Montana native and professional photographer Lynn Donaldson was recently on assignment for Nat Geo Travel and shares her experiences photographing in Montana.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is not to freak out if things on a photo shoot don’t go according to plan. I’m all for being organized and getting my ducks in a row, but sometimes the more you “plan,” the more you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You can only control so much, and weather is always a wild card. So while I always keep one eye on the forecast and try to time outdoor shots with favorable weather, I’ve learned to just roll with whatever’s tossed at me.
When I’m shooting a travel story in Montana in the summertime, I rarely stop to eat dinner because I don’t want to miss the intense golden light that lasts until close to 10 p.m. But then Dan “Rooster” Leavens, owner of the Stonefly Inn in Twin Bridges, Montana, invited me to have one of his legendary coffee-rubbed steaks before we headed out to get a shot of him on one of the nearby rivers he guides fly-fishermen on.
The drive from my hotel in Dillon to Twin Bridges was magical: Intense golden light skimmed the tops of straw bales and the cottonwoods lining the glittering Beaverhead River, right where Rooster had chosen a picturesque spot for our shoot. It was perfect light for the assignment.
As it was Rooster’s day off, I had expected to find him chatting around the fire pit with guests before heading to photograph him at the river. But his chef hadn’t shown up, and instead he was inside the Stonefly’s dining room grilling rib-eye steaks for 20 people. Unfazed by cooking for 20 and having a photographer show up, he said, “Lynn! How the heck are you? Grab a drink from the cooler; dinner’s almost on.”
The meal pushed our shoot later into the evening, and by then thick clouds were building in the west. By the time we got to the gate, we were totally socked in, and it was oddly dark at 8:30 p.m., which is normally the beginning of the magic hour. But there were glimmers of pink streaking through the clouds above the Pioneer Mountains, and Rooster had a fly rod in his hand and his daughter McCall and dog Willie by his side. So off we went.
I loved watching the three of them walk through the tall grass toward the river, so I cranked the ISO to 800 and turned my flash on so I could expose for the sky and fill them in. Rooster “guided” McCall to start, and then he took a few casts himself. Willie snapped at mosquitoes on the bank. I photographed them walking back and putting their gear in the jeep—and even shot at ISO 4000 on the dark drive back. We’d have been fools to pack it up at the sight of clouds and not enjoy this beautiful evening.
Photographed with a Nikon D700 with a 24-70mm lens at 1/200 sec; f/2.8; ISO 800.
See more photos by Lynn Donaldson on Instagram @lynn_donaldson.