Photographing Rodeos – you win some, you loose some!

author:  Ambika Balasubramaniyan

Rodeos — Quintessential Americana. The excitement and action that any sporting contest generates is always a great opportunity for photographers to try and capture the emotion & action that surround event! Rodeos are also a challenge for the photographer – quick unpredictable action in some challenging venue conditions!

I had the opportunity to be at the Fort Worth Stockyards Rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum Arena late September and what a memorable experience it was. Some trivia: The Cowtown Coliseum is home to the World’s First Indoor Rodeo in 1918.  I enjoyed the event and learnt a whole lot about photographing rodeos – especially ones that are held indoors!


American Grace: Capturing the history, grace and glamour of the American West

Some tips to have more wins at the rodeo shoot:

1. Research your event and know the drill: Things happen fast at rodeos so knowing what to expect and where to expect the best of the action matters. Understand the venue and how much access you will have; attending pre-events also allows for some interesting photo opportunities of both people and animals that capture the spirit of the event.

These boots are made for Ridin!

These boots are made for Ridin!

If this is your 1st rodeo — watch the action on You Tube to know what to expect and help visualize your photo opportunities –  the opportunities when animals leave the chutes – bulls & broncos , best opportunities with barrel racing, team events.

Best Buddies - The Longhorn Mascot of the Fort worth Stockyards

Best Buddies – The Longhorn Mascot of the Fort worth Stockyards

If you have the chance to see the arena before the event, it will help you plan your shoots and account for lighting challenges the venue may present. In my case I was located directly across from their spot lights and was frequently blinded and lost many frames to a light wash from the moving beams but it also provided me some opportunities!

Cowboy Tricks: The outrageously amazing acts that make a rodeo a fun event!

Cowboy Tricks: The outrageously amazing acts that make a rodeo a fun event!

2.  Plan your set up: In an arena rodeo with assigned seating, its lot harder to move about to change your shooting location. So research the venue and decide how you want to photograph the event. Different events have different vantage points for capturing the action. Try and get the front seats where you have unobstructed views of the action. If you stand up to shoot, remember there are people behind you that many not appreciate you blocking their views.

  • Chutes is where the action is — In this venue there were chutes on both ends — Bulls and broncos on one end and the roping events on the other
Bulls 1: Cowboys 0: Action happens very quick and very close to the chutes. 8 seconds ride seems like a lifetime

Bulls 1: Cowboys 0: Action happens very quick and very close to the chutes. 8 second ride seems like a lifetime

  • Roping events saw action more that was further in field from chutes – mid field for calf roping; 1/3 way in from chutes for team roping
Calf Roping: Know the sequence - Lasso, Wrestle the calf and Tie off!

Calf Roping: Know the sequence – Lasso, Wrestle the calf and Tie off!

Team Roping: Lots of action between the cowboys, horses the calf and the ropes!

Team Roping: Lots of action between the cowboys, horses the calf and the ropes!

Be mindful of the distance between horse and calf/cowboy if you want to capture the whole scene. I wasn’t and don’t have any that show the whole picture.  The calves are fast so I have plenty of frames with parts of the action that don’t make for a good story.

  • For Barrel Racing – the 2nd barrel yielded best images of the action from where I was located midfield.
Tight Turns: Watch for direction in which riders go around the barrel -- sometimes it’s the other way!

Tight Turns: Watch for direction in which riders go around the barrel — sometimes it’s the other way!

3.  Lighting: With indoor arenas, you are in a low light situation. I expected it to be brighter based on what I saw when I did my pre-show assessment. One the show started, the lights got turned low and performers we highlighted by spotlights that were worked by hand – this made for a very unpredictable light on the rider. Many a time the action was faster than what the operators could manually track, Hard shooting conditions – so I had to bump up the ISO significantly and still missed a lot of shots. The one benefit of the low light is that it was easy to get blurs in the images. I like some of that – especially when it reflects the extreme action of the field!

I did not use a flash – make sure you check if they allow flashes in the arena. Horses can be easily spooked by bright flashes of lights, so please be mindful of the horses when you do use a flash even in arenas/ events that allow them.

A monopod is nice but with today’s technology of high ISO image quality and image stabilization, you can easily hand hold. Just make sure your camera settings will allow you’re the shutter speed to arrest motion! Make sure you are set to AI-Servo Focus and using Continuous shooting mode to capture peak of action.

Hanging on: Watch for opportunities when the action slows momentarily

Hanging on: Watch for opportunities when the action slows momentarily

4.  Don’t forget the other opportunities at the Rodeo – The Rodeo Clowns!


I had a wonderful time at the Fort Worth Rodeo…see if you can find a smaller local Rodeo – better access to action and less restrictions. Take a shot at it! You will have a jolly good time and come away with some fun images!


