Yippie Ki Yay-Shooting The Cowboy Church

“Is it alright to have my dog in the picture?” The bearded old man wearing jeans, a western shirt, and a cowboy hat and cowboy boots says. “And my bible?”

“Sure” I say with a smile. “Whatever you want.”

Cowboy Churches are interesting places.  A little more laid back than most Churches.  The dress code is Urban Cowboy to Brokeback Mountain and they often meet in rough finished metal buildings with the beams exposed.  Of course, not everyone looks like John Wayne or Annie Oakley, but a good number of them do.  Ok, I haven’t seen any buckskins, but that doesn’t mean I won’t before the week is out.

Wikipedia puts it this way-Cowboy churches are local Christian churches within the cowboy culture that are distinctively Western heritage in character. A typical cowboy church may meet in a rural setting in a barn, metal building, arena, sale barn, or old western building, have its own rodeo arena, and a country gospel band. Baptisms are generally done in a cattle tank. The sermons are usually short and simple. Some cowboy churches have covered arenas where rodeo events such as bull riding, team roping, ranch sorting, team penning and equestrian events are held on weeknights.

And most important of all- wait for it -members of Cowboy Churches tend to buy portraits.

As a general rule, people who wear cowboy hats are more likely to buy portraits.  I’m not entirely sure why this is, but it has proven to be the case over the years.  People who bring their own props are usually interested in buying portraits, and a fancy cowboy hat could be thought of as a prop.  Not everyone who wears a cowboy hat buys, but a lot of them do.  So a church were everyone and their dog wears one is a good thing.

This particular Cowboy Church has decided that appointments aren’t all that important, so in addition to a full appointment sheet, they have a bunch of walk-ins.  If the walk-ins come late in the day, this not a big problem, if they are all stacked before we start shooting, as they were here, than we are three sits behind all day long.  You can try to explain this to the hostess, but they will usually say something like-The PreSeller said we could add a few people if we wanted to.  Of course he did.

At a Good Shoot, one where people are buying, it can take twenty minutes or more for the Passer to complete the Sale.  If I shoot everyone who is waiting, which I easily can, than there is an hour or longer wait to see the portraits after they have been taken.  So I have to slow down a bit and make them wait thirty minutes, or however long it takes for the Passer to get caught up-if the Passer ever gets caught up.  Extra people can mean extra money, but it can also mean people walking out because they are tired of waiting.

As it turns out, we are only busy on the first day, and it is the only day we have great sales.  The sittings are too low and we have a few too many older folks who are just there for the Book-just like any other Shoot that last had a Book three years ago.  Oh well, can’t win them all.

But it is fun to shoot a Cowboy Church.  Everyone is dressed up and most of them seem to be having a good time.  There are a few more old men than most other Shoots and this means I can break out some of my old style Hollywood poses and skim light across rugged faces and generally get all moody and artsy.  A couple of the single men liked the profile shots.  This was also a good place to do a few of those floor poses The Company is so hot for.  But most of the people I see this week are still older couples, and I don’t often ask people over fifty to lay on the floor.

I have a brown muslin background with a mottled pattern it looks good with that whole Old West vibe of most of the people I am shooting.  The background also does a good job of picking up colors from gels.  I have a soft spot for colored gels, they are easy to carry around and they can totally change the look of a background.  The background is not a very dark brown, so I like to add a bit of brown light to it for the old time feeling.

The Cowboy Church is full of stuff that can be used as props:saddles, blankets, ropes, steer horns, bails of hay, wooden fence sections, and even a life-size plastic horse and a full sized covered wagon.  I am in a fairly small room for the shoot and the option of using any of these odd and interesting items is limited to what will fit through the door.  I end up not using any of the items sitting around the church, which is too bad, as they would have made for interesting portraits.  Of course, props are secondary to the Subject, but sometimes they help make a sale.

The big seller for the week is the standard cowboy shot of the head tilted and one hand grabbing the brim of the cowboy hat.  This is a good shot for kids and it works pretty good for most adults as well.

In the end it was just an average week.  The sits were too light and the Shoot was re-booked too soon.  But it was fun to hang out in the land of the drugstore cowboys and  real cowboys.

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