Inspiration from a Cowboy Turned Photographer

When Carl Oksanen first embarked on his journey to Wyoming and began work as a “dude wrangler” on a ranch nestled between the Teton mountains, he probably never could have guessed where he would end up. This charming man describes his journey: from dude wrangler to bull rider, backpacker to contractor, and finally: full-time photographer! This story is one of inspiration, watch how a love of the mountains and a knack for taking pictures turned a real-time cowboy into a full-time photographer:

After his time on the ranch, Carl began riding bulls and after 12 years a big win enabled him to hang up the hat –or maybe just the saddle — and turn it in for a backpack. He began to take trips on foot instead of horseback, which would eventually culminate into a 9 day skiing adventure through Yellowstone National Park.

He speaks fondly of the mountains and the colors he was able to capture. He starts by saying how he started with an Instamatic camera tucked into his saddle-bag, taking pictures as he worked on horseback. He even admits he wasn’t a very good photographer, at least not at first.

“I wasn’t a professional yet, but I had this knack for photography and just absolutely loved the mountains.”

So what were his secrets that led him to where he is today? Carl is pretty modest, saying that he simply took pictures every morning and every evening. He tells us a few of his tricks, like finding the best locations the night before and then arriving before the sun came up.

“One of the favorite things I like to do, is be on location before the sun comes up.  I’ll be out there in the dark, I probably found the locations the day before, and I’m waiting for the sun to hit the mountains.  I’ll be sitting there, the sky will lighten, and then the sun will finally hit the Teton’s. They’ll be all pink, there will be just a glorious color to them.”

becoming a photographer

Carl turned a love for the mountains into a full-time job just by capturing the moments where he found beauty and solace. He spent time as an independent contractor, building custom homes while continuing to backpack and take photographs. He says at one point, the photography really started to take off, and he had to make a decision.

” The more the photography flourished, the more time I was taking off of work, to where it finally came to a point where I couldn’t do both. I had to be a photographer or I had to be a carpenter. So, which would you do? That wasn’t too hard a decision.”

It only got better from there.

landscape photographer

In closing, this rough old cowboy tears up, saying he isn’t going to stop anytime soon. He says there will be more trips, more photos, and they’ll be better than before. He’s an older man now, but he says he still hasn’t done his best work yet. With damp eyes and a catch in his voice, he leaves us with a message and a promise.

“I feel in my heart that I haven’t even taken my best shot yet. The best shots are yet to come, and by God’s grace I’ll be standing there when the sun comes up, that pink light hits the mountains and it will be captured, and you will be looking at it, I’ll make sure of that.”

This is one cowboy who has a lot to be proud of, and a man who can stand as a testament to anyone that passion is the first step to success.

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