Ambika Balasubramaniyan is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

How to shoot a sunset

Author:  Vicki Uthe

This image was taken in Nuevo Kino, Sonora, Mexico on the final night of December of 2015.  We were only down there for four nights and as luck would have it the most spectacular sunset presented itself on our final evening.  The lesson here? patience.  Had I been in a hurry and had only one evening to shoot a sunset I would have been sorely disappointed.


The previous evenings either had too many clouds, or none at all.  Too many clouds drown out the sunlight and make for gray, drab lighting and images.  Experiencing the sun set with no clouds at all, although always humbling, makes for boring images.

The other thing to remember is that the best light really happens AFTER the sun has gone below the horizon.  As you can see in this series of images, as the sun drops, the light keeps changing and getting better.  So again, patience.  Don’t pack up your gear and leave just because the sun is gone.  Stick around for the encore, it’s worth it.

The equipment I used was pretty simple: I had my Canon 7D mounted on my Benro travel tripod with a 24-70 mm lens attached.  I also connected a remote shutter release.  The camera was on Manual setting and once the shot was composed I sat back and waited for the changing light. As I liked what I saw I hit the button.  As the sky changed around me I turned the camera on the tripod and shot in other directions as well.  I also made sure to keep the shutter speed slow enough to blur the ocean waves to add a cool effect.

Keep your eyes to the sky and if you see some clouds get to an open space and see what happens!  Happy shooting!!

Vicki Uthe is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

A Short History on Canyon de Chelly

author:  Meng Tay

As we begin our trip to Canyon de Chelly with Navajo photographer LeRoy DeJolie it is important to understand the archeological, historical and cultural signficance of this sacred canyon.  Here is a short history of Canyon de Chelly.

Following millions of years of land uplifts and rivers cutting through the area, Mother Nature has endowed on us today one of the most beautiful landmarks in Arizona.  When you visit a place as significant as Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’SHAY), it helps to understand its history.  This is a place that has been inhabited by humans for almost 5,000 years but many visitors to this National Monument came only to admire its beauty, unaware of its contribution to mankind, the state of Arizona and native American history.


The first known settlers in Canyon de Chelly were the Archaic people about 5,000 years ago, from 2500 to 200 BC. They did not build permanent homes but lived in seasonal campsites.  They hunted and gathered for their food in the area.  Their stories were told through remains of their campsites and images they painted and etched on the canyon walls.

Then came the basket-makers who lived in the canyon from 200 BC to AD 750.  They were farmers instead of hunters and gatherers.  Over time they built a farming community complete with large granaries and public structures.  Life was good but that slowly changed.

From AD 750 to 1300, a new group of settlers called the Pueblos, started to build stone houses above ground. They connected the stone houses and built multi-story villages with household compounds and kivas with decorated walls.  They are often referred to as the Anasazis, or the “ancient ones.”  Most of the ruins that you see today are from these settlers, including the well-known White House.


The Anasazis left the area probably because of poor farming conditions.  Then the Hopis started using the area for seasonal farming and occasional lengthy stays until the early 1700s’.  The Hopis then encountered the Navajos, who were pushed from their homelands by their adversaries.  The Navajos brought with them domesticated farming that they have learned from the Spanish settlers.  However, this was not a peaceful time for the Navajos, as they continue to fight with other Indian tribes and the Spanish colonists.  In 1805, a Spanish military expedition fought with a group of Navajo people at the Canyon del Muerto.  At the end of the day-long battle, 115 Navajo warriors were killed.  The rock shelter where they took cover is today called Massacre Cave.

In the 1800s’ the United States military started pushing westward and claimed the area as its territory.  They tried to relocate the Navajos to eastern New Mexico.  Colonel Kit Carson forced 8,000 Navajos to walk 300 miles from the area to Fort Sumner, NM.  Many died and this is sadly remembered as “The Long Walk.”

After four years they were allowed to return to Canyon de Chelly.  Today, it’s a living community of the Navajo people.  A visit to this National Monument not only brings you back to 5,000 years of history but to see first-hand how our fellow citizens live today.  It’s a unique and special place, jointly managed by the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation.

Visiting Canyon de Chelly as part of an Arizona Highways Photo Workshops trip is even more special.  First, you are led by acclaimed Navajo photographer and author, LeRoy DeJolie.  LeRoy knows the people, speaks the language and knows where all the best places to capture the most memorable photographs.  Along the way, you will get lessons on Native American customs and culture, and showered with Navajo hospitality.  This workshop is usually offered only once a year, and it’s almost always fully-booked.


