Portrait photographer Craig Okraska recently landed a gig a little different than his typical projects. Based in Lander, Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West, Craig was contacted through Instagram by a branding agency working with The LOR Foundation, a nonprofit that works with “rural communities in the Mountain West to enhance livability and prosperity.”
I didn’t have any prior experience with the client’s branding agency; however, a LOR foundation representative knew a previous client of mine. That indirect connection, I think, really helped them feel comfortable with their decision to work with me.
While true, Craig’s portfolio has a sense of authenticity that must’ve struck a chord with LOR. The foundation explicitly states that, while their goal is to help make these communities the best they can be, they place preserving each community’s character high on their priority list.
The LOR Foundation needed imagery to flesh out their website as well as content for their social channels to support a dialogue about issues important to the community — such as outdoor recreation and access to medical providers, etc. After perusing Craig’s Instagram and getting a good sense of his aesthetic, the foundation chose him to create lifestyle images of members of the community, shot in various locations across Lander, Wyoming.
I planned each location according to the individual to give context to their everyday lives. These included a multi-generational working cattle ranch; the Popo Agie River, an organic farm run by a back-to-the-land lawyer, and a climbing gym owned by a world-class climbing instructor.
Most of the shoot locales were outdoor, which was lucky when considering the pandemic. However, Wyoming is a land of extreme, unexpected weather — as with most outdoor shoots, Craig had to be a master improviser.
For one location, we had overcast skies. My intention going in was to accentuate the soft, diffused light with a bit of flash and a background that fit a composition I liked. But, as chance would have it, the skies cleared quickly and gave me a harsh light.
So, Craig did what he does best: he worked with what he had. The sun was low enough that, with a slight shift in their setup, it gave them an excellent side “rim light” providing beautiful light separation. Shifting locations, of course, is not an ideal solution; but with this shoot, the environment of the subject was paramount to the success of each image.
The goal with each individual was to photograph them in their own environment and represent them authentically in 3-5 unique shots. In most cases, though, I wasn’t able to scout in advance, so decisions about composition or lighting were made in a relatively short period of time (as little as 20 minutes total for one shoot).
This was quite a bit different than Craig’s typical projects, which tend to be lifestyle, advertising, and product photography, where he can take more time to work out his vision. This shoot was more akin to a photojournalism commission, mainly due to its fast-paced nature.
When he arrived on an organic turkey farm, a prime example of this fast-paced and relatively improvisational style unfolded. Having no idea what to expect, Craig asked for a quick explanation of the farmer’s daily routine. Then, he let the farmer “do his thing.”
With a combination of the morning sun and chaotic, frantically hungry turkey chicks, I was able to get one of my favorite shots of the farmer, one framed by the turkey pen with his tools of the trade and dog in tow.
This project tested Craig’s ability to make quick decisions in unseen scenarios. More than that, it allowed Craig to meet these new and unique individuals and to explore a small part of their worlds.
Photographing someone in their own space can be an intimate experience, so I’m always honored when someone feels comfortable enough to share a part of their world with me.
See more of Craig’s work at thechromatic.co.
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