Since Ryu has cheated before, and I am always a good rule-following boy, I’m adding a couple to my top 10. I focused very heavily on rodeo this year, but did shoot a couple of non-rodeo pictures that deserve to be listed. Take a moment to ignore Ryu’s objections, but make sure to take a look at his Top 10 of 2013.
Matt’s Top 10 of 2012
Matt’s Top 10 of 2011
Arizona wide receiver Nate Phillips celebrates his second-quarter touchdown with Arizona wide receiver Samajie Grant during the NCAA football game between the California Golden Bears and the Arizona Wildcats at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, CA.
I shot the fewest football games of my career this year (8), and with Cal’s continuing struggles, the lowest overall quality of play. I experimented quite a bit with different lenses and at times positioning myself in different places on the field. Both of these factors led to this celebration picture taken with what is normally a portrait lens, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4. It was wide enough to show the stands in the background, but with a shallow depth of field that mostly blurred them out. Getting them at the peak of the leap was also key.
Earthquakes defender Victor Bernardez walks onto the field before the MLS match between the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.
My schedule really didn’t match up with the Earthquakes schedule this year, and that was unfortunate. At this match I was shooting head shots as the players warmed up, and just before kickoff I tracked the Quakes’ hulking center back Victor Bernardez as he took the field. I knew I had the exposure nailed for skin in the light, and I hoped he would walk into one of the small pockets. He did, and I was aided by someone wearing a light shirt in the stands to set his face off a bit more.
Bareback rider Jared Smith of Cross Plains, TX prepares to ride at the Clovis Rodeo in Clovis, CA.
Whenever I look at old rodeo pictures, I long for the days when there weren’t tons of signs in the background and cans of Red Bull laying around. I wanted to make a few pictures this year that would look timeless, and this one of Jared Smith was made with that in mind. The plain platform and chutes contrast well with the cowboy and waiting horse. It looked fine in color, but this was always going to end up in black & white.
Fans tailgate at the LaGrange Rodeo.
We spend a lot of time preaching about shooting atmosphere and things away from the field. The LaGrange Rodeo takes place the week before the pro rodeo season starts in California, and I generally go to get some practice in, especially on timing. The arena at LaGrange is not the best for pictures due to its dimensions (too long to shoot end to end) and its fence (chain link). But the real action comes in the stands and parking lot. LaGrange is a party rodeo, and the fans really let loose and drink more than any other rodeo I shoot. This year I spent about half of the rodeo walking around the grounds shooting the festivities, and these pictures provide variety and context to my ongoing story of rodeo.
Bareback rider Tyler Nelson of Victor, ID rides Short Bar at the Oakdale Rodeo in Oakdale, CA.
Oakdale is one of the coolest places to shoot rodeo because one of the shooting positions looks straight across the old wooden bucking chutes. Generally I’ll be looking for clean well-lit pictures from the side. I can get straight-on pictures at many other arenas, so here I try for the profiles of the first few big jumps. Well, things don’t always work out the way you expect, and this horse decided to take a quick right turn and charge the fence through which I was shooting. This happened very fast and I ended up falling backwards in a cloud of dirt. It was a pure reflex picture, and rare to get a bucking horse that close.
Team roper Blaine Ketscher of Paso Robles, CA competes at the Livermore Rodeo in Livermore, CA.
I made it a point to shoot more team roping this year, and that decision really paid off. Since there is a lot going on in team roping and much of it happens at different distances at the same time, shooting with a long lens and wide aperture means that the steer is often not in focus. At Livermore, there is enough room under the fence to shoot from ground-level. So on a 100 degree day I laid in the dirt while the sprinkler rained down on me and used a 70-200 until the action got close enough for everything to come together.
Tie-down roper Sterling Smith of Stephenville, TX competes at the Rowell Ranch Rodeo in Hayward, CA.
Another of the things we stress is taking advantage of specific conditions at specific locations to make pictures that would be difficult or impossible to get elsewhere. At Rowell Ranch, the timed-event chutes are very close to the stands, and the light comes in from behind. I panned because shooting with a shorter lens meant not being able to blur the background as much as I would have liked. Panning while shooting horses (especially this close) is very low percentage because in addition to moving from left to right, the rider also pops up and down as the horse’s hooves hit the ground and push off. After a few riders I was able to anticipate the strides and isolate the motion to just the horizontal plane.
Saddle bronc rider Michael Maher of Warwick, Queensland, Australia rides Juice Queen at the Livermore Rodeo in Livermore, CA.
I used the fisheye/monopod setup sparingly this year, but nailed this one of Michael Maher on Juice Queen. Perfect form, and fit in the “Livermore” signs twice.
Paul Bianchi of Hollister, CA walks out of the arena after getting kicked in the head by a bronc at the Marysville Stampede in Marysville, CA.
Extreme bronc riding is not an official rodeo event, but many rodeos feature it. I met Paul a couple of years ago and have watched him and his teammates try to saddle and ride some truly wild broncs. This year at Marysville, Paul caught the wrong end of a hoof to the forehead, resulting in a lot of blood. I was shooting a different team having their own hard time when I saw all the blood out of the corner of my eye. I changed it up and got Paul’s misery with the other team in the background to illustrate the event and provide some context. Paul is a good sport, how many of you would order a copy of this picture to hang in your house if you were the subject?
Bull rider Ben Miles III of La Grange, CA takes a shot from Crystal Clear at the Livermore Rodeo in Livermore, CA.
In back to back days I saw the bull called Crystal Clear reign down terror over bullriders and bullfighters. After bucking off Ben Miles, the bull came around for another taste, lining up Miles and relieving him of his helmet and temporarily from his consciousness. I made about 12 pictures in this sequence, and the helmet never came down. Later I saw video shot from the stands, and the reason the helmet never came back in the frame is that it went at least 30 feet straight up.
Saddle bronc rider Jesse Wright of Milford, UT gets bucked off Hat Stomper at the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo in San Juan Capistrano, CA.
It was supposed to be a nice matchup at the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo with defending world champion saddle bronc rider Jesse Wright taking on National Finals bronc Hat Stomper. Hat Stomper didn’t give Jesse much of a chance, sending him on his way minus his right boot.
MJ Kat knocks over barrelman Mark Swingler at the California Rodeo in Salinas, CA.
Barrelmen get knocked over by rampaging bulls from time to time, but rarely does it all come together quite like this. MJ Kat sent Mark Swingler and his barrel end-over-end, and I was able to get the bull, barrelman, and barrel in the frame.
There’s also a slideshow with many more of my favorite rodeo pictures from 2013: