Demystifying the world of sports photography

Technique

Editing a Sequence

As Ryu and I check out the work of people in the Flickr group we often see long series of pictures from the same play. Yes, modern cameras can do 9-11 frames per second, and that’s fine – except for Ryu who shoots some kind of film no one’s ever heard of. But it’s good to keep in mind two things: 1) what does high frame rate shooting get you? and 2) how (and why) do you edit down all those pictures?

There are times when shooting at 9fps is pointless at best, counter productive at worst. I’ve used the example of a baseball pitcher’s motion: if you want the ball just coming out of his hand or the perfect follow through picture, you’re much better off using single shot mode and working on the timing between when your brain says “shoot” and when the action is where you want it. The same goes for the horse’s kick in rodeo, it’s just too fast for 9fps, and if you lay on the shutter, you’ll most likely not get the fully extended kick that the hacks have spent 20 years “perfecting”.

There are other times when it pays to have a bunch of pictures of something to give your clients/editors maximum choice. In 2013 I was shooting the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo in southern California, and there was a matchup between the reigning world champion saddle bronc rider Jesse Wright and Hat Stomper, a many-time selection to the National Finals Rodeo owned by friends of mine. Since this was before I was allowed on the arena dirt, my only option was to shoot from about 60 yards opposite the bucking chutes with the action coming toward me. I knew that there was a good chance that the horse would blow up in the chute, but also that the pictures would get better as they got closer to me due to separation from the background via the depth-of-field qualities of shooting a 400mm 2.8 lens.

Below is the series, minus a few intermediate pictures that were too similar to include. I’ll do a mini Training Ground on myself to demonstrate which ones were used and which ones weren’t.

The first two pictures are of the blow up in the chute. Each has pluses and minuses, with the minuses winning. Again, there’s no separation between the subject and the background due to the 60 yards from camera to subject and 1 yard from subject to background. In the first picture, you can see the rider’s face fairly well, but in the second, the horse is significantly higher off the ground. Neither of these is a throwaway per se, but they’re also not my best, especially a season of dirt access (with the choice of angles and far shorter distances) later.

1
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

2
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

Generally once a quality bucking horse clears the chute gate, its first few jumps will be the best before fatigue sets in and the amplitude/extension decreases through the finish. NFR bucking horses like Hat Stomper have a little bit extra and will most times buck very hard through the eight seconds. On this ride, every jump was right at me, so it was impossible to really show the kick. If you look closely, you can see when the rear hooves are even with the fronts and when they are higher in a kick. Trying to time these jumps was pointless since the kick is only implied anyway. Of pictures 3-6, 4 is the best combination between the kick of the horse, face and feet placement of the rider, and depth-of-field. But even that picture could have been better if either it had been closer to me or at enough of an angle to show the horse’s extension during the jump.

3
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

4
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

5
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

6
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

Now here’s where it gets interesting. It’s not every day that you see the world champion get bucked off like this, so the subject matter is working for me. They are also much farther down the arena, providing me with more detail (horse’s mane, the strands of the braided reign, the fringe of the chaps etc) plus much more separation from the background that helps isolate the action. So how to choose?

I like 7 a lot, and if this was the only one I got, I’d probably have been satisfied. The horse is in a very powerful position, pushing off of its rear legs and delivering enough force to throw the rider, whose foot is just starting to come out of the left stirrup. Not bad.

7
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

8 has a little less impact because the horse has already delivered all of its force, and the energy has been sucked out of the picture due to the positioning of both rider and horse.

8
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

Now here’s the one. In 9, the horse is balled up again, getting ready to kick, which has sent the mane flying. The rider has turned a bit toward the camera so you can see his face better than the previous pictures. He is now completely disengaged from the horse and trying to figure out how to land without breaking anything. As a total bonus, he left his boot behind in the right stirrup, and you can clearly see his his white sock. This isn’t super-rare, but it doesn’t happen every day, and it provides the last bit of detail to push this picture over the top.

9
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

10 has the horse still bucking hard, in fact this is probably the one in the series where you can see the kick most clearly. But since both horse and rider are so close to the ground and farther away from each other, again, the impact is sucked out of the picture.

10
PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo

After 10, the autofocus went out because there was too much space between horse and rider and the focus went all the way to the chute gates.

