These images are part of my ongoing project to photograph ranch gates and signs across Texas. When driving through rural Texas, fences along the roadsides are transected every so often by openings for ranch access roads. Most are simple gates with dirt roads leading off into the distance but a few are elaborately outfitted with expensive ironwork, arches and even landscaping. They can be quite a sight in the middle of nowhere.
Most country people are private by nature. You hardly ever see their homes from the road. Just like city folks they like to boast a little and keep up with their neighbors. So they build gates as a way of evoking status and advertising a certain position in life.
Some of the grandest entrances are erected by part-time ranchers from the city who buy properties for recreation and hunting. Most don’t actually live in the country except for weekends and holidays, still it is always important to mark your territory. Just one of those ancient instincts you could say.
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From my home in San Antonio I can drive to most parts of Texas to shoot photographs and return the same day. Usually I head northwest onto the Edwards Plateau and beyond to the Texas Bend country. My inclination is to go as far west as I can and still return in one day. For me there is a sense of freedom when traveling in the less populated parts of West Texas and the borderlands. It is a vast area with few resources so you need to be able to manage on your own.
Logistically, getting to West Texas for a sunrise photograph without an overnight stay means starting out at two or three AM. A shooting plan is a necessity when traveling hours to make a few photographs. It is simply too far to drive without knowing what you expect to accomplish. My first task is always to work my plan. Then as time and distance permit, to scout and shoot documentary images for future trips.
I could spend a couple of days a week on the road and never get to photograph all the interesting places I’d like to see. Being a regional photographer in Texas means there is plenty of room to roam around.
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Since getting involved with mirrorless cameras several years ago I have tried to use legacy lenses a few times with decidedly mixed results. My cameras didn’t support non-system lenses very well and my skills using manual exposure modes was lacking. Certainly it is difficult to use legacy lenses effectively without investing time to understand how to do manual exposure. If you find yourself in a similar position my advice is to shoot with a cheap manual exposure only film camera and 50mm lens for a few months. You will learn everything necessary to operate a camera effectively or it will help you decide to find another hobby.
My newly acquired Sony A7II has the best support I’ve encountered for shooting with legacy lenses. It has a lens mount that supports a huge range of adapters, a great electronic viewfinder, good camera customization options and most importantly excellent focusing aids. These cameras have the right mix of tools for using non-system lenses.
Once you have the right camera you have to decide which legacy lenses to use. Actually this has been difficult for me. I started out with the idea of using some Olympus OM glass I already owned. I will have to expand my reach to other lens makers in order to get the best possible image quality for the least cost. The problem is objective information about legacy lens quality is surprisingly hard to find.
If you want good to excellent glass at a good price you have to do some homework. High end legacy glass users only recommend high end lenses and gearheads will use anything at all. To help find the right glass at the right price I expanded my reach by purchasing an M42 lens adapter. Using the M42 mount gives me the option of trying out literally hundreds of different lenses from more than a dozen makers. To put one toe in the water I bought a cheap Super Takumar 35mm 3.5 lens on EBay the other day. I suspect this will be the first of many M42 lenses I’ll try over the next year.