A Fast Horse in the Dying Texas Light

Life, like photography, is a constant give and take.


On my bucket list of things to photograph was the rider on the rim for the play Texas.  The play is internationally known.  Set in America’s second largest Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon, its backdrop is a natural mesa some 800 feet tall.  The mesa is a colorful icon of the old west.  As the play opens, one of the most thrilling sights I have ever seen happens.  800 feet above the play on the rim of the mesa a lone rider gallops hell bent for leather carrying the Texas flag mere inches from the drop. 

This photo is opposite of what the audience sees.  I am standing maybe 15 feet from the edge of the Mesa as the rider gallops inches from the rim.  The canyon wall opposite is painted with the sun showing the colors of the southwest in drama to match the play.

You might think this photograph something simple to create.  It wasn’t.  Let me get a bit photo geeky and technical for a minute before waxing philosophical about life.  For one the rider is moving at a full gallop, I had to shoot faster than I normally so she is not blurry.  Shooting fast limits the amount of light hitting my sensor so to get the exposure right, I have to compensate somehow. 

There is really on two ways to do that; your f-stop or your ISO.  The f-stop refers to the size of the hole in your lens.  The bigger the hole (which you can set) the more light BUT… you limit your depth of field.  Depth of field refers to the part of a photo that is in focus.  So think of a photo of a mountain with a flower in the front.  If the flower is in focus but the mountain is blurry, that is called narrow depth of field or shallow depth of field.  The part in focus is “narrow”.  I didn’t want narrow depth of field, I wanted the canyon wall across from us to be crisp too.  So that meant my f-stop had to be very small for a lot of technical reasons.  So I am limited in my exposure because of shooting fast and I am limited because of having a tiny f-stop.  This leaves me to compensate with ISO

ISO refers to how sensitive your sensor is to light.   The camera only has a narrow ability to adjust to ranges of light, unlike the human eye.  So the photographer has to choose that range.  100 ISO is for bright light, 400 ISO is for shade or cloudy days, 800 ISO is for indoor and so forth.  The trouble is that the higher your ISO the more “noise” your photo will have.  Noise is that grainy kind of look.  I wanted my photo as clear as possible so that means shooting with as low an ISO as possible.

A fast horse in the dying light and the canyon in the background creates a nightmare to get a crisp clean shot.   Life often hands you amazing opportunities but filled with difficulties.  Often times in my life when those opportunities have risen, I failed to accomplish what I needed to do because of a lack of knowledge. 

Life, like photography, is a constant give and take.  Want a long depth of field, which means limiting your exposure via the f-stop.  Want lots of money and you limit time with your family because you’re working all the time.  Want a crisp photo, that means shooting with a low ISO but that means compensating with either shutter speed which could create motion blur or your f-stop which gives you a narrow depth of field.  Love dessert and want a 6 pack ab, well there is a give and take.  Life often makes us choose one thing over another.  It's finding the balance that becomes hard to achieve want you to want out of life.  And so it is with photography.