We couldn't be more excited about speaking with Chris Dickinson on his decades of experience photographing cowboys and telling stories of Ranch Life.
What are some of your favorite places to photograph and why?
As an editorial and commercial photographer, I’m always out on ranches, wide open spaces, so my favorite places to photograph are just that...wide open spaces. I really don’t have a bucket list of “places” as much as I do a passion for the people that occupy the wide open places we call ranches.
Today I’m always on the lookout for a different angle, a new way to push myself while exploring a deeper creativeness beyond the technical limitations of our image creating tools. Fundamental to my creativity is the acceptance and trust I’ve gained over the years with those I follow allowing me unprecedented access to create my iconic western images.
Ranch Life is more than a job, it’s a way of life for these cowboys and girls. It’s early mornings and late nights, dust and dirt, new beginnings with baby calves, roping and riding, branding and weaning. As a photographer, or as I describe myself, a Professionally Trained Observer, my images aren’t just snapshots, they're stories.
How does photography play into your daily life? Do you have any specific practices on taking breaks or compartmentalizing?
Yikes. This one is really tough because the work that I do comes with a fair amount of compartmentalizing, which can be a bad thing. Sometimes it’s hard to come back from an assignment. I’ve had 90 year old men crying in my lap over a horse they’d had for 30 years, I’ve also documented images of loss that were healing for those that experienced the loss. These are stories and assignments that are tough to come back from emotionally. Yes, I do have to step away from my work at times, ride my horse, or create something different. Photography is always there for me, at times, the camera is an extension of who I am. I dream about images, I’ve even woken up and wrote down diagrams of what I dreamt about then created the images the next day. I love what I do.
What are you shooting with these days?
These days, my primary body is an EOS R5 paired with an RF 70-200 f/2.8 IS L. My secondary body is a 5D MK4 paired with an EF 16-35 f/2.8 v3. I’ve owned and used every 5D in Canon’s lineup. By far the R5 is my favorite camera. Before I answer the one lens question it’s worth noting that over the years, as a professional photographer, I’ve whittled down my arsenal to just two lenses. If I had to choose one though it would be my money maker, the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L.
Why choose Gura Gear products?
From being lightweight enough to simply grab and go to getting on a plane and heading to the next ranch assignment, to its durability being out on location in extreme environments. I'm constantly faced with all kinds of weather and need to keep my equipment safe from the rain, snow, and dust. This bag covers all those bases for me.
One thing I particularly like about this bag is the visual cue from the blue lining letting you know the bag is open. I've been in situations where well-meaning people have picked up my bag to be polite but I left it open for easy access. As you can imagine, everything has fallen out! Not a good day!! I love the butterfly design of the bag as well. This only allows access to the things I need immediately.
What do you look for when creating a photograph? Do you go in any order like "light, subject, composition, action" or is it a different process?
For me, light is always predominant...or I suppose we wouldn’t have images! I don’t have an order per se as much as I feel an image. That feeling manifests itself in many different ways which are largely driven by emotions. Relationships between spouses, children, rider and horse, or even rider, horse, and dogs. For me, the passion for what I do, comes from the passion that people have for what they do. Distilling that down to prescriptive elements is tough, I love color, composition, light, and movement...I suppose with light being first.
How would you define your style of photography?
Technique over time equals style, I’ve come to realize that. I’ve been told my images are emotional, gritty and raw. Outwardly, I’d say my style is editorial and documentary.
Perhaps inwardly though, I’d call myself a lifestyle preservationist.
Who are some photographers that have inspired you and/or continue to?
This is such a great question!! For me, it’s really just that word alone, “inspiration” that gives me goosebumps, as opposed to influence. To that end, for someone to inspire, they also need to be a good person in my eyes. Here are a couple good people that have inspired me:
Bruce Dorn - Bruce is a Canon Explorer of Light, a self described raconteur, with over 50 years in the industry. A long, long time ago I heard these words, “shoot through foreground interest”. I was in the right place, at the right time, hearing that right voice.
It stuck with me, so much so, that I find it deployed in my work unconsciously. I heard that from Bruce, he’s not only been fundamentally inspiring to me, he’s also a close friend.
Robert Capa - “If your pictures aren't good enough, you’re not close enough” - Capa’s work and tenacity have long had a significant impact on me. While Capa’s quote can be taken literally, which I’ve been known to do many times, it’s the metaphorical approach that I apply in my work. To do superior work, you have to care. Perhaps you’re not close enough? Capa died in 1954 after stepping on a landmine covering the Indochina war.
How far do you go to capture a truly unique moment? and what is the craziest thing you've done to capture a photograph?
Look, I’ve been kicked, run over, and mucked out to get a shot...and every time, I’ve gotten the shot! The craziest? Hmmm, hanging out the back of a pickup, inches from the ground while it’s rolling, getting an image of a celeb pastry chef and Harley rider together for a clothing brand. That was pretty crazy and it filled every creative spot desirable!
Where can we find more of your work?
Can you tell us about the project(s) you're currently working on?
The most immediate project is a co-branded streaming tutorial series with Canon Explorer of Light, Bruce Dorn - we’ll be recording photography educational videos of what we do and how we do it!