After seven months of not shooting rodeos, April rolled around (sans showers this year) and I found myself back doing what I’m meant to do. I took a lot of my own advice over the winter, and it more than paid off. First, I made two complete passes through my rodeo archive (+25,000 pictures) once for a book project, and once to update ratings and keywords to make it easier to find pictures in response to client requests and market to new clients. It was fascinating to see how my pictures got better as I was able to shoot more rodeos, but it was also instructive to see what didn’t work – either at certain rodeo arenas, or at all. For example, some arenas are very narrow, and shooting opposite the bucking chutes with a 400mm didn’t produce the results I wanted because by the time the broncs were bucking at full kick, I wasn’t able to avoid cutting off limbs. Some arenas are very big and some shooting positions are too far away for even 400mm. Some angles would otherwise be good, but it’s tough watching picture after picture be ruined by sponsor signs in the background.
Maybe most importantly, I looked at what the particular attributes of each arena/rodeo are and took advantage of them. At Clovis that means the beautiful light at 8am slack (timed-event qualifying) and shooting from the roof of the announcer’s stand for barrel racing and bull riding.
At Red Bluff, it means the Wild Ride.
At Oakdale it means shooting across the bucking chutes from the side.
These pictures provide the variety that is hard to come by at other arenas, and since each rodeo only happens once per year, it’s imperative to capitalize at each one..
By looking at all of my rodeo pictures at once I was able to recognize all of these things and come up with new plans for each of the places I shoot.
As I mentioned in my post about my 2013 plans, I found myself saying no to inquiries for pictures of certain cowboys, most notably team ropers. I aggressively addressed this by shooting several sessions of team roping at the first three pro rodeos on my schedule, easily surpassing the quantity and quality of all the roping pictures I had in the prior 5 years of shooting rodeo. This effort easily paid off in both media and commercial sales, starting with this picture of Kory Koontz on the cover of Spin to Win Rodeo:
I also noticed that some of my favorite behind-the-scenes pictures were made with a borrowed 24mm f/1.4, so I rented one for a couple of weeks. I generally try to steer people away from fixating on gear, but there are just things you can’t do with any other lens. Clearly I’m going to have to just suck it up and buy one.
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And then there’s just the “regular” behind-the-scenes pictures…
I broke out the fisheye/monopod sparingly, just one set of 12 broncs, but thankfully that was enough for now.
With a weekend off before I hit the road for another run of rodeos, I’m trying to accelerate the process, critiquing and planning before I shoot again. I’ll leave you with a couple of clips from the latest issue of American Cowboy magazine where I have both the cover and table of contents page: