Tuesday, August 22, 2017


As a former motorsports photographer let me say this, rodeos are a challenge! I’ve only photographed a few rodeos since moving to Idaho, and they’re a real kick, but having photographed everything from motocross to warbirds, top fuel dragsters, Indy cars, Grand Prix Motorcycles, and professional AMA, half-mile and mile, flat track motorcycles, all fast moving sports, the big difference in rodeo photography that makes it such a challenge is its utter chaos! The cowboys and cowgirls in most rodeo events aren’t “driving” something from point A to B and repeating like a motorsport racer does on a track. I always know where a motorsports racer is going—they start here and finish there and lap after lap the pros hit the same line through turns within inches of their previous laps. I can plan my shots and get great images all day long. But, in this sport, these cowboys are just along for the ride on these crazed bulls and broncs! Nobody knows where these animals will go or what they’ll do at any point once the gate is thrown open.

One of the rodeo events they do manage pretty well is steer wrestling where the cowboy leaps off a perfectly good horse, at full gallup, onto a steer and wrestles it to the ground! 

f5.6 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 800; lens @ 280mm
The one bit of control they attempt here is having another rider bracket the steer to keep the animal moving in a straight line between the horses—it usually works! This event is easy to photograph from the front—you just need a long lens and a high shutter speed.

Part of covering the rodeo is capturing the color and pageantry of the event, so I always do images of the flag gals when they ride around the arena to display the sponsors’ flags…

f5.6 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 185mm
I always get them coming and going so that I get clear images of those flags for inclusion in the following year’s rodeo program. 

One of the fun events at the rodeo is the “mutton busting” competition for the kids.  Seeing how long these kids could stay on these rampaging sheep was hilarious and sometimes exciting to watch…

f5.0 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 145mm
This kid lasted about 4 seconds…I love the expressions on the two girls in the background!  It’s a great introduction and training for the future, bronc busting, bull riding champions.

Since I had a press pass and could go anywhere, I naturally gravitated to the inside of the arena and watched where the other photographer stood; an experienced rodeo photographer for a local newspaper.  I thought this was really cool being on the ground floor (literally) where the action was!  Since the newspaper photographer was standing pretty close to the gate as the first bull rider was released I felt decidedly uneasy after the bull spit its cowboy off its back and quickly went after the nearest rodeo clown—now they are called “bull-fighters”, but I’ve yet to see any fighting—it’s mostly running away! Seriously, though, these “bull-fighters” are terrific. Without them, putting themselves in harm’s way, the cowboys would be chopped meat out there

f5.6 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Don’t know who has the bigger “pair” in this standoff, it may be a draw!  So, when the second bull was released I was already back pedaling when I saw this bull was a “spinner” and launched its rider very quickly.  In the next instant, still spinning, I saw the bull closing on the other photographer and fortunately he wasn’t hit by the sharp end of the bull when he was slammed into the arena fence!  After that I left the arena for the higher safer, ground of the announcer’s platform.  That turned out to be the best decision I made since, not only was it safer, but that elevated position gave me a great high angle down view that eliminated a lot of the ever present crowd filled bleachers that mar most rodeo photography.

My goal in most outdoor photography is to get a clean background.  Being elevated gave me more of the arena’s dirt as a background, which is a huge improvement over the arena’s fence and all those bleachers.

In Part 2 I’ll go into some technical info on high speed action photography of this wild and crazy sport. ’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training Site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client Site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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