2018 was the first year I didn’t make a list of the types of pictures I wanted to try. Usually in January I review my pictures from the prior year and look at my schedule to generate a list of picture goals. Things started off busier than normal and I had to leave before I got to the list. This ended up being better because I had to come up with individual plans at the beginning of each shoot. In the end, I mostly tried to push the boundaries of my angles, and to use the light in less obvious ways. I’ve grouped these 10 pictures into those two categories: angles & light.
The light at St. Paul, OR near sunset is really great, but shooting with the light, while guaranteed to produce nice golden light, can get boring. I shot into the light there a lot this year, and this is an example of what happens with semi-silhouettes, dirt, and shallow depth of field. I believe it shows the power, unpredictability, and chaos inherent in rodeo.
For about 20 minutes of one performance per year, the light at Santa Maria, CA lines up perfectly for backlit pictures. Because the sun isn’t directly behind where the calf ropers jump off, I pass on making silhouettes and instead let enough light in to wrap around the subject. Here, everything really worked out, with Blake’s hand and rope getting flared out, and the sun lighting up the horse’s mane. The expression on his face separated this version from the other ones in the series.
I added a new stop to my schedule this year because it is an amateur rodeo and they let me host a workshop. The Friday night slack (overflow from the main rodeo performances) took place at the perfect time for some true silhouettes and I basically just set up and tried to get one with both ropers and the sign in the background. After shooting for a while I saw that the pictures looked more interesting with one roper in focus and one out of focus, even in silhouette. This was about the best I could have hoped for.
Shooting head on against the chutes is not my favorite way to shoot rodeo due to the lack of separation between the subject and background, but this works because I was able to blow out the sky so the only things in the picture are cowboys, chutes and the horse. This picture didn’t need to be black and white to work, but I wanted to break it down to forms and tones to take advantage of the symetry and to get rid of the distracting colors of the ad boards.
As time goes on, I’ve lost a lot of overhead positions that I have used, due to remodeling and access issues. The roof of the old announcer stand at Clovis used to be my absolute favorite place to shoot, but they knocked it down to make VIP boxes. During barrel racing slack there’s no one in there, so I set up as close to the barrel as I could and just went with it. The results were by far my favorite barrel racing pictures of the year. It’s easy to show the power of horses from ground level, but from above, you really can see how important the turn is given the speed and geometry. I think this picture really gets at the truth of how fast they’re going and how tight the turn must be to avoid losing time.
My first workshop last year was at the Flying U Rodeo Free Roughstock school where kids can learn how to ride horses and bulls from professionals. At the side of the bull ring, the ground dropped straight off, giving us a really low angle. After bucking off his rider, this bull just kept coming, and had the fence not been there, he would have landed right on me. The rider’s upside down form in between the bulls legs really makes this one complete.
I went to the Southeastern Circuit Finals in Davie, FL this year, not to shoot action, but to work more on the photojournalism side for specific stories for The Cowboy Journal. But when I saw how the chutes were set up, I dug out a bit of sand so that I could fit my lens under and get some pictures of the horses leaving. I couldn’t see through the viewfinder here, so I guessed at the distances and exposure. Everything ended up working from the horse dropping its head to the slats of the chute gate leading to the support beams on the roof, to the dirt flying, to the chute man’s arm in the corner.
Again at Santa Maria, I squeezed myself under some supports of the VIP tent for the bull riding. Generally I would shoot from this position with a longer lens because the bulls end up going the other way. I just had a feeling that I’d get one close to me, so I switched to my 24-70 and got monumentally lucky that this bull wanted to show off his ridiculous athleticism right in front of me.
I shot this picture from under the out gate, in a live alley. This means when the horses and bulls are done bucking, the gate opens and they go to the back pens. So I had to shoot laying on my stomach, then immediately get to my feet and through another gate, both for my (relative) safety, and to avoid holding up the show. I traded some intense pictures like this for a huge bruise when someone smashed the gate into my kneecap. A trade I’ll make every time.
This picture isn’t as much of a different angle, but I did have to hold on and lean out the window of the announcer’s stand to get this picture of Bob Tallman leading the Red Bluff Round-Up in prayer. The reflection was worth the trip up there.