How to Photograph a Ranch Branding

Meet the photographer:

I’m Kendra Marvin, an Idaho native and lover of light. Raised on an Idaho ranch, it’s no surprise that is where Boots & Bling Photography was born. It has grown to include horse and rider portraits as well as country weddings. I can be found anywhere from the ranch, to local team roping events, junior rodeos, chasing cans or loping cutting horses. The art of photography is an observation and study of light, and I enjoy sharing tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.

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Observe with passion and pride.


Focus on the components that you are most passionate about. Is it the quality of the calves, the finished bridle horse that is being ridden, the horsemanship of the Cowboys, or simply the lifestyle? Maybe you have amazing cow dogs or a unique way of running your operation. Is it the good minded colts that are being raised and used? The hard working generation of young people that are learning core values and work ethic? The best results will come from your heart.

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Find a spot to shoot that will give a good angle of the horses and their rope shots. The best way that works for me is down low. I move around and kneel for a lot of shots. The calves are short and are best shot from their level, which is another reason shooting low works so well.

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Climb a nearby hill if you can, to get a downward photo of the “whole scene”. You may not find a lot of variety from there but it is a fun view to add to the story.




The direction of the sun will affect the results of your pictures, so take this into consideration when you decide which direction to shoot from. If the sun is in the west and there is dust flying, it may create a neat effect to shoot into it. In general though, I would keep the sun to my back so the people and livestock will be properly lit. Shooting into the sun can help with the shadows being even, but it may leave the horses and people too dark. I like the subjects to be lighter than the background in general, because the viewer’s eye will naturally be drawn to the lighter area. When the sun is directly above there may not be a specific direction to shoot to or from. Play with it, watch your results, and make necessary changes. Half of the fun is seeing the different results you get by making specific changes.

Details to remember:


Cowboy hats cast shadows.

Light colored horses and cattle photograph differently than dark ones.

Watch for cow pies!

Cloudy overcast days are the easiest because the lighting is even. Shadows be gone and blown out backgrounds forgotten!


Manual Mode.


Learn to shoot in manual mode. Depending on the day I like to keep my shutter speed at 500 or higher to make sure the motion is stopping and the images are sharp. The aperture depends on your style, and how much of the photo you want to be in focus vs blurred. My preference is to find a focal point and blur the background. That’s what fits my photography style, so I set mine around f3.5. I change it throughout the day. The ISO depends on the brightness of the day as well as the shutter & aperture settings. If it’s a bright sunny afternoon it can be down low at 100. Bump it up if you need more light, but keep it under 400 whenever possible to avoid grainy photos.


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Brandings can be a time for family to gather and work together, or maybe it’s just a group of folks with the same passion. Either way you’ll see moments of quickly exchanged smiles, teaching & learning, teamwork, bumps & bruises, and a shared meal by the end of the day. These are the pictures that make it to the album for the next generation. They are the meaningful moments to be remembered by all. They built the families, the homes, and business. For better or for worse they tell the story of how it is, how it was.

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Send me feedback and questions, I’d love to help! E-mail your questions to and I’ll respond back to you. If you are interested in an upcoming working ranch photography workshop please e-mail me with the subject line RANCH PHOTOGRAPHY.

~Kendra Marvin

  1. Your insight and thoughts are so on point! I love how much deep thought you put into your photos!