioneer gear and stoke fires in 100-degree heat when she didn’t have to.
Well, if pre-nups existed, then I guess you could call it that, but since they don’t…
There were some great shots to take in the Ryon house; I’d been unsure of which lens to take on this trip and ended up choosing my 50mm, which all things considered I think was a good choice.
The 50mm has a shallow depth of field, which makes for prettier portraits and is why I chose it, but it’s also good in low light and works for most photography I might want to take in a walkabout situation. I don’t get as crisp or clear shots of architecture or landscapes, and I definitely could have used my wide-angle lens in the small interiors of these buildings, but overall I think it was the right choice. I say all this because I am going back to the ranch tomorrow to finish out the tour, and after considering different lenses I could use this time, I ended up deciding to stick with the 50mm. Of all my lenses, it’s the most versatile, even though in a lot of these shots I didn’t get the clarity I could have gotten with either my 40mm or my 17-40.
I also chose to take my inexpensive Canon SL1 instead of my 7D because of how much lighter it is. I bought the SL1 several years ago for just this reason, when walking around with a camera for hours the 7D gets really heavy, and the SL1 is the smallest DSLR on the market right now. If I use my 40mm, it’s even lighter and smaller, but since I knew I wanted the DoF of the 50mm I sacrified a little of the lightness to get better shots. Still, it’s a great little camera for just this purpose, and it worked fine. It’s noisy, as is the lens, so in the one stop of the tour where we all had to follow a guide and couldn’t just wander around I did notice it was probably annoying to hear my camera going off so much. But other than that, it’s nice to get some real use out of this little camera since I haven’t used it too much since I got it. As I do more outdoor and walkabout photography, it’s likely to finally get some real use.
That pink shot is my favorite so far; obviously because of the color, although it was much more mauve in the original. Also, I didn’t actually get a good centered shot of this (one of my weaknesses when taking non-studio shots is I often forget about things like getting a subject centered in front of background stuff like a fireplace) so what I had to do is take the left side of the fireplace, copy it, and paste it over the right side to make the shot better-framed. This is why if you look at the right side, you can actually see a curtain draping into the fireplace that appears to be growing out of the wall. In the original shot, that curtain was falling over into the fireplace from a nearby window, but I covered that up when I pasted the other edge of the fireplace over it. I couldn’t figure out how to realistically correct this, so I said to hell with it and left it. There was also a small mirror hanging over the fireplace that was also off-center, so the easiest thing to do there was to cover it up with more wallpaper.
Once we left the Ryon house, we stopped off at the sharecropper’s shack shown above. The guy narrating at this site told us a family of TEN lived in this shack at one time. He had some photos of the family inside to prove it, too. I’m sure I took pictures of those pictures, but we’re about to the end of what I’ve processed from my trip so far, so it may show up in another post. I did get a few good shots of the friendly sharecropper though, because he was really embodying the spirit of the time period:
And so did his shack:
I’ll have more shots from this stop in the next post, and then it’s on to about half of the ‘real’ mansion – I ended up bailing on the tour halfway through that house. But since I am going back tomorrow, you really don’t need to worry about that, because by the time I get those shots processed I’ll have a whole new batch to add to them to fill out the rest of this set. For now, I’ll close with one of my favorite shots from the day – it’s out-of-order here; I took it when leaving the stock farm and heading over to the Ryon house (which you can see in the distance):
Another fake sky!