Matt: Ignore the Conventions

Convention: The most widely accepted or established view of what is thought to be proper behaviour, good taste, etc.

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

I came to rodeo after shooting other sports, and I shot like it: long lens, tight crops, clean backgrounds, a mix of behind-the-scenes and peak-action pictures. This worked very well for broncs and bulls, steer wrestling, barrel racing, and even calf roping where there was one subject at a time and I could move around to control light and shoot at fairly wide apertures to keep backgrounds clean. Team roping however was a different story. For those who don’t know here’s an explanation from Friends of Rodeo:

Team roping is the only rodeo event that features two contestants. The team is made up of a header and a heeler. The header ropes the horns, then dallies or wraps his rope around his saddle horn and turns the steer to the left for the other cowboy who ropes the heels. The heeler must throw a loop with precision timing to catch both of the steer’s hind legs. The time clock stops once both ropers have made a catch and brought the animals to a stop, facing each other.

As you can imagine, two cowboys, two horses, and one steer moving independently, sometimes 20 yards apart, in an event where a good time is in the 4-second range is a tall order. The rodeo-only photographer convention for shooting team roping has (from what I can tell) always been stand really far back, shoot with a 70-200 at a medium aperture, and get both cowboys and the steer in the frame at all costs. Bonus points if you’re also sitting on your Pelican camera case while you’re doing it. Go ahead, check out this Google image search for “team roping” and witness the atrocities.

The problem is that you can’t shoot from 1) a safe distance, 2) get both cowboys in the frame, 3) have a clean background, and 4) make interesting pictures that don’t look like every other team roping picture all at the same time. It’s physics. So virtually all rodeo-only photographers opt for 1&2 and ignore 3&4 completely. For a while I just didn’t shoot team roping because I couldn’t accept that tradeoff, couldn’t think of a solution, and didn’t have much of a reason to innovate because didn’t have any team-roping related clients.

Then I started hearing from potential team roping clients, and as I mentioned in my 2013 goals post, I got tired of not having pictures of the guys they wanted and spent some time thinking about it before this season. I had two related revelations: 1) you don’t need to have both cowboys in the frame any more than you have to have all 11 football players or 9 baseball players in the frame and 2) since it’s common for the header and heeler to be sponsored by different combinations of companies (sometimes even competitors) having separate pictures of each can be more commercially viable.

Once freed from the conventional limitation of having both cowboys in the frame, I was able to concentrate on making pictures that have clean backgrounds and are distinct in that the cowboys are immediately identifiable. Artistically this opens the door for things like facial expression/emotion and the dynamics of the rope, and commercially it provides the benefit of the cowboy’s face and sponsor patches, none of which are possible the conventional way.

Clearly the subset of our audience who shoots rodeo is small, and this post isn’t meant solely for them. In any sport you will run into situations where limitations have resulted in conventions. If the conventional way doesn’t work for you artistically or commercially, you have to figure out something else.

Matt

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PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Livermore Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Livermore Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Marysville Stampede

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

PRCA 2013 - Red Bluff Round-Up

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Livermore Rodeo

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3 thoughts on “Matt: Ignore the Conventions

  1. Great post Matt.
    I think this applies to all photography in general.
    Find your own voice and style and never look back.
    In the end it’s all about problem solving.

  2. Yeah ..!! when you feel the action on any enviroment you will had he picture that nobody more have it..that’s the art of clicking the shutter…!!!

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