Tuesday, August 29, 2017


In Part-1 I mentioned how unpredictable the action is in rodeo making its photography especially challenging compared to motor sports. Because of this my technical approach is markedly different doing rodeo vs. motorsports photography. All of my camera settings are just he opposite in these two action genres!

Shutter Speeds

Motor sports ~ 1/30th sec., to 1/250 sec.
Because there’s nothing quite so boring as a race car or motorcycle frozen in place on a race track, using a high shutter speed, making the race track look like a parking lot, I rarely used very high shutter speeds. So, to  imply great speed I used SLOW shutter speeds (eg. 1/30th - 1/60th sec.) and panned my camera, tracking the action, creating nice streaks in the background. The slow shutter speeds also made the wheels blur completely adding to the sensation of speed. On motorcycles the spokes disappeared rendering their wheels so clear you could see the background through them. This applies to prop driven aircraft as well. The one mistake that many amateurs make when photographing propeller aircraft is using a shutter speed that stops the propellers! After all, aircraft when taxiing on the ground are very static—the only things that are creating action are the propellers. So, I’m usually using 1/60th sec to create nice blurred propellers.

Rodeo ~ 1/1000 sec., to 1/5000sec.
Nothing in rodeo moves anywhere near as fast as any serious motorsport and yet ironically I use consistently much higher shutter speeds in rodeo action because its action tends to be very short bursts of extreme action at very unpredictable moments. In addition, unlike motorsports, when we freeze the action in rodeo it often gets more interesting to see the complex elements exploding into action that we can’t see in real time.

Like this….

f5.0 @ 1/5000 sec., ISO 800; Lens at 130mm
I start at 1/2000 sec. for most rodeo events, but even that shutter speed will not stop the extremely violent action in some events like the saddle bronc rider, above, being ejected off his mount. This one though at 1/5000 sec. has all the action stopped showing everything in sharp detail.


Motorsports ~ f8.0 to f16.0
When doing action pans at slow shutter speeds the f-stop must go to smaller apertures to maintain proper exposures. Another benefit to those slow shutter speeds is that even with the increased depth of field created by these small apertures—which could otherwise ruin the image by showing too much detail in the background—the panning action blurs out all that unwanted detail.

Rodeo ~ f4.5 to f6.3
Today I can confidently use any ISO I need to get me to the shutter speed—f-stop combination I require to get the shot.

f5.0 @ 1/3200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @100mm
This is one of my favorite rodeo images because it captures in one frame the whole story behind team roping; probably the most difficult rodeo event to photograph. The reason I got this image is because I chose to place myself in the announcer’s booth—a nice elevated platform to eliminate some of the stadium background—so that when the "header" lassoed the steer I knew that he would turn his horse towards me to stop the steer’s forward progress and expose the steer’s hind quarters so the "heeler" could lasso the steer's rear legs. With them turning towards me, as a group, it compressed the composition keeping all of the action in frame. 

Camera placement is important in ALL photography, but I’ve found that in rodeo it’s critical all the time.

Such as in calf roping…

f5.6 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 280mm
In this event the calf is released, giving it a head start, before the mounted cowboy is allowed to pursue in his attempt to rope, bring down, and tie the calf. So this creates a large space between the cowboy’s horse—that stops after the lasso has connected with the calf and, as the cowboy jumps off the horse to tie the calf, the horse will keep the rope taught (the horse will actually back-up to do this!) while the cowboy runs towards the calf.

Compositionally as seen from the side this is just too wide a grouping, so I chose to face the action, as it comes towards me, from across the arena, and compress the action with my lens at 280mm.

Technical stuff…
I’ve been using the Canon 5D MkII and the Canon 70D with great success even though these are not considered professional action platforms. I’ve found that they perform well when the auto focus is set to the Ai Servo Mode. Both follow action well when doing action sequences at high frame rates.

My main lens is the Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens. I’ll add the Canon 1.4X extender when needed.

I hope some of my hard earned experience in action photography has been of some help. Please don’t hesitate when any questions…’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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