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Shooting Rodeo when you don't have access

Robert Watcher

Well-known member
After reading this recent post by James Newman (http://www.openphotographyforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=16789), I wanted to add some thoughts, but didn't want to distract from his post and images.

Although I am not a dedicated sports photographer by trade - I wonder if an example of some of the methods that I have used to get images with impact, from a location where I have no control over lighting or viewpoint - - - may help other photographers to try different things next time they go to the rodeo with a camera.

Besides have no choice other than to shoot at the time of day that has been designated for the event, almost all spectators with cameras or without, will be assigned to seating or areas around the grandstand that don't help in getting the best shot. Even if you can get close to the fencing (which I was able to in my shots here) - you are still a long ways away from most action. This makes for less interesting shots because no matter how long your lens, you aren't likely to end up with shallow depth of field when capturing the general action that is going on.

So I have those overall shots of riders on horses or bulls that document what is going on in the rodeo - - - but to counteract the limitations I am given when shooting a rodeo as one who does not have privileged access, I concentrate on shooting with the intent of camouflaging any shortcomings by forcing the viewer to focus on peak of action, reactions or details.

Peak of Action - so even if I have distracting backgrounds because I am shooting from a long ways away and the action is taking place right near the fence and gates, I hold my camera trigger until the action is coming toward me, the rider is falling, the bull or horse are twisting and turning, or the barrel racer and horse are almost falling over going around a barrel. Not too often do I want to photograph the bareback rider on the back of the bucking horse in a profile position - or the steer wrestlers sitting on their horse, riding alongside the steer.

So here are a few images that show what I mean by distracting the viewer from uninteresting background elements and shooting angles that I can't control - by focusing on the subject being in the peak of action:






Robert Watcher

Well-known member





A second or two earlier and the shot wouldn't have worked - a second or two later and the horse would be more upright and rider relaxed. I don't shoot these sequences in motor drive - or I might miss the peak of action - - - instead rely on anticipation and quick reflexes with the shutter button.


Robert Watcher

Well-known member
Reactions - because of the emotion involved with sport, the intensity, excitement and disappointment always shows through is we make ourselves aware of when those moments are likely to happen






Robert Watcher

Well-known member
Details - maybe it is from being a wedding photographer - - - but I try and find interesting bits of content with the subjects that are in front of me. The resulting images are parts of a whole, that still are able to imply what the subject matter is. Surprisingly, I am contacted with interest in prints from these images, as much as from full length shots.






Robert Watcher

Well-known member
Story Sequences - sometimes I fire repeatedly at key moments, looking for an interesting story sequence of images.






Robert Watcher

Well-known member
As I mentioned at the outset - I'm not a pro or even a serious sports photographer. But I do enjoy taking my cameras along to such events. But instead of focusing on taking typical images - just because I may be limited by where I am sitting or what gear or light I have to work with - - - my goal is to leave with a selective set of images that myself and others can get excited over. Ones that may get framed on a wall or used in some way that a stereotypical sports image may not.


BTW - all images except this last one that I took outside the stands when leaving - - - were taken from the exact same location and point of view. I was using a long 100-400mm zoom lens and some images were cropped in post processing to bring visual focus where it needed to be in the final image. This was also a difficult day for shooting as it was pouring rain and dull, requiring me to get soaking wet and shoot at high ISO settings.

Hopefully some of these examples and explanations, spark some ideas inside you next time you go to such an event. Even though there isn't much control over what you can shoot and how you can shoot - "think outside the box" as they say.
Thanks Robert for sharing some of your ideas and techniques on what you do and why. It was very informative and helpful and I will try to put some of it to use the next chance I get. Your images definitely shine and tell a story that another "regular" photo might not.

I really wish I had been able to get a bit closer and be a bit more selective. Most of my shots were majorly cropped in post just to get them to the point that was acceptable to me. I came away with a few that were not so cropped but not many.

I did find out that on the first Saturday of our rodeo there is a photographer's workshop, sponsored by Canon (I won't hold that against them), that teaches how to shoot a rodeo. They will be having it again next year so I may have to look into it.

Thanks again for your sharing.
James Newman