Todd Klassy has captured the real working life of ranches in Montana. His photography is beautiful and captivating, but also serves an important role in documenting the lives of working cowboys and cowgirls, whose ways of life are dying out due to advances in modern technology. Here, Todd talks about the story behind the photos.
Photographing the Wild West
“In early 2010 I decided to close my business in the telecom industry, sell my house, and move to Montana to photograph one of the more beautiful corners on our planet. Many people think of mountains when they think of Montana, but I had the goal of photographing some of the less traveled parts of what is America’s 4th largest state.
As I traveled across this state I learned that cowboy life (the art of roping and the old school way of life for the old fashioned cowboys) is slowly coming to an end. Horses are being replaced by four-wheelers (or Japanese quarter horses as some call them in these parts), roping is being replaced by mechanical contraptions, and cowboys are being replaced by hired men who have spent more time riding around in the back of a pick-up truck than they have on a horse. The opportunity to photograph rustic, real American personalities surrounded by beautiful scenery in one of the more remote corners of Montana was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
As I grew up on a dairy farm, I’m comfortable working around cattle; but working around horses and real, hard working cowboys who have a job to get done made a bit more anxious. Horses can be more dangerous if they are unfamiliar with someone. Luckily there are dozens of people helping out during branding season when most of my photographs were made and they all kind of help to keep an eye on the rookie, which is not to say that I wasn’t close to being trampled a couple of times! It was important to constantly keep my head on a swivel and not keep my eye glued to my viewfinder.
Apart from shooting ranch life I spend much of my time taking photos of the remote, anonymous landmarks that dot the western landscape. I hope my photos show a fondness for Montana where I find many of the old abandoned homesteads, churches, schoolhouses, and grain elevators that distinguish the Montana landscape. I also spend much of my time photographing Montana’s cowboys, Native American Indians, and railroad workers, whose culture and traditional way of life is threatened by the hands of time.
I try to carry my camera with me where ever I go, but for the most part I average one day a week in the field photographing. Because everything is so far away here in the western United States each shoot has to be meticulously planned, even if it is just for a personal project. Safety is a factor, too. The weather here is quite harsh. The high temperature in summer, for example, is 66 degrees Celsius warmer than the coldest days I shoot in the winter. And many shoots are very, very remote. If my vehicle breaks down in many places I shoot, I may face a day-long trek through wilderness, facing extreme weather conditions, and animals that can kill you (i.e. rattlesnakes, grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves, etc.).
Although I spend a lot of time out photographing, I do have a day job. I intended to go full-time when I moved to Montana, but I was wasn’t prepared to jump in with both feet and lose a regular paycheck. As such I have spent the better part of the last two years working on the business side of photography. I still only get to shoot one day a week at best, but because of my attention to the business side of photography my sales have increased to a point where I’m confident going full-time in the spring. My photographs have been published in several national and regional publications and print sales have increased dramatically since moving to Montana.
Between now and spring 2013 I plan to wrap up work on my cowboy series, which will require several more photo shoots around the state of Montana, this fall’s cattle drives, the birth of calves in late winter, and the brandings in spring. This fall I will also begin working on a series of photographs taken on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and in late spring.
Next year I plan on becoming a full-time photographer and continuing my voyage through the American west, Alaska, and Canada and create packaged multimedia stories for consumption by newspapers, magazines, local television affiliates, radio, and web pages. These pre-packaged “stock” stories will include still images, photo slide shows, HD video, HD audio, written articles, and info graphics that will be ready for any news outlet to license on a royalty free or rights managed basis at an affordable price. Living and working out of a camper trailer, I hope to become a professional story teller, sharing with people the stories of interesting places and things well off the beaten paths.
The vast majority of my photographs are shot using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Mark III with either a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM or 16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens. I also use a couple of Canon Speedlite 580EX flashes when the sun gets too high in the sky, but those are being replaced this week with the newer Canon 600EX-RT flashes and Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT. I also shoot black and white using a Canon EOS 5D, which was converted for infrared shooting.”
Watch Todd’s video which features more of his fantastic photography.
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