The Annual Colt Branding - Spur Headquarters Ranch

My aunt and uncle, Bill and Dana Smith, live and work on a ranch right outside Spur, Texas: Spur Headquarters Ranch. Every year the ranch has a big colt branding event, however I haven't gotten to go in years past because of scheduling issues. Thankfully this years I did get to attend the event (which took place on June 28, 2014 - not in August) and not only that, but I got to get in close and really create some photos to tell a unique story of a lifestyle that is, in some ways, disappearing.

I must say that it is much larger than I expected. I thought there was going to be maybe 5-10 cowboys out there trying to get the colts branded and the mares de-wormed. Well, it was closer to 30 cowboys and 20 spectators - plus a complimentary lunch - who braved the hot Texas sun.*

So, for anyone who is interested in seeing and aspect of contemporary Texas ranching, here's a photo essay to. I hope you enjoy it and find it informative!

*Unfortunately, I did not get to capture the very beginning of the day, which consisted of the cowboys driving the colts and mares to the pen. They did this around 5-6 a.m. when the sun was just coming up over the horizon.*

Just a little trivia. For those who are familiar with western chaps but don't know they're purpose: they're used to protect a rider's legs while they're navigating their horse through brush and other tough terrain.

Before the branding, the cowboys get the colts and mares into one pen. All of the mares in this pen were bred by a single stud, and there were four sets of colts/mares that were worked. Each group was divided by the different stud horses that bred the mares.

A colt and mare anticipate going into the chute. The mare goes first, because in order to brand the colts the side of the chute must be opened.

A mare being de-wormed.

After the colt enters the shoot, it is necessary to restrain them before branding. Unlike cattle (excluding small calves), which can be worked by catching them in a headgate, horses are less hardy and narrower heads, so they must be restrained manually. This process does not hurt the colts. It's actually done to prevent the colts from hurting themselves during the branding.

That's not to say that every mare/colt takes it in stride. They can get spooked and rear up while in the chute

One mare got spooked and reared up while in the chute, causing her hoof to get stuck in the gate. Many gasps could be heard as the mare struggled to free herself. 

Brands in the fire. 

 And the branding begins.

And the branding begins.

 Bill Smith places the second of five brands on a colt.

Bill Smith places the second of five brands on a colt.

Each colt is given several brands: on their rump, thigh, shoulder, and head.

A freshly branded colt.

After being branded, the colts rejoin their mothers in the large pen.

Unlike traditional branding, in which a heated branding iron seers the skin and hair of the animal, a freeze brand is applied by using a branding iron that has been chilled with a coolant such as liquid nitrogen. It actually damages the hair cells, causing them to grow white from then on. It is, however, more expensive, slower, and less predictable than traditional branding.

A variety of brands hang on a fence while mares graze in a pen.

Kent Moore from Oklahoma watches as the colts are branded in the chute and released to join their mothers.

The dewormed mares and branded colts huddle together.

Jimbo Humpreys and Carson Horner sharing a laugh while waiting for the next mare and colt to come down the chute.

A mare is roped in order to trim its hooves.

Bill Smith leads a group of cowboys as they return from moving the mares back into their original pen.

Jimbo Humphreys helped throughout the day with the branding and moving of the colts and mares between pens.

Jim Trumper also helped to make sure the branding went as planned.

Kim Lindsey is the director of the Texas Tech Equestrian Center. She is also a champion quarter horse exhibitor, having won first place at the 2013 Adequan Select American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show in Amarillo, TX.  The horse that Lindsey won with was actually bred from Bill's stud, "Ten O Sea."

 After all of the colts have been branded and the mares have been brought back to their pens, a cowboy rests under a tree in one of the pens.

After all of the colts have been branded and the mares have been brought back to their pens, a cowboy rests under a tree in one of the pens.

Three Months with the Fujifilm X100S - Part 2

Update!!! About time, right? And it's only been almost five months since I acquired the Fujifilm X100S at this point. :)

Well, let's get right into it.

5. Ergonomics/Button Placement

Fujifilm got a lot right with the design of their compact camera, including button placement and how it sits in the hand. 

There's a small ridge on the front that acts as a grip. It's just enough to feel like I have a good grip on the camera without being so large that storage is difficult. 

There are two dials on the top, one for shutter speed and one for exposure compensation. When holding the camera they're easy to access on the fly, however, the shutter speed dial only adjusts in 1-stop increments instead of 1/3 stop increments like on a DSLR. I know they did it because the dial is too small to have 1/3 stop adjustments, but it is still sometimes annoying to go from an over-exposed image to an under-exposed image with one click of the dial. You can adjust shutter speed in 1/3 stops using the small wheel on the back of the camera, though, so it's not like they totally did away with precision. 

Aside from the dials for shutter speed, there's also the physical aperture ring on the lens, which allows for 1-stop adjustments of f-stop. I don't really think this is any more or less useful than having a wheel on the back that adjusts the aperture, it's still a great addition because it's fast and simple.

