Lockhart BBQ Tour – Part 1


This blog post is one that I am really excited to share with you! Way back on January 9th, Kirk Tuck put out a blog post announcing that there was an opportunity to sign up for a photography excursion to Lockhart, Texas, which would be lead by Wyatt McSpadden. Wyatt is famous for his photography of family-owned and operated Texas barbecue establishments. He has published a beautiful book on Texas BBQ, named appropriately enough “Texas BBQ: Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden“.

Now I saw that blog post right before Barb called me downstairs for dinner. While we ate, I mentioned that I had seen that opportunity, and that I thought it would be great fun to do. There wasn’t really any discussion, other than Barb told me that she thought I should do it. Right after dinner, I followed the links that Kirk had provided. Even though the event was sponsored by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and I am not a member, I had no problem with registering or paying.

Now all I had to do was to wait for a month to pass, which gave me plenty of time to wonder if I had gotten in over my head. I eventually came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be judged by anyone, and that this could be a golden learning opportunity.

Now nobody judged me that day, but those of you that read this blog post, and see my pictures will judge my photography, even if you are not conscious of actively doing so, and even if you withhold your criticism. And that brings me to my “after trip” dilemma. Do I only show my “best photographs” taken that day, or do I continue my usual blog style of telling a story?

In the end, I have decided to tell the story, which necessitates showing several “filler photos”. That isn’t what Scott Kelby says that I should do. What the heck, this is my blog, and I’m not trying to sell anybody anything. I would like to be recognized as a competent photographer, though….. It’s a dilemma, I tell you!

A week ago today, on Thursday, February 7, 2013, we were to meet a block east of the Texas state capitol building to get on the bus by 8:15 AM. I got there about 7:50 AM, and saw another person walking around with what appeared to be a camera bag and a tripod. It turns out it was Frank Grygier, who I’ve met a couple of other times (both when Kirk Tuck was doing a book signing, or speaking to a group). I was very glad that I had already met at least one other person that was going on this tour. I asked Frank if I could get a photo of him with the Texas capitol building in the background.


We spotted the bus, and we had to tell the bus driver that she wasn’t where our map said she was supposed to be. We walked across the intersection, and while we were waiting for the bus, I noticed the early morning light was peeking through the clouds just enough to give the capitol building a nice glow.


And just to document this trip, I walked across San Jacinto Blvd. and snapped this photo of our bus in front of the capitol, with Frank and the driver.


On the bus, there were the 12 photographers that had signed up for this excursion, Wyatt McSpadden, a couple of people from ASMP that were helping to organize the event, and the bus driver. Fortunately we were going against the traffic as we headed out of town during rush hour. It didn’t seem to take us very long to drive the 35 miles (56 km) to get to Lockhart, Texas.

Lockhart is one of the “Meccas” of Texas BBQ. Our first stop, and the only one that I will cover in today’s blog post, was Smitty’s Market.


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

That’s the Caldwell County courthouse with the spire to the left of Smitty’s sign above. That courthouse was only one block away. We had parked in the gravel parking lot by the back door, which you can see in the next photo.


We all walked around the side of the building to get to the front door.


Wyatt had told us that we were free to go anywhere that we desired, but to remember that this was a place of business, and this was a regular workday for them. Of course, where there’s BBQ, there’s fire.


And smoke!


Now this building was built sometime around 1890, and I believe that they have been smoking meats, as BBQ, for over 75 years. During that time, it appears that they have accumulated some very “interesting” items, such as this deer skull – and what appears to be an alligator skull on top…


Since I didn’t know what to expect before we went into the place, I had put my Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. That’s a versatile lens, but with those small aperture openings, it is considered a pretty “dark” lens. As a result, to get a proper exposure, I had to leave the shutter open for relatively long lengths of time – which required me to also use my little Gitzo GT1542T Traveler tripod.


I drifted back to what appeared to be the “real kitchen” where they will pull the BBQ out of the pits, and carve it up right there for your take-out orders.


Evidently, a lot of the other photographers also had the same idea….


That is Wyatt in the white shirt in the center of the photo above. He was mulling over where to get set-up to show us how he would light and photograph such a scene.

I decided to drift around the place on my own for a while and to check back in with Wyatt in a little bit.

One of the cooks had raised the lid on a pit with beef ribs and sausages inside. It was only 9:30 AM, and I was suddenly starting to think about lunch!


I wandered back out towards the hallway that lead to the front door.


From literally the very same spot that I took the photo above, I turned around, and here is what was directly behind me.


Back out in that front hallway, something about that stairway on the left was attracting my attention.


One of the workers said that we were welcome to go upstairs, if we wanted to. Of course! There was a large dining area with long wooden tables. I put myself next to the large windows (behind me), and shot into the room, which was lit by numerous lovely fluorescent lights. I left my camera’s white balance setting on Auto, and prayed…


Over by the door that was at the top of the stairs that we had come up, was this old scale. BBQ in Texas is usually sold “by the pound”, and not “by the sandwich”.


I headed back down to see what Wyatt was up to, and he had a pit master posing in front of his camera. I listened intently as Wyatt explained how he was going to use a remotely triggered flash in a small softbox to the left, and slightly behind his subject. I took this photo with only the ambient light – which was a large window behind me, and lots of fluorescent lights above us.


Now for the “gear heads” out there, here is something to study for a minute!


