I had not been to a photography workshop for a while so when I heard that Phyllis Burchett was running one at Southern Cross Guest Ranch in Madison, Georgia…
I decided it was time to gather up my gear and my riding boots. I happened to mention it to my sister and she decided she wanted to join me so we added a couple of extra days after the workshop to see the area around Madison and maybe ride a horse!
I have a 30 year old Morgan horse at home that I have not ridden in years… she is an expensive “pet”! So I am a horse person at heart! I have not done too much equine photography as it is pretty specialized and horse owners are very picky! But I wanted this opportunity to learn from one of the best equine photographers around. I had taken a workshop from Phyllis in Florida which was primarily centered on the beach so this would be a slightly different set up with the fall colors (hopefully) and a set location with many horses and models. Charlotte Detienne, who is an accomplished horsewoman, an amazing photographer (she is the official photographer for Southern Cross) and part of the “family” at Southern Cross, was also one of the instructors.
But first, some info about the ranch! Southern Cross Guest Ranch is family owned and operated. The ranch was originally a horse breeding operation that was turned into a guest ranch. The original house with the addition of another building that includes more guest rooms and a large dining facility are a step into southern and relaxed living. The rooms are comfortable and range from small to full-on suites. The “ranch family” dines with the guests at a “reserved” table in the dining hall for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! The dining hall is where all the meals are served buffet style. Our yummy meals were a mixture of German, southern, and some more international cuisine. The dining hall was always open even for late-night snacks of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and fresh cookies!
My sister and I were pleasantly surprised to meet the owner and her husband. They came into the living room to feed the fish in the large aquarium one evening. We had a nice conversation about the ranch and she shared some of their history.
Our first night I realized that the conditions might to good to try to get some Milky Way shots as we were quite far away from the light pollution of Atlanta.
So after dinner, I pulled out my tripod, wide-angle lens, headlamp, and camera. I walked out away from the house and found a spot between the house and barns where there was not too much light. I shot for about an hour waiting for the occasional car coming and going from the ranch house to go by.
I started to get a bit cold so I headed back to the house. I took a few minutes to download and was happy to find that I got a few shots but my best one looked like it was pretty much shot with the camera pointing straight up into the sky.
My sister and I decided to get to bed early as I had to get up pretty early to grab some breakfast and meet up with my fellow photographers from the workshop.
We gathered together and headed out to the pasture where the models and their horses were coming over from the barn.
The sun was just starting to come over the trees and we were lucky to have a fair amount of fog!
The instructors had the models take the horses over to the field so we could get some backlit shots, taking advantage of that hazy fog!
Most of the trees in this area had not started to change so we had to do some maneuvering to get one tree with some color in our shots!
Our models were amazing and the horses were very patient so everyone could get the images they were after.
As the light started to get a bit harsh, the instructors gathered us up, sent the models and their horses back to the barn. We headed back to the house for a much needed lunch.
After lunch we gathered at the barn for a very different set up. Phyllis and Charlotte had put up a black background cloth across the end of one of the barn aisles where just the right amount of light would be shining on the horses and models.
Our models were back, some in new outfits and there were some new horses as well.
Shooting against that black background is not easy but it is the best way to get a portrait with no distractions in your image.
The one totally black horse was such a challenge that I decided to make the image black and white!
After spending around 6-7 hours on our feet between the morning and afternoon shoots, we were happy to head back up to the house and to the dining hall for another great dinner.
My sister and I enjoyed the evening by the fireplace and I downloaded my images for the day and was happy to see I had some great shots to post process later!
The next day the workshop participants met for a while where we learned about some of the post processing techniques that Phyllis and Charlotte use.
After another amazing lunch, we made our way via a golf cart or walking to another of Southern Cross’s beautiful pastures. This time we were going to get a demonstration of some roping work and also see some of the ranches large herd of horses, most of which were out on winter pasture as this is normally a slower time of year for the guest ranch.
We moved over into the area where the pastured horses were and our riders moved the herd so we could get some action shots.
There was one horse that I just had to get a portrait of as he had the best eyes!
We ended the day with some great sunset shots. The instructors took us to a lower area in one of the pastures that had a fairly large ridge. There were no trees except at the ends so the horses would be silhouetted against the sky.
Our wonderful models ran, walked and roped across that ridge so many times! They were awesome!
The sky was a bit plain so I had some fun in Luminar software adding a more interesting sky to some of my shots.
A true silhouette was possible by removing all the color!
Finally as the sun went lower, our models made one more pass over a slightly higher ridge as they made their way back to the barn!
We missed dinner that evening, but the images were well worth it.
That was the end of the workshop but my sister and I had booked a couple of extra days at the ranch.
We drove into Madison and wandered around this historic town.
When we had come into town the very first day we found that there was a movie production company taking over part of the main square. When we came back, the company was in full production. The “extras” were not allowed to tell us about the film but it was historic and set during the 1800’s.
We were able to watch as they filmed some B roll of the street that they had converted for their purposes. The sheriff stopped the traffic and everything went dead quiet while they were shooting… and then someone locked their car nearby with a distinctive screech! I am sure the director was not happy about that at all!
On our last day, we had booked a horseback ride at Southern Cross Guest Ranch so we went through the obligatory discussion of riding and riding safety. We were told which horse we were riding and where it was corralled. We went out and brought our horse into the barn area and proceeded to curry and brush them. We saddled the horse and the ranch hands came and put on the bridle. We mounted and followed one of the ranch hands out of the barnyard. We followed him on the trail for about 30 minutes. We saw many deer that were not afraid of us on the horses. After a while, the ranch hand realized we could handle the horses so he left us on our own to ride some more of the trails. Southern Cross has many acres of land but they have access to some additional adjacent land so there is plenty of places to ride.
Our time was almost up so we headed back toward the barn where we dismounted and helped unsaddle our horses and brush them down.
It had been a while since I last rode but I enjoyed getting back in the saddle and out into the woods once again!
On our way back to Atlanta we took a few side roads and I found a few good shots along the way!
Southern Cross Guest Ranch is a fun and beautiful place to stay and visit. Their programs include riding only, all-inclusive with riding and all-inclusive excluding riding. The ranch family and employees are all very nice and knowledgeable. The cooks are excellent!
I highly recommend a visit to Southern Cross.
For larger versions of these images and many more, please visit my GALLERY!
My next adventure will be to Arizona! See you soon!
That is all for now!