At the end of 2014 I looked back through all of my pictures and realized I had been playing it a little too safe. My 2015 plan included a couple of smaller rodeos where I would be able to get good access and have the opportunity to experiment without “wasting” opportunities satisfy my clients’ needs.
This is one of my favorite rodeo pictures ever, and it came from forcing myself to do something different. I didn’t bring any long lenses to Woodlake, and looked for ways to make it work once I arrived. This certainly isn’t the thing to do all the time, but it can lead to creative thinking. The timed event chutes were relatively uncluttered, so I had room to compose with a clean background. I then dropped the shutter speed until it completely blurred out everything except the horse, the cowboy, and the rope. It’s abstract, yet there’s no doubt what’s happening.
Getting close is always key. Establish your position then back off if necessary. Baby Face headed right for me, and I was close enough to get separation with the background despite not shooting with a very long lens. Of course it helps that Peebles is looking right at me, and that I had enough time to get to the fence.
No matter the sport, not everything happens while the event is going on, so getting there early and staying late can lead to pictures no one else is going to have. I had never been to the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo before, and for the first three days I watched them move stock down the hill between the holding pens and the chutes, each time going under the remnants of a rusty old platform that was previously part of a footbridge. I’m scared of being higher than safe falling distance, so climbing up a fence and pulling myself onto this rickety deck was significantly less than fun. But when they started running the bulls, it made it worth it. Until I had to get down again.
Wrecks happen less frequently in timed events than they do in bronc or bull riding, but when they do, they often look pretty cool. At Marysville, the rodeo starts in the early evening, so the light crosses the arena at a perfectly low angle for most of the performances. Luckily there was plenty of light to cut through the dirt on this one.
The rush to look at pictures on the back of the camera causes more missed pictures than anything else I know. Staying with it leads to moments like this where Lane Santos Karney throws a handful of dirt after missing his steer.
When performances are right in the middle of the day, it’s tough to manage the exposure between light and shadow, which makes conventional pictures less useful than they would ordinarily be. Shooting from behind the chutes with a 24mm 1.4 allowed me to catch the vibe of the start of a ride with the scenic hills in the background.
Shooting team roping is a problem I have been trying to solve for a while. The distance between each roper and the steer and the distance from all of them to the camera makes it nearly impossible to shoot the whole thing and not let in a very distractingly in-focus background. I often shoot singles with a long lens, but that doesn’t really say TEAM roping unless you already know what it is. So I worked on moving up the arena to try to frame one roper with his partner.
I’ve mentioned this many times, but rodeo photographers are tragically stuck in the stone ages and constantly conflate “perfect” form of the cowboys with “perfect” pictures. I don’t often try to make pictures like this, but the low sun and palm trees add something to the form.
As photographers, our job is to show people the things they can’t see from the stands, and often even on TV. For me this often includes what goes on behind the chutes, but this time I was in front of the chutes while the saddle bronc riders were preparing to ride. Beat up hands, tape, leather straps, and the aluminum gate combine to show a fundamental, yet mostly unseen, part of rodeo.
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