This is the tethered shooting set-up belonging to Taylor Jones of Texas Grip. (Be sure to click on that link after you finish with my story.) Note the image on the screen of that laptop. Obviously, Wyatt’s photo looks waaayyy better than mine! He must have been using a pretty wide angle lens, as he wasn’t very far away from the pit master, and you can see a lot below and above him…. including the fire at his feet.

I noticed that they had pulled up a brisket out of one of the pits, and were slicing it up for a customer’s order. Without any hesitation, I just walked up to the carving table and quickly snapped this photo.


Back to my spot near the window to watch Wyatt perform some more of his magic.


And here’s Frank going in for the kill.


Wyatt had noticed a wall just 7 or 8 feet (2.3 m) to my right that had a lot of light streaming onto it through the back door. Taylor Jones provided a “stand-in” while Wyatt got his lighting set-up the way that he wanted.


He had Jeff Stockton put a CTO gel inside a remotely triggered softbox in a hallway just to Taylor’s left. It made a very dramatic environmental portrait! (Since I had no way of triggering that remote flash, I simply cropped that hallway off of the left side of the photo above – it just appeared black in my photo.) Here is a “behind the scenes” (BTS) photo with Taylor, Wyatt, and Jeff evaluating the results of their efforts on Taylor’s tethering station.


I headed back toward the front cooking area, and this pit master was checking on the progress of his ribs. All of the light was pouring in through a door behind him, to my left.


I went back to the front hallway, and Wyatt had positioned this BBQ customer on a bench, and was about to conduct “class” on how to light this guy in a dramatic fashion.


Here Jeff is adjusting the position and power output of the flash in the small softbox, while Taylor and Wyatt monitor their progress.


Now, just to the right of the customer in the previous two photos, James was watching everything through the screen door to the small office.


James and the owner, Nina Schmidt, offered to take anyone who was interested on a private tour of the areas that most customers never see. Of course I was up for that!

We first went upstairs to the dining area that I previously showed with the long wooden tables. Wyatt noted the “beautifully weathered wall” that might make a great backdrop for some portraits. Here is a photo of Wyatt. Again, there was a large bank of windows to my right, with numerous fluorescent lights directly above. I was wishing that I had brought my collapsible round reflector to bounce some light back onto Wyatt from my left.


I know that shadows are good, but that is just a bit more than I normally like.

After that, the tour went up to the third floor, where a modern central heating and air conditioning unit had been installed. It was rather odd to see the duct work just running through the middle of walls in a room that still had an old claw foot bathtub in it! (There was much more duct work directly behind me.)


After that, the tour took us down 3 flights of stairs, down to the “basement”. I don’t know what this old piece of equipment is, but it looked much darker in that dimly lit basement. This was a 15 second exposure, lit by bare tungsten bulbs hanging from electrical cords!


I was tired of the long shutter opening times, and so I finally changed my lens to one with a much more appealing maximum aperture of f/1.4. Here, as I was changing my lens, I was talking to Frank, who seemed content to watch what I was doing. I asked if I could take his picture, and he seemed OK with that. Unfortunately, I had left my aperture setting on the camera to a rather “dark” f/5.6, so my handheld photo of Frank was very blurry. I instantly recognized my mistake, and pleaded with Frank for a “do over” (very unprofessional). I opened up the aperture on this Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens to f/1.6, which let me take this handheld photo at 1/15th of a second (ISO was 200).


The light in the above photo was entirely from fluorescents, and it appears that Frank was pretty much centered between two of them.

OK, it was about 11:15 AM. Time to actually eat some of this great BBQ for lunch!  Smitty’s brought us all of the brisket, ribs, and sausage that the 15 of us could eat. It was served on plain butcher paper, and the only eating utensils that we were given was a small plastic knife. You eat this kind of barbecue with your hands.


We enjoyed a half hour of pure BBQ heavenly bliss! We still had two more establishments to visit on this Lockhart BBQ Tour.

I hope that you will return a few days from now for Part 2 of my Lockhart BBQ Trip story. (It should be posted by Monday, Feb. 18th.) In that next post, we will visit Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krites”), and Black’s Barbecue.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

4 thoughts on “Lockhart BBQ Tour – Part 1”

  1. Sounds like you had a great time. I love the old Dayton scale. I have quite the fetish for this kind of stuff – scales and old bread slicing machines, It’s a shame that so much of that stuff landed in trash heaps. That scale probably works better than the digital piece of crap I have for baking.

    Pic 022, the log fire. Nice that you can see the drafting there, Very nice!

  2. Amazing photos, Gregg !! I do not see why you need to filter any of the photos off as you have mentioned. Yes, when we create portfolios or submitting photos for critique or competitions, surely we only choose our best. But as you have mentioned, this is your own blog, it is more colorful and more illustrative to have more photos to better support your story. Any national geographic photographers would mention that establishing the location is important, and I’d say you captured the ambiance and place very well.

    That was indeed an interesting and great photo-excursion. If only we have something like that here…

    I cannot remember the last time I had a proper BBQ… that first image is somewhat torturing considering it is about time for midnight snack here in Malaysia as I am reading this !

    1. Robin, thank you very much for the kind comments! I’m glad that you liked my documentary-style storytelling photos of Smitty’s Market. I’ve heard that every picture is supposed to tell a story, but I haven’t mastered that art yet… I still seem to need several (too many?) photos to tell the kind of story that I want to convey.

      I won’t be getting an urge to go out and eat BBQ anytime soon… I think I got at least 3 or 4 months worth on that single day!

      I was also hoping that the weathersealing of my Olympus camera and lens combination would be up to the task of keeping all of that smoke off of my camera’s sensor.

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