So what did we learn? Well, there’s more to it than having the right lens/exposure/focus; things beyond your control (position and orientation of your subjects) almost always will influence your pictures. Even when crazy things happen, not every picture will show it the best. When you edit down to what works the best, there will always be more impact than if you try to divide your viewers’ attention between 10 pictures in a series.

Picture 9 was blown up to 10’x10′ and wrapped on the back of a trailer that travels tens of thousands of miles per season. All of the others only exist here and in my archive. This is exactly as it should be.


Get ‘em young I say, get ‘em young!

Matt and I, we both get occasional emails asking us how to grow a nice moustache.  Strange, yes as Matt has the worst moustache I’ve ever seen on a human being.   But even more occasionally, we get asked how one becomes a sports photographer.  In most cases we tell people to go through the entire library of BLFS first and if we haven’t answered your question by the time you’ve listened to them all, only then come and ask us for our advice.  We firmly believe that after 50 episodes of BLFS and our blog posts, there is enough information for you to decide whether or not becoming a sports photographer is actually not a stupid idea.

But sometimes we get questions that require us to actually write a blog post about it.  About a week ago, my friend NL (he’s not Dutch, but to protect his identity, I’ve cleverly came up with this acronym) who is 12 years of age, asked me how he can become a sports photographer.  Just so people don’t start speed dialling their local authorities, NL and I met about 2 years ago at my friend’s wedding which I was shooting, of course.  An intelligent chap and we’ve kept in touch since.  I don’t think I have had any influence on him wanting to become a sports photographer, but he sounded serious enough.  So maybe he’s the odd one here.  What was interesting about his question is that he wanted to know which classes should he take at school to help him become a sports photographer.  Interesting.  I then asked him to give me the list of classes available at the moment.  They are as follows:

Art
PE (Gym for some)
History
Music
Science
French
Modern Studies
Geography
Home Economics
Technical

I.T.

Therefore if you are an aspiring sports photographer between the ages of 10-12, here are the classes Ryu tells you to take:

Art

I think this is a no brainer.  What we teach at BLFS is for you to come up with your own distinct style.  We don’t want you to become a cookie cutter sports photographer.  The only way you can do is to look at other people’s work, but in a much broader sense.  If you have been paying a bit of an attention to the world around you, photography is not the only art form out there.  Painting, sculpting, dance, music, video, fashion, whatever.  Art is sometimes unnecessarily everywhere.  I’m assuming this “Art” class will concentrate on a traditional definition of art so painting, sculpting, installations, and other fun things like art history.  As a sports photographer, to have interest in other forms of art is very important.  You don’t know where your next inspiration can come from.  Looking at beautiful things and learning the process behind it will help you through your creative processl.  So yes to art and try not to fall asleep when you’re forced to remember when van Gogh detached his ear off his face.

PE

I called it PE in my school as well, so we are cool.  In this profession, you need to be fit.  So definitely yes to PE.  Because in some cases you have to run to your shooting location ahead of the others.  It’s usually first come first served so you should even start raining by running with 20kg of gear on you.  If you don’t have that much gear near you, carry your classmate around your neck and run around.  That might help.  In any case, keep fit and strong.  Exhaustion in any form will ruin any concentration and you’ll need plenty of it during the course of a match.

History

I’m not into history much, even if it involves art and dinosaurs.  But this is about whether this class will help him with his pursuit of a career in sports photography.  I say no.  I don’t remember a single moment when I thought “God damn it, had I known the day Berlin wall fell, I’d have shot that football match better”.  Therefore, no.  But in general you should know a bit of history.  Says my wife.

Music

Same as Art.  Music can inspire you, unless you don’t like music.  Which is fine.

Science

If we lived in an age of BW photography and you needed to know the chemical reactions that occur in a developing bath then yes.  It’s better to know these things because when you do, you can become a mad scientist in the dark room. But we live in the 21st century and I have feeling that most schools don’t even have a dark room. I don’t think quantum physics and molecular biology will help you come up with a better composition and lighting for the coming cricket match.  Unless someone comes up with cell football.

