Rodeo Mojo

September 1, 2010 

Despite my previously professed love for rodeo, it’s not all fun light,

interesting behind-the-scenes glimpses,

wild animals,

and Americana:

Like anything you really love, it hurts extra bad when the rodeo does me wrong. After covering two nights of the Farm City Pro Rodeo in Hermiston a couple weeks ago, I was in the saddle for another pair at our Horse Heaven Round-Up. I showed up early to snap some of the aforementioned pre-rodeo features for the first day’s gallery. Having run photos from bareback and bull riding before, I planned to focus on tie-down roping the first night, but after Spring Mountain bucked Joel Schegel of Burns, Colo., off, there was no way I couldn’t run it:

The next day, I employed the same strategy that I did in Hermiston, working extra wide

and extra tight during bareback:

I like this second tight shot quite a bit and the cowboy, Steven Peebles of Redmond, Ore., ended up being the top finisher of the day. I hoped this good mojo would carry through the rest of the evening, but I probably should have known better. During tie-down, my best shots

were of the worst finishers, and my shots of Trevor Braizile of Decatur, Texas, who finished strongest on the day in 8.5 sec., were pretty bad. The main reason for this is distance. Even though the slight element of danger makes shooting rodeo from in the ring more exciting, I’m not an adrenaline junkie and keeping that danger as slight as possible is my top goal. While I push my luck a bit more in situations I’m more familiar and comfortable in, I’m not well versed in rodeo logistics and livestock behavior, so I usually defer my position selection to the grizzled rodeo photographer vets. Staying at a safe distance means the fastest tie-down competitors are also the farthest away, as was the case with Braizile. You can see just how far in this uncropped frame I shot with the 200/1.8:

Cropping it in as tight as I would like looks awful, even at web resolution:

Going a little wider helps marginally,

but it still looks pretty bad.

“Why don’t you use a longer lens?” you may be asking your computer screen sardonically. Well, I can’t hear you and there’s not enough light, smart guy. If we had some radio triggers and extra strobes, we could light the arena ourselves, but at this distance, our on-camera flashes wouldn’t help much, if at all. A closer spot outside the ring would work too, but I like the vantage point of the riders charging at you. Ultimately, I’ll get more comfortable and knowledgeable around the rodeo and figure out a better approach. This time around, Braizile was only half as fast as the overall leader, so I went with a steer wrestling photo of local cowboy Tony Currin of Dayton:

Currin was penalized 10 sec. for breaking the starting line, but his nearby hometown helped me make my photo selection. Most of my steer wrestling photos suffered the same distance and low-light issues and the top finisher on the second day only managed to end up in fifth place. In fact, the only top finisher I photographed that day that actually placed well was Peebles, who took first place overall.

Go figure.

Bareback is the universal CYA for rodeo coverage since it’s earliest and in the best light. Unsure of how busy the other photographers would be, I thought it would be best to leave another bareback photo as an open option. And while I like the tight shot, I didn’t love it enough to hog another of the low-hanging fruit.

It was a lackluster end to a round of coverage I had looked most forward to. And looking back, it’s funny that my favorite shot from the fair and rodeo came from a quick wander through the midway:

Perhaps I was overexcited and placed too much pressure on myself to do well, messing everything up like an overeager date. Sometimes luck just isn’t on your side as a photographer, but as it also goes with this job, I won’t have time to reflect and refine for quite some time. As soon as you figure one thing out, it’s over and you’re onto the next. Now football season is upon us, and here’s hoping I can build upon the lessons I learned last year.

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