Matt: My Top 10 of 2011

It’s the time of the year when everyone is pulling together pictures for year end contests and “best of” posts. I just posted my Best of 2011 slideshow on my site, but I figured I’d put up my favorite 10 here and talk about them a bit.

Gael Monfils (FRA) competes during quarterfinal play at the 2011 SAP Open at HP Pavilion.

The SAP Open in San Jose is the only major tennis event in the Bay Area for the men’s side. It’s not a big money tournament, so you usually see a mix of the top Americans with some Europeans, but rarely the top-ranked players in the world. I was excited to shoot French player Gael Monfils because in contrast to the ordinary serve-and-volley tennis, Monfils is all over the court, chasing down balls and giving it up for the camera from start to finish. During his exhibition match with Pete Sampras, he even stole one of my cameras and pretended to shoot with it. So for Monfils’ quarterfinal match, I wanted to make a picture of him that showed off his dynamic qualities and didn’t look like anything else. I sat on him for about four games to get this one right, 1/30th of a second as he tracked a ball toward the sideline. This is when trying 200 times to succeed once is totally worth it.

Raiders head coach Hue Jackson hugs wide receiver Jacoby Ford before the NFL game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, CA.

I was playing around with the mid-fall light at O.co Coliseum, getting warm-up pictures of the Raiders when I saw first-year head coach Hue Jackson stop to talk to receiver Jacoby Ford. The conversation looked much more intense than the others Jackson was having with his players, so I started shooting and was rewarded with this moment. The sun was coming in from the left, but there was also some reflection off of the luxury box windows behind me, subtly filling in Ford’s face. Obviously this was a color picture originally, but between Ford’s uniform and Jackson’s jacket, there wasn’t a lot of color. So I played around with it in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 until it popped.

Heith DeMoss of Heflin, LA, dressed as a character from the movie Avatar, competes in the Wild Ride at the 2011 Red Bluff Round-Up at the Tehama District Fairgrounds in Red Bluff, CA. The Wild Ride is a long-time tradition at the 90-year-old rodeo. Riders compete for a custom saddle and cash prizes.

Oddly enough, this was my most published picture of 2011, making it around the world a few times, to many countries that don’t even have rodeo. The Wild Ride at the Red Bluff Round-Up is always good for laughs and pictures, but this combination of Heith DeMoss dressed up as Avatar and getting dumped on his head, and a line of cowboys laughing and spraying silly string really was a “WTF?” moment.

Bryce Brown of Greenview, CA gets bucked off Ankle Biter at the 2011 Clovis Rodeo.

2011 was the first year that I was able to get a credential for the Clovis Rodeo, and it was worth the wait. I spent about half the weekend on (and hanging off) the slanted corrugated aluminium roof of the announcer’s stand both in the heat of the daytime performances and the cold of the night performance. Oh, and of course the roof was covered in pigeon shit. But it’s the closest to overhead I’ve ever been at an outdoor event, and as the shadows increased during the bull riding, I made this picture of Bryce Brown getting thrown off Ankle Biter. The suffering was obviously worth it.

Brian Bain of Culver, OR stretches prior to his ride at the 93rd Annual Livermore Rodeo at Robertson Park in Livermore, CA.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Robertson Park for the Livermore Rodeo was the ring of flags that circled the arena. I saw bareback rider Brian Bain stretching and figured that if I could get a bunch of the flags in the background, it would be a picture. I ended up shooting this wide open on the Nikon 24mm 1.4 which gives it a look that most people aren’t used to seeing. I converted it to black and white (again with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2) to add to the drama.

Steer wrestler Matt Reeves of Pampa, TX competes in the 2011 Calgary Stampede at Stampede Park in Calgary, AB Canada.

I almost took away my chance to make this picture of steer wrestler Matt Reeves. I didn’t enjoy my time at the Calgary Stampede at all, mostly due to their absolute nonsense shooting positions and unclear access restrictions. I was packing to return home a day early when I saw that one of my clients had stock bucking that day. So I stayed and got soaked in a downpour that basically flooded the arena. There was so much mud on the arena floor that I thought there was no way they would have the performance. But they did, and the mud flew in every event. Steer wrestling was the best because the cowboys slide through the dirt (normally) but that day had to slide through the mud. The sunken photo platform was perfect for catching the mud flying, and made the extra day pay off.

Stanford players take the field before the NCAA football game between the Stanford Cardinal and the UCLA Bruins at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, CA.

One of the few times you can predict where players will be is just before they take the field from the locker room tunnel. And if you can get access to that tunnel, you can get pictures you can’t get out on the field. College football is usually good for this, and Stanford is no exception. I waited for a night game (the day is too bright for a pan with the 14-24 which doesn’t take filters) and practiced my composition/shutter speed as players ran through for warmups. Then when they actually took the field, I was ready. Almost. I love this picture, but it is heartbreaking that the player in front of the player in focus is…2012 #1 draft pick Andrew Luck. And that’s the difference between good luck and Andrew Luck.

Browns wide receiver Greg Little drops a pass under pressure from Raiders cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke during the NFL game between the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, CA.

Again taking advantage of the fall light at O.co Stadium, I sat on this corner of the field waiting for a play, and this one fit the bill, luckily staying just outside of the minimum focusing distance of my 400mm.

Cody DeMers of Kimberly, ID rides Painted Feathers at the 2011 Red Bluff Round-Up at the Tehama District Fairgrounds in Red Bluff, CA.

I have tons of great bucking pictures from 2011, but this one is probably my favorite. Painted Feathers is giving Cody DeMers all he can handle. But in this frame, DeMers has his hand balancing the horse’s head and his right leg balancing the horse’s legs. I also think it shows how wild rodeo can be.

Chuck Schmidt of Keldron, SD prepares to ride Late Night Apple at the 2011 Red Bluff Round-Up at the Tehama District Fairgrounds in Red Bluff, CA.

Finally, this picture of Chuck Schmidt from the Red Bluff Round-Up. One bit of advice I always give to people is that when there isn’t enough light to shoot action, shoot what you can shoot. The Friday night performance in Red Bluff is tough because the lighting is not good enough for action after the first couple of events. By the time saddle bronc and bull riding rolls around, it’s impossible to shoot the action. So I put on the Nikon 24mm 1.4 and when behind the chutes and shot the saddle bronc riders preparing to ride. I converted this one to black and white due to a really bad color cast from the flood lights in the arena mixed with the fluorescent lights behind the chutes. In the end, if shows how alone you are when it’s your turn to ride a bucking horse.

And that’s it for 2011. If you have any questions or criticism about these pictures, leave them in the comments and I will answer. And if you want to see my Best of 2011 slideshow, click here.

Matt

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