French

My wife will say yes (she’s French) and surprisingly I’ll say yes as well.  Not necessarily French, but learning another language.  If you are not a dumb American, Australian, or Anglo-Saxon, you need to learn how to speak another language.  This is to prevent you from being ridiculed when you leave your country.   The reason is that if you want to become a sports photographer, it will be very helpful if you have good communication skills.  I don’t want you to just end up shooting in your own country, but to travel around the word shooting sumo and sepak takraw and jai alai.  You should aspire to become an international sports photographer.  Therefore if you can blag your way around in Spanish, French, or whatever, you’ll be that much better than the other monolingual sports photographers.  Combine that with charm, you’ll get into places no other sports photographers dare try.  Since so much of sports photography hinges on location, if you can sweet talk a Belorussian security guard into getting a position where you are normally not allowed to, you’re golden.

Modern Studies

I have no idea what this class entails.  I guess you talk about modern things.  But for some reason, it will probably be much less important than math, which is conveniently lacking from this list.  Most of photography is based on math.  So you should definitely take it.  No, you don’t need to have AP-Calculus under your belt to get a better angle on your remote cam at a high school basketball game, but you need to know basic math.

Okay, just googled it.  This is a class very specific to schools in Scotland.  From what I’ve read on wikipedia, no, you don’t really need it to become a sports photographer.  But if you’re a Scot and in need of separation from those pesky English at some point in your life time, then yes.

Geography

Yes.  At the very least you should know where 90% of the countries in this world is located and whether how many transportation options are there for you to travel from Barcelona to Madrid (Answer: 4 bus, train, car, and plane).  If you do not know where your own state is located (hint hint Americans), it’s bad.  I overheard a conversation last night with an American trying to describe to a Madridista where he is from. “Yes, I live hour and a half from Buffalo”.  As if someone in Madrid knows any other cities in USA besides New York and LA.  By learning about each country in a geographical sense, you won’t be caught wearing a down jacket and leggings boarding on a flight to the Australian Open.

Home Economics

I’ve never taken one, but I’m assuming you make things, right? Unless you are going to start your kickstarter campaign to fund a underwater housing for your Polaroid camera, I wouldn’t bother.  Some people like to concoct things on their own to make their job easier like that guy who invented the monopod socket to put an umbrella or that guy who invented a monopod socket to put a tray for your laptop.  To date I have not invented a single gadget to help me with my sports photography.  Maybe I should.

Technical

I have no idea what this is.  I’m assuming it’s something technical which makes me think it’s the same as Home Economics.  Which means NL wrote it down twice or I’m too stupid that I have no idea what this is.  I first thought about basketball when I read it.

I.T.

Oh come on now.  It’s 2015 and you still have I.T.?  I mean, that shit should be in your life by now.  Unless you are so shit at using computers or anything with dials and knobs, you should take it.  But then, who uses dials and knobs now?  Okay, forget it.  Don’t take it.

There you have it NL.  I’ve made my recommendations.  In the future, take a business class.  Remember that if you want to become a professional sports photographer, treat it like a business, not like a hobby.  But if you want to do it as a hobby,

treated as a hobby.  And a photography course?  Definitely yes.  If it wasn’t for the photography courses I took in high school, I wouldn’t be here right now.  I also hope that you will be able to process BW film.  Because that shit is magic.  I’m not guaranteeing that you are well on your way to become a rockstar sports photographer after taking these courses, but at least these classes will put you on the track to a better sports photography life.  And I’m definitely not guaranteeing that you will be popular with the ladies if you ever become one, but you know that already. :)

Ryu

201501RealvAtletico1261

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Podcast: Episode 35 – Prepare

Podcast: Episode 35 – “Prepare”

Listen and download links here:

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News

Ryu & Matt talk about end of year self-evaluation and Ryu’s decision to enter some contests. Matt asks for some listener help on whether a MacBook Air can handle RAW editing.

Master Class
In response to a listener question, Ryu and Matt start a three-part Master Class talking about what goes into getting ready for a shoot.

Training Ground
Training Ground is now on video. If you’d like to participate (and we think you should), enter your pictures in the Flickr thread and make sure to tag them BLFSTG201311.

Training Ground will now be split off from the podcast, and will run approximately two weeks after the podcast.

You Win

Our December 2013 themed competition was “Anything Goes

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 7.24.44 AM

The winner was Jan Mulders with this rugby picture.

