Anatomy of a photo #56: Portrait of an old cowboy

This is a portrait of a cowboy. Don't let the clothes fool you, look at the man

This is Donald “Red” Rightsell. He was raised in the once small town of Patterson, California. He started roping in rodeos and jackpots when he was 18, and hasn’t stopped in over 65 years. At the young age of 70 he won two saddles and over $3,000 in prize money in a single day. He won himself a saddle and a buckle as recently 2009. As a friend of mine says, “He’s one in a million.”

I took this photograph at a friend’s ranch, where they were doing a little practice. He had thirty years on anyone else that was there, but he still had a thing or two to show them. Others missed, he didn’t. Even though he wears a baseball cap and a t-shirt, Red is every inch the cowboy, knowing what the cow might do before it does itself. He is one with his horse, guiding it with the familiarity of a lifetime.

When I snapped this shot, it was towards the end of a late summer’s day. The sun was low, giving everything a nice warm color. It wasn’t too bright, allowing me to expose for the rich shadows with out burning out too much of the photo where the sun was hitting. The low angle of the sun allows it to accent the picture without dominating it.

I caught Red in a contemplative moment as he and others sat their horses, enjoying the moment, the young energy of the horse contrasting the firm hand of the experienced rider, with history written in his every line. I was able to capture him in this quite moment with one of the longer lenses that I use for wildlife. I was faded away into the background. I wasn’t part of the moment that these people were sharing, I was just an observer from outside of their time, not a part of their consciousness.

The shallow aperture of my lens blurs the background enough so that it hints at farm equipment and machinery, without distracting from Red the principal players- Red, his horse, and the ears of another horse, that show they are not alone.

Live hard, experience life, and enjoy those quiet moments.

ISO 500, 420mm lens, f/7.1, 1/400th second

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in Anatomy of a photo, documentary, photography, portraits, SLR and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Anatomy of a photo #56: Portrait of an old cowboy

  1. Vicki says:

    it’s a really nice horse…they’re hard to take a good photo of!

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