Another thing that's a bit troublesome is the switch that changes the autofocus mode. It only has three modes: AF-S (Single/One Shot), AF-C (Continuous), and MF (Manual), but the switch is sooooooooooooooo small, and it's not very easy to move. Changing AF modes should be a breeze. There's even a dedicated button on the back to change your AF point. Why they didn't make a dedicated button for the AF modes, I just do not know, because when I have to change from AF-S to AF-C, I often have to stop everything and very carefully move the switch. 

I'm not going to talk about the menu  as a separate topic because, meh, it's not great but it's not horrible. I don't really have any specific comments one way or the other about it.

6. Features

Now this is where the X100S really shines. This camera is chock-full of interesting features that wouldn't be possible with an interchangeable lens camera. 

The built in ND filter for one. The X100S has, built-in, a 3 stop ND filter, and it's legit too. It's not the software in the camera simulating an ND filter by changing the ISO or aperture. It's an actual filter that flips down inside the lens (or something, I don't know how it works to be honest. I just know it's there). Part of the reason Fujifilm did this is because they're awesome, however, a more practical reason is because of the lens design.

The X100S uses a leaf shutter lens (info about leaf shutters)  instead of a focal plane shutter inside the camera itself. This allows the camera to theoretically sync with flashes at any shutter speed (there are some caveats to that), but at the same time, it limits the maximum shutter speed you can use at certain apertures. I'm not sure if this is just an X100S thing, or if it's like this for all leaf shutters, but it is one use for the ND filter.

At f/2, the X100S can shoot at a maximum shutter speed of 1/1000. At f/2.8, it can shoot at 1/2000, and at f/4 it can shoot at 1/4000 (the fastest shutter speed in the camera). Using the ND filter allows me to shoot at f/2 in broad daylight without hitting the 1/1000 limit and overexposing my shots.

Now, on the software side of things, the X100S has a pretty awesome JPEG engine, complete with film simulations that are actually useful. They're not gimmicky at all. 

The simulations consist of Fujifilm...films...that they've produced in the past such as Fujifilm Velvia, Astia, and Provia. When combined with the quite powerful JPEG engine, I can produce very pleasing images straight of the camera without having to go into Photoshop. 

I'm NOT saying the JPEGs are or should be a replacement for lossless RAW processing, but if you are in a pinch (or if you just like the look of the JPEGs), then the in-camera processing is really great.

7. Off-Camera Flash

The X100S is very interesting when it comes to off-camera flash because of its leaf shutter.

It isn't limited by shutter speed like conventional DSLRs when it comes to strobes. The X100S can sync up its maximum shutter speed of 1/4000. There is a caveat, however. Many strobes don't have a flash duration fast enough for the X100S to catch the flash at full power at that shutter speed, so the highest shutter speed you can use flash at if you want it to be at all effective is 1/1000.

Another benefit is the built-in 3 stop ND filter. It allows for off-camera flash at wide apertures without having to use a very high shutter speed.

Here are a few examples of using strobes with the X100S:

Mackenzie White, the 2014-2015 Masked Rider for Texas Tech University

Unicorns are love. Unicorns are life.

A photographer portrait from a local shutter stroll.

A senior photo of my brother on our dad's ranch.

A Texas Tech softball player posing with her dog for social media promotion inviting people to bring their dogs to the next game.

8. Quirks

Now, I know that most of this review has been toting the awesomeness of this little niche camera, but it does have a few...annoyances. Well, more than a few - enough for me to make a whole section about it. I've already talked about a few of these in Part 1, but I'm going to compile them here before getting into the conclusion.

  • 1/1000 max shutter speed at f/2 and you can't use 1/4000 until f/8. This is the reason why they included a built-in 3 stop ND filter, so I assume this limitation has something to do with the lens design and leaf shutter.
  • You CANNOT fire a flash, either onboard or external when in continuous shooting or AF-C (continuous autofocus mode)
  • You CANNOT fire a flash when in silent mode.
  • This isn't so much a quirk as a frustration, but the battery life is abysmal. I recommend having 3-4 batteries for this camera, because you can run through one in about 4 hours of heavy shooting.
  • It's L (ISO 100), H1 (ISO 12,800) and H2 (ISO 25,600) settings are only available when shooting JPEGs.
  • When using Auto ISO, you can set a minimum shutter speed that the X100S will shoot at in all situations. Unless you're one of those people who reads the manual like a book, the first few times you use Auto ISO you'll probably be scratching your head at the under-exposed images only to find out that the minimum shutter speed was set to 1/60. :P

9. Conclusion

The X100S is a great little camera. Although it's not the first of its kind (Leica and Sony both have large sensor fixed lens cameras), but it is definitely the most unique. It has a very interesting feature set, it's incredibly compact, and it's almost completely silent, making it ideal for shooting without drawing too much attention to yourself or disturbing your surroundings. It does have it's limitations and quirks (*cough*autofocus*cough*) but then again, this is a camera that works better as a complement to the rest of you kit unless you shoot specific subjects in a specific style. I wouldn't hesitate to take it on and editorial assignment, and I have, but I wouldn't leave my DSLR at home. 

All in all, it's a great little camera that shows the innovation that Fujifilm is really pushing for in the industry!

Now it's time for a dance break.