FAYETTEVILLE — Don’t be surprised if some of the backgrounds in this fall’s Cabela’s catalog appear familiar.
For more than three weeks, a small army of photographers, models and support staff has tramped around West Virginia’s New River Gorge, shooting untold thousands of photos, the best of which will illustrate the catalog’s apparel and footwear pages.
Richard Wade, the Dallas-based producer for the 23-day shoot, said the images made here are “some of the best we’ve gotten anywhere, including Oregon and Northern California.”
“This has been great,” he said. “This state has everything — roaring rivers, beautiful forests, soaring peaks, interesting rock formations. It’s been perfect for our needs.”
Cabela’s has a policy that catalog shots be made in states where they have some sort of corporate presence. West Virginia has two Cabela’s stores, one in Wheeling and one in Charleston.
“I had done [an unrelated] shoot 25 years ago in West Virginia, and I thought the state was just gorgeous,” Wade said. “When we were kicking around ideas about where to hold this year’s shoot, someone said we had stores in West Virginia. I said, ‘That’s what we need to do then.’”
He and his crew contacted Jamie Cope of the West Virginia Film Office, to scout for potential locations.
“When we got up here [in the Fayetteville area], we saw it was exactly what we needed,” Wade said.
Cope hooked Wade up with Dave Arnold, managing partner of Adventures on the Gorge, in Ames Heights. Arnold was able to provide everything the photo crew needed — lodging, meals, scenic locations, transportation and tons of local knowledge.
“I had worked with crews before, on films and IMAX shoots,” Arnold said. “I’d never hosted a 23-day shoot before, though. We were able to provide them with some of our guides, to serve as drivers and local-knowledge experts. We set up a shipping center for them, we arranged for them to stay in nice homes, and we’ve catered meals for them. Heck, if a piece of their equipment had broken, we could have welded it in our shop.”
Wade said Arnold even opened his own home to the crew.
“The level of hospitality was amazing. We were in Dave’s house shooting and he said, ‘Well, I’ve gotta go. You guys lock up when you’re finished. If you need any tools, they’re in my workshop.’”
Arnold, an avid hunter and angler, also was able to provide props for a few of the shots.
“Richard asked a friend and me if either of us happened to have a nice-looking, kind of traditional gun that could be used in the shoot,” Arnold said. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Between the two of us, we probably have about a hundred.’”
“They showed me their gun collections,” Wade recalled, laughing. “Believe me, I had no problem finding exactly what I needed.”
The crew ended up using local folks’ houses, porches, vehicles and even dogs in some of the shots.
“At one point, they needed a ‘70s-vintage Chevy truck for one of the shots,” Arnold said. “We sent out an e-mail and very quickly heard from a guy in Barboursville who not only had a gorgeous baby-blue pickup that was perfect for the shot, he also had a great dog that the crew was able to use. When people helped, Richard rewarded them with Cabela’s gift cards. He must have handed out thousands of dollars’ worth of those things.”
The only problem the crew encountered was weather, which cycled repeatedly between snow, rain and sunshine. Ellen Cogdill, art director for Cabela’s, said the crew realized that late-March and early-April weather might be iffy, but said the timing couldn’t be helped.
“We needed a place that looked like fall even in early spring,” she said. “The trees were bare, so we were able to get the look we wanted.”
Cogdill flew in from Cabela’s Sidney, Neb., headquarters for the shoot. Wade, two photographers, a wardrobe expert and a makeup artist flew in from Dallas. A Denver-based agency, Maximum Talent, flew in models from Los Angeles, New York and Dallas.
“We try to stay away from the ‘pretty people’ kind of models,” Wade said. “We want people who look like they belong in the outdoors, and who represent the target age demographic for the apparel they’re modeling. So we don’t mind if our models come in with two or three days’ growth of beard. And even if we do get a guy who might be a little too pretty, it’s no problem for our makeup artist to ‘Bubba him up.’”
To the casual observer, 23 days might seem like a long time for a photo shoot, but Wade said every day had to be meticulously scheduled to make sure the crew got all the shots.
“We have shot lists for every piece of clothing. Each shot calls for all kinds of variations — jacket zipped up, jacket open, hands in pockets, stuff like that,” he explained.
“For every shot we use, we probably shoot at least a thousand others. We load them all into a computer and, every evening, Ellen goes through and makes her picks. We retouch any that need to be fixed and send them in.”
Managing all the apparel is a job unto itself. The crew transformed a conference room at Adventures on the Gorge into a staging area and filled it with racks of clothing and boxes of boots and shoes.
“All those items have to be ready to use when we need them. Our crew tries to work at least two days ahead, staging the apparel and putting each item with its shot list,” Wade said. “Stuff is always going in and out. We’ve kept the UPS man really busy the entire time we’ve been here.”
Despite the logistical challenges, Wade said the crew’s three weeks in the Mountain State have been “enjoyable and, really, pretty easy.”
“I told the UPS man, ‘I hope you realize what you have here in West Virginia. This is one of the most beautiful places in the country, with some of the nicest people you’ll meet. It’s a pleasure to work here.”