Photographing The Shannon County Wild Horses Using B&W Film & The Nikon F6

May 02, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

I first learned about the wild horses of Shannon County, Missouri, back in 2010 when I was looking for land in the Ozarks. 

I ultimately purchased some land in 2015, and now I follow the horses weekly, and I am telling their unique story using black and white film.  

When I say that I follow and study the wild horses, I follow and track them several times per week to watch them and learn everything I can about them. 

I document the herd size, each member of the herd, and anything else noteworthy, such as their behaviors, interactions, and trends around their migrations to different areas.  I enjoy learning about their behaviors and their communications amongst one another.

This year, I made a radical decision and started photographing the wild horses with my Nikon F6 and 35mm black and white film.  Yes, you heard me correct.  I use black and white film to photograph these wild horses and not the latest digital gear.  I have previously shared this story, but the short of it is that I treated my wildlife photography as a hobby for many years while my core focus was creating large format silver gelatin botanical prints.  Then one day, I decided to try photographing the wild horses of Shannon County with a roll of Tri-X loaded in my F5, and I was hooked.  The images portrayed the emotion and drama that I felt all along but seemed to be missing in the digital images. 


I typically use my Nikon F6 with one of my longer prime telephoto lenses (600mm F4, 500mm F5.6, 300mm F2.8) or one of the zooms (e.g., 80-400mm, 200-500mm) along with either Tri-X or HP5.  I use Tri-X when I want a higher contrast image and HP5 when I want something lower contrast. 

I develop both films in Kodak D-76 1:1.  If I need a second camera, I will either use my Nikon F100 (smaller) or the F5 (bigger and faster), depending on the specific need.  

By using black and white film, I have the option of making handmade silver gelatin prints in the darkroom or scanning the negatives for a variety of other output choices ranging from pigment inkjet prints to using the digitized film images in books, on websites, etc.  I feel that my film-based photos have a unique ability to communicate the unspoken emotion of these majestic wild horses.  


Shannon County, Missouri is a rural area in the Ozark Mountains home to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the country's first national parks protected riverway. 

The wild horses have been roaming the rugged landscape of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways for about 100 years now.  Shannon County is a favorite destination for nature lovers from around the country because of the clean and pristine rivers and unspoiled nature.  

The wild horses of Shannon County is a compelling story that has captured my attention and my heart.  In my free Wild Horse Journal, I tell the ongoing saga of these wild horses and share their beauty with you. 

Wild Horses of Shannon County Missouri by Tim LaytonWild Horses of Shannon County Missouri by Tim Layton I invest a lot of time following them and learning everything about their behaviors, interactions within the herds, and how they live daily. 

The interactions between them are fascinating to me, and I am learning how to read their body language and understand the vocal sounds and queues they use to communicate with each other.  I have a lot to learn, but I am excited to know more and continue growing and learning. 

There are a total of four herds that freely roam an area of over 100 square miles, so I have a lot of ground to cover to remain connected with them.  Ozark's terrain is very rugged, and mother nature often doesn't allow access because of flooding and other events. 

The four herds are known as Shawnee Creek, Broadfoot, Round Spring, and Rocky Creek.  These names come from the geographic areas the four herds tend to roam.  The general public knows about these four areas, but as a local, I have invested the time, money, and effort to discover about a dozen different places where the wild horses frequent.  For photographers and people who want a personalized tour, I offer that service.  Some of the unknown and remote locations require a lifted 4WD truck to reach because of the rugged landscape and the frequent flooding from the creeks and rivers.  


For the last 100 years, I heard of wild horses roaming the Ozarks' ancient and rugged landscape in Shannon County. During the 1980s, the National Park Service announced a plan to remove the wild horses. 

In 1993 the U.S. Supreme Court denied a final appeal and gave the National Park Service the right to remove the horses from federal land at their discretion.

Luckily, by 1996 the Wild Horse League of Missouri, which formed in 1992 to save the wild horses, received help from the people of Shannon County, Congressman Bill Emerson, Senators Kit Bond, and John Ashcroft. Their tireless efforts paid off, and President Clinton signed a bill into law on October 3, 1996, to make the wild horses of Shannon County a permanent part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

The Missouri Wild Horse League works with the National Park Service to manage the horses.  

It is important to remember that these horses are wild. When looking for them, be sure not to approach them or feed them. It is essential to keep these animals wild and free.  

I hope that you continue to follow along as I study and share the stories of these magnificent wild horses.  

-Tim Layton

Tim Layton Washing Wild Horse Large Format Silver Gelatin Print

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