“When photographing fast-paced, erratically-moving subjects like those at a rodeo I would select Shutter priority. I like shutterspeeds of 1/500th or more and one always needs to be aware of depth-of-field, and balancing the shutter speed and aperture for that. Wide apertures reduce the field of focus in front of and behind your focus point, so leave room for the moving subject; something like f/8 or better yet, f/11 would be safest.”
That was part of a discussion I had with a fellow photographer while standing beside the arena at the Pritchard Rodeo last Sunday. I had been laughing about the not-so-successful attempts two wranglers were having as they tried to lasso a wily bronco. As we talked I was quickly pointing my camera at the action, and the other fellow wondered why I wasn’t paying attention to my settings in the changing daylight.
I asked how he set his camera and his response was he first tried his camera on Manual mode and had just switched to Aperture priority. I am sure either of those would work well, and I have no doubt that some photographers who shoot rodeos professionally will have their own advice to him.
I was there to have fun, socialize with friends, and still get as many shots (that were keepers) of the rodeo as I could. Shutter priority assured that I’d always have a shutterspeed that would stop the action.
My first goal was to get the light correct and keep it correct without constantly resetting the camera. The only “chimping” (a term used to describe the habit of checking every photo on the camera LCD immediately after capture) I would do was to check my camera’s histogram every now and then.
Shutter priority was as close to point-and-shoot as I could get in an environment where my attention might stray. Fortunately this was a local rodeo and I was very familiar with the grounds and where the action would take place. When an event was about to change I would casually walk around the arena to where I had in the past found the best place to photograph that particular activity.
My favorites to photograph are saddle bronc, bareback, steer and bull riding. The action is explosive and I think the participants (horse and rider, or bull and rider) pitted against each other are well matched and one can never be sure who will win. I am of the opinion that both animals and humans know it’s a game. For example, I watched a large black bull crashing around in the bucking chute, giving the handlers a hard time as the rider tried to get mounted. The gate opened, rider and bull exploded into the arena with the bull bucking, rearing, kicking, spinning, and twisting. Although he did his best to hang on for the required eight seconds, the contest ended with the cowboy being thrown.
Bullfighters rushed to help the rider, possibly expecting additional aggression from the bull, but at that moment that large, black, dangerous bull’s attitude immediately seemed to change from “death incarnate” to, well, a nice fellow out for a stroll. And that’s exactly what he did, casually walked back to exit the arena to brag to his buddies.
My photographs didn’t show that mellow conclusion, that’s not what we expect at the rodeo. Instead they are great action photos of what has been called, “the most dangerous eight seconds in sports”.
The Pritchard Rodeo grounds are perfect for photographers. The arena is enclosed with a strong metal fence that’s safe to stand close to and doesn’t restrict the view. Of course, one has to be careful when excited horses are getting ready for the barrel race, but heck, it is a rodeo and one must remember that the animals, like any other athletes, are focusing on what they are about to do, not some silly person with a camera.
I’ll mention that barrel racing is also a great subject to photograph, and trying to perfectly capture what seems like a gravity-defying moment as horse and rider, fast and furiously, circle the barrel is exciting.
I know there are more rodeos scheduled for the rodeo circuit ahead and interested photographers can expect an enjoyable, energy-packed day of photography that, at times, will test their skills.