For about four years, the fictional Duttons of Montana have gone to great, and sometimes horrifying lengths, to protect their family ranch in “Yellowstone.” They’ve worn denim jeans, donned cowboy hats and boots, and topped it off with an assortment of coats and jackets to brave the figurative cold brought on by their adversaries. Some of the fine western garb, modeled by the likes of Kevin Costner, has come from Schaefer Outfitter, an apparel manufacturer that has catered to generations of hardworking men and women in the West. The perennial tailor to everyone from farmers to ranchers was set to launch a new collection last year, and they enlisted the services of Ketchum, Idaho-based photographer Hillary Maybery, for the job.
As someone who spends her fair share of time outdoors handling the natural elements, Hillary was no stranger to the apparel company. In fact, she’s a proud owner of Schaefer clothing herself and had wanted to saddle up for the brand for years. She kept up with their website, social media pages, and promo emails, keeping an open line of communication regarding her intentions. Finally, one day, they caught her IG post featuring Pendleton Jackets, and it took her over the finish line.
Schaeffer needed an image library to promote an upcoming selection of clothing. As with everything they do, the look from top to bottom had to be authentic. To achieve that result, actors and models would be barred from set, even if they were named Kevin Costner. Instead, the shoot would rely on actual cowboys who live the western life day in and day out. They would pick out what they’d wear during a typical day of work, and Hillary would do the rest. This wasn’t cosplay or make-believe. This was real.
The shoot took place at a subject’s ranch, and from the time Hillary arrived, her behavior embodied the persona of a cowgirl much more than a photographer.
I got to their ranch and scouted the locations that I liked. I would always start at the barn saddling horses, and putting on chaps and jackets. Then head outside for roping, feeding cattle, more roping, and exercising horses.
Her labors didn’t end there. For this assignment, Hillary was a lone wolf. There were no producers, no stylists, and no assistants. Getting the required images, of close-ups examining the detail of Schaefer’s outfits and the wide shots painting pictures of a Western epic, would all fall on her. The cowboys on camera weren’t the only ones getting their hands dirty that day. But while the circumstances would have spelled trouble on most other projects, some would argue that a barebones production was crucial to achieving Schaefer’s vision.
I know just being one on one is always simpler and more intimate to get authentic shots. These are my type of people, so I can talk the talk, give them sh**, and make them laugh. We shoot non-stop as they do, working on their ranch.
Subject and photographer were one and the same, mirroring each other’s grind as demanded by the land around them. For three hours, Hillary trudged around with the cowboys to figure out the lay of the land. She located those ideal backdrops that would reveal the person, the clothing, and the way of life as beautifully woven parts of a larger fabric, despite being pestered by frigid temperatures. But the minor annoyance wouldn’t detract from the experience.
We shot out in the desert, pretty far out, so I got to shoot on horseback – it doesn’t get any better! My happy place! I would work with horses anytime over high-paid models and prefer to be outside, hot or freezing. But thank GOD for hand warmers!
The experience was also rewarded by the desired outcome: a client satisfied by the output. Schaefer roped in a sizeable quantity of images and deployed them all across their marketing avenues. Hillary’s photos are displayed front and center on their website while making regular appearances on social media. But another satisfied cohort emerged in the form of the cowboys and their families.
You can’t believe how much they love having photos with their favorite horse or a new profile pic! Their wives and families love having the photos too!
By design or accident, Hillary came out of the assignment a storyteller, turning her subjects into protagonists of their own Westerns. But unlike the fictional world of “Yellowstone,” these characters’ heroics are grounded in reality, through the effort exerted every day on the land that gives them a living. Even on the odd chance that audiences won’t see it that way, their families most certainly will.
See more of Hillary’s work on her website.
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