Austin, Texas-based photographer Scott Van Osdol first learned that there were camels in Texas when he was assigned a piece on Camel Rancher Doug Baum for Texas Co-Op Power Magazine. The story, which profiled Doug and his organization Texas Camel Corps shines a light on the historical role that camels played in opening up America’s West.
The camels were imported from Egypt in the 1800s to haul supplies between US Army posts in the wilds of West Texas. Doug offers camel tours through the mountains, and I’d like to join him on a tour someday.
Jane Sharpe, the photo editor for Texas Co-Op Power Magazine, had worked with Scott through an Austin-based magazine in the past and reached out to him about working on projects for the magazine.
Jane and I worked together years ago. Even though I didn’t have any current editorial work on my website, she took a chance on me.
Despite not having any editorial work on his website at the time, Scott had some beautiful personal projects that seemed to catch her eye.
I think she was attracted to the work I did for Hill Country Ride for AIDS and a fundraising campaign I produced for a working cowboy living with end-stage Renal Disease. That’s the great thing about personal work: give it away; it comes back.
This assignment, shot in a small ranch outside of Waco, Texas, is one of many assignments Scott has shot for the magazine since he began working with them, but it’s up there as one of the most memorable. It was Scott’s first time riding a camel, and it was quite the experience.
These camels are like big dogs — sweet-tempered and obedient—no doubt due to Doug’s training. Even though they’re gentle, when they stand up, it’s like riding a roller coaster.
Waco is only about 2 hours from Scott’s home base in Austin, but he was determined to get a head start on the morning light, so he got on the road hours before the sun was up.
I like shooting at dawn. The light is usually soft and a bit hazy but still shows good directionality and color in the sky. So I do a lot of driving in the dark to arrive before the sun rises.
Scott and Doug had planned the first few images and had an idea of the images they wanted to get when he first arrived at the ranch, so this allowed them to get going quickly upon arrival. Right before dawn, the camels were up and ready for their close-up.
“Richard the Lionheart” was up and ready to go when I arrived. All I had to do was select the best angle to capture the sunrise, set up the big octo-box, balance the light levels, and start shooting — and ask Doug to kiss the camel for the camera!
My favorite part of the project was nailing the sunrise shot. I can spend days tracking weather forecasts, only to watch clouds roll in and the light die. It’s a blessing when it all comes together — good light, good subjects, good connection with the folks. It’s magical.
The cover shot for the magazine required some significant retouching, including changing the color of Doug’s shirt from tan to blue to create a contrast between the subject and the camel.
I also punched up the sky colors and removed the camel slobber spots on his shirt — camels drool a lot. There were also piles of camel poop I removed from the background, which is much easier to do virtually.
Scott’s work for Texas Power Co-Op has been gratifying for him and ultimately led to more assignments with the magazine and other Co-Op associations like Washington DC-based National Rural Electric Co-op Association.
I’m an old lefty with long-held respect for the role co-ops played in the 1930’s rural electrification and continue to play today. I’m proud to contribute to that tradition.