Second place was Simon Wright with this soccer picture.

Third place was Mike Groom with this racing picture.

The January 2014 themed competition is “Seasonally appropriate”. Goto our BLFS flickr group page for competition rules and to enter.

Cross-Counter

Our new segment where we say good things about sports photographs is called Cross-Counter.  But after seeing Sports Illustrated’s 2013 Pictures of the Year, we took a break from saying good things.

Special thanks to…
Our new producer Robb Massar
Icon by Arvin Bautista

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Shooting amateurs professionally

Hello there. At the airport wondering why people havoing such difficult time with our current You Win: Emotions in sports. It is beyond me that why some of you are so locked in on the action and cannot figure out that the most important thing in sports is the reaction to winning and losing. But that’s for another time, because thinking about it gets me too riled up and I’d rather stay calm. Doctor’s orders.

What I want to discuss today is the difference in shooting amateur and pro sports. I belong to a football team in Berlin and I had the opportunity to shoot my team. At first, I wasn’t too excited to shoot my teammates. Not because I have an aversion towards my own team, but I have an aversion for shooting amateurs. Unlike my Jewish partner, I grew up shooting pro sports. My first sports shoot was pro football in Japan. Big games and big tournaments followed and not an amateur in sight. Poor me.

Could I have gone out of my way to shoot amateurs? Sure. But, shooting amateur athletes in Europe makes me 0 Euros. I had a taste of it in DR shooting Dominican baseball players, but most of it was shot in a professional environment, academies run by MLB teams.

So why amateur now? Since so many of you don’t have access (ie press pass) to shoot pro sports, I’d be doing you disservice if I am not experienced at what you are experiencing. I also was in a bit of a funk after the England v Poland match I shot where I felt my shots were awful. Like terrible. I needed to avenge my poor performance and what better to try something new?

1. Access
I mean, WTF? You can go EVERYWHERE. Changing room, on the pitch, and I can even drink their water bottles.  I’m stunned for those who are shooting sports at this level that you aren’t getting more intimate shots. Some of these athletes are your friends or family members. Get them to react to your presence. Let yourself be the stimulus. And also, get in their grill. Make them uncomfortable. Hell, you are the photographer, you do what you want.

2. Unpredictable
At a higher level, things go according to how things should go. Player A passed the ball to Player B unchallenged. 10 out of 10 times the ball gets to the intended position. But at this level unpredictability rules. Expect the unexpected. In a way, it’s more difficult to shoot amateurs because you have to be ready for everything. Make sure you are on your toes and try to be conservative when predicting the next play.

3. The Ace
Since this is not the Bundesliga or the Prem, inaccuracy is rife. Trapping, passing, dribbling, and shooting. Everything is off. Therefore the player will not hold the ball long enough for you to get a good action shot. Lots of lost balls peppered with lots of headers in the air. Therefore if you want good action shots, follow the ace. In my case, our ace can hold the ball longer than the others (“others” include myself of course), allowing me to get the shots I wanted. But obviously you can’t shoot him all day long and you’ll need to shift your focus to the other players because the last thing you want is tons of picture of your ace and meagre harvest of the others.

4. Experiment
This is your chance to do whatever you want. You want to be right next to the goal, at the feet of the players? You want to be so close that you can hear them breathe? You want to go on the pitch when they celebrate the goal and maybe join them? Okay, the last one is a tad too much, but the others are totally plausible. As long as you are not in their way, get as close to the action. Use a flash. Place cameras in weird places. Shoot the players whilst running. The imagination and refs patience is the only limit. Go crazy.

5. Portfolio
If you are starting out in sports photography, shooting amateurs is the best way to showcase your skill. Besides the blatantly obvious segue into Critical Breakdown, shooting amateur sports will be the key for you to get shots unimaginable in pro sports. Only thing impressive about having images of Lebron, Peyton, Cristiano, or Tiger’s waitress girlfriends is IF the image is interesting. Contrary to popular belief, just having images of superstars isn’t enough to impress your potential employer. But an image of the locker room with kids cowering in fear as the coach gives them the hairdryer? Priceless.

The most difficult thing for me was to detach myself emotionally from the game. Not easy when your teammates are busting their balls out there. But if you want to shoot sports, you have to cut all ties with what’s happening on the pitch and concentrate on getting great shots. Because that’s what a sports photographer should do.

Along the same line, I am now thinking whether I can shoot a match with bare minimum non-pro equipment instead of my usual D4 and the funky bunch. But that will have to wait until my next slump.  :)

Ryu

Untitled-10 Untitled-8 Untitled-6 Untitled-5 Untitled-3 Untitled-2 Untitled-1

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Low and behold

Afternoon. But by the time this goes out, it could be evening or morning. We’ll see. All’s well in the European front as I’m on my way to shoot some football in Manchester. That’s Manchester in England and not the fake one in New Hampshire. I’m also now toying with the idea of getting a GoPro so that I can get some weird angles and hangout with all the cool extreme sports photographers.

This week’s sweet tip is exactly that. Trying to get your low angle shots lined up whilst not looking through your view finder. This is assuming you have no space to lie down. Because if you have the space, you better have some dirt on your tummy.

What I used to do is to put the camera as low as possible (aka on the ground) and point the lens towards the direction I want and fire away. But unfortunately, this is not the most reliable way to shoot as you have no idea EXACTLY what and where you are shooting. I’d shoot couple of frames, check the images, try different angles and settings, check the images, prefocus, check the images, and repeat until my OCD got tired. When the moment came to shoot, I just hoped and hoped and hoped.

With the arrival of D4, everything changed for the good. I suddenly realised that with this this live view thing, I can now see what my camera is seeing on the LCD. Wow. A twist of the dial and a push of a button. I have to admit that it was a technological breakthrough in my life (I’m fully aware of the fact that a Somy camera made in Tajikistan for 50 Indonesian Rupiahs also has an active LCD just like the one on D4). Welcome to the world where pro gear doesn’t get all the useful stuff.

I don’t know which of the DSLRs out there have a live view mode. But I’m assuming I’m talking to the majority and not the minority. Therefore if you’ve been dying to shoot that low angle shot in a cramped place and was having trouble getting shots, you now just have to push a button. Maybe turn a dial. By the way, in the D4, the live view mode only lets you shoot in AF-S and it doesn’t do the usual FPS.

But hey, life could be worse.

Ryu

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Saving private Spot

As is the case with almost all my posts, I’m writing this when I’m bored to tears. I’m kidding. Kind of. But I do think about you when I write about it so there is still some hope between you and me. I’m at Oberstdorf shooting the Nebelhorn Trophy. That’s figure skating to you and me. It’s exciting, but the level here is so low that I’m waiting for the big guns to show up. And that’s like at 23:10 tonight. I’d like to say I’m kidding, but I’m not.

Matt and I have already wrote quite a lot about sports photography in our past posts and frankly we are running out of big ideas to write about. We definitely don’t want to go the Hollywood route and start posting remakes and sequels of our previous posts. Instead, we will continue to write posts, albeit in smaller packages. Like tips. When we have something big to say, like when Matt gets all crazy eyed talking about a certain organisation, we will write a big one. But from here on out, we will give you nibbles on sports photography.

One thing I learned very quickly is that when shooting sports, positioning is everything. What you also need to understand is that these positions are only yours if you claim it. You can sit there until the game starts, but what to do when you want to move around to shoot warm-ups? Or when you want to shoot them coming onto the field? What most of us do is to leave something at the spot. Some opt for a monopod, some a stool, and some duct tapes with your name on it. A lot of Japanese sports photographers do the tape thing, I think it’s a cultural thing. As for me, I usually go with the stool. For a simple reason that I use the monopod to shoot and I can’t just leave it there to secure a spot.

If you really really want to get a specific spot on the pitch or floor or whatever playing surface you will be shooting that day, get there early. My colleague who shoots Real Madrid frequently gets to the stadium 3 hours before the match. On big match days like the Classico, he’s there 6 hours before kick off. Excessive? Most definitely, but he’s certain to claim the spot.

Lastly, getting your spot on is the first thing you should do when you arrive at a sporting event. Get your accreditation, get your bib, claim your spot. Then do whatever you have to do. Early sports photographer claims the spot. So says my mother.

Ryu

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: Before You Hit the Shutter

Every assignment is different depending on what your editor needs, the nature of the venue, and the access you have.  Sometimes you’re there to make pictures that will sell to the widest variety of clients.  Other times it’s a big game and you need pictures of the most important plays.  Once in a while you’ll have to focus on one player.  How successful you are as a photographer depends heavily on how well you can deliver no matter what the assignment is or the obstacles involved.

Recently I had an assignment for Spin to Win Rodeo Magazine that I knew was going to be challenging.  Spin to Win focuses on team roping, and generally tries to alternate covers between headers (the cowboy who ropes the steer’s horns) and heelers (the one who ropes the steer’s feet.)  My picture of header Trevor Brazile was the August issue’s cover, and some readers complained that Brazile’s partner Patrick Smith wasn’t included.  The September cover needed to be a heeler, and the biggest rodeo ending before the closing date was the California Rodeo Salinas.  That meant that my assignment became: get a great cover picture of the winning team roping heeler.

The California Rodeo is one of the oldest, over 100 years old.  Tradition is very important, and in team roping it means they do things differently than any other rodeo.  Both ropers start in the same box, and the steer is given a longer than normal head start.  The arena is considerably bigger than average, and all of this produces longer times.  The longer the steer is running, the more unpredictable things become.  In general the header ropes the steer and pulls it around to the left.  The heeler comes from the right side around to the left and ropes the feet, most times ending up facing the left side of the arena.  But with the rules at Salinas, anything can happen.  Shoot from the right side and the heeler could be facing away.  Shoot from the left and the header could eclipse any view of the heeler.  The far end is more than 100 yards away, not the best bet for a high impact cover picture.

Team roping, along with the other timed events at Salinas, is a five-head aggregate competition, meaning that everyone gets 4 tries and then the top 12 lowest times qualify for the short round and a fifth try.  The lowest time on 5 wins.  This means (unlike rodeos with no short round where the winner could be long gone by the end of the rodeo)  that the winner will be competing on Sunday.  But to be safe, it’s better to have pictures from earlier in the week as a backup in case something goes wrong photographically in the short round.

Now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about team roping, there is the matter of access.  My editor sent in a credential request for me, making sure to ask for the exact access I needed.  Since I don’t have a PRCA photographers card, I can’t shoot from the dirt.  This means that it was vital that I be free to shoot from the fenced-in pit on the right side and from the bucking chutes on the left side.  But when I picked up my credentials I found no chute pass and when I went to the arena I was informed that the fenced-in pit was considered as part of the dirt.  The “official” photographer there really likes to protect “his” territory, “bless his heart” as they say.  Very luckily for me, a PRCA official who knew me was at the rodeo and after a while was able to fix my access situation.  In the mean time I may or may not have sent a series of urgent texts to my editor.

With everything finally sorted out I was able to concentrate on shooting.  By Sunday I had a good feel as to how far down the arena runs were finishing, and as the team ropers went in order of slowest to fastest, I could cheat a little based on the time each needed to win.  The second place team of Derrick Begay and Cesar de la Cruz were behind by enough that they needed a really, really fast run to have any hope of winning, so I cheated in closer.  At that angle I had to accept that I would have no shot on header Begay but would give myself the best chance to get a high-impact picture of de la Cruz.  It all came together, with the team turning in a very fast time to take the lead, and de la Cruz facing directly at me straining while his rope burned through his hands as he tightened his loop around the steer’s hind legs.  Professionally I can’t root for anyone in particular, but I knew I had a cover if their score held up. But the last team to go still had a chance to win it with a good run.  They didn’t quite get it done, so Begay and de la Cruz won and all that was left to do was edit the pictures and transmit.

Obviously only a small portion of our readers shoot rodeo, and only a small portion regularly get assignments, so I’m sure the overlap of these sets is in the low single digits.  But I thought it was important to write this up to show the kind of thought that goes into shooting.  Too often we see pictures where there was clearly no thought involved at all, just someone with a camera pointing it in the general direction of the action, and pressing the shutter button.  Your pictures will get better as you begin to consider your surroundings, the tendencies of the competitors, the access you have, and what you are trying to accomplish (for yourself or for your editor).  The more you think about all of these factors and how they interact with each other, the better your results will be.

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