Farewell Acadia – One Subject, with many points of view

Author: Ken Brown

After an amazing adventure, it was time to leave Acadia.  However even on our way back to Portland we found time for one more shoot !
Just past the large town (ha) of Damariscotta, Maine lies the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.  It was commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1827, and is just a marvel to behold. It has one of only six Fresnel Lenses still in service in Maine, and shows itself well when lit.
This particular lighthouse also enables and invites many different points of view for the photographer.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in trying to shoot what we consider the perfect composition that we don’t move.  It is almost as if our tripods become immovable objects, like the 400+ million year old “rock” that this Lighthouse sits on.  But please remember to pick up your tripod and move !!
There are so many great ways to view this lighthouse that can be captured from all sides.  No, one composition, is right or wrong and many are striking.  Here are just a few…

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Also once you have several compositions, you can do something fun/cool and even create your own Poster…
Never get stuck in a rut, in this case literally and figuratively.  Move around and explore multiple compositions.  Yes, work to make sure you’ve captured your vision for the shoot, but remember that you don’t need 1000 snaps of the same view !!  This Lighthouse provides an excellent lesson on why it’s important to explore multiple points of view.  You might find something you hadn’t expected if you look at your subject a different way.


Ken Brown is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Autumn in Acadia – Here comes the Sun, but thankfully, not too much for this shot !

author: Ken Brown

As  our Acadia workshop was coming to an end after a day or so of rain,  we were happy to see the sun emerge, but in the case of this shot, not too much of it !!
This area is called Duck Creek, and the weather could not have been more perfect.
What helps this photo…   First, after 2 days of rain and wind, there were a lot of fallen leaves in the creek.  Second, since the storm system was still clearing out, we arrived in the early morning with overhead clouds and absolutely perfect diffuse light to show off the running creek, the rocks, leaves, and surrounding trees.  Strong sun would not have appeared nearly as good, and would have created many spectacular highlights, bright reflective areas, on the rocks and water.  The last element that makes this photo work is the sense of the moving water, created with a 1 second exposure with a tripod mounted camera.  So the main message is – while everyone loves the sunshine, sometimes you really don’t want too much of it.
Ken Brown is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Autumn in Acadia – Don’t let the rain keep you from heading out !!

author: Ken Brown

Our Arizona Highways Photo Workshop, Autumn in Acadia, kicked off this past week with 15 excited participants from both Arizona and around the country.  Autumn here in Maine is in full swing, but despite all our planning, one thing we can’t control is the weather.  One day there was a steady, mostly soft but regular rain, but it didn’t slow us down one bit.  What we were able to capture is a great reminder to never let the weather get you down or keep you inside !  Get out, enjoy the day you have, and capture something amazing.  We saw some stunning colors and had a magical experience on Little Long Pond.  The rain helped to bring out the color, and the raindrops brought a certain abstract pattern to the water.
Facing more difficult shooting conditions is also a great time to try the unconventional, or as our Pro Photographer, Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, would say “Break The Rules”.  Sieur De Monts, our second shooting location of the day (we had three) is a very special place, with a mix of old, original growth Acadia Forest, new trees, and an incredible diversity of vegetation, shown to us today seemingly as a Rain Forest.  A broad mix of colors, so many different greens, light, dark patterns, and everything in between.  If you do an image search on this location, you will see a lot of photos of the walkway shown in this photo – really pretty with surrounding tall trees and covered with a tapestry of Autumn leaves.  A perfect Fall scene.  However, you might not see something like what’s shown here.  A very abstract, soft, almost watercolor-like view of the walkway and surrounding forest.  This was shot handheld (not tripod) with a 2 second exposure. Once again, inspired by the day and location.
Don’t let anything, especially not the weather, ever stop you from going out to shoot.  You never know what you can create.
Ken Brown is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Kicking Off an Amazing Week in Acadia National Park

Author:  Ken Brown

AHPW Trip Leaders, Amy Ganske, Christina Heinle, and Ken Brown arrived into South Portland in time to get ready for the arrival of 15 participants for a 5 day workshop shooting the most iconic scenes in Acadia National Park with Pro Photographer Colleen Miniuk-Sperry.  Colleen has served as Artist-in-Residence several times in Acadia, so you could say she knows her way around here !
Since we arrived a day ahead to get ready for the workshop, the three Trip Leads decided to go out on our own sunrise shoot, you know just to make sure the vans were ok and such  With a little bit of research, we discovered that we were within 30 minutes of the oldest lighthouse in the state of Maine – Portland Head Light, built in 1791, in Cape Elizabeth.
Arriving before dawn we found a beautiful vantage point to shoot from and waited until we had the most beautiful light.  The concept for this photo was to capture the sunrise just kissing the lighthouse and the surrounding rocks.  Casting some shadows to make clear the time of day, direction of the light, and some of the beautiful features of the lighthouse and surrounding scene.
 Since this is a workshop, we also wanted to highlight an important technique for this type of shooting situation – the use of a Graduated Neutral Density Filter.  Looking at the two images below, besides the change in composition, you can see the results of one with the Filter and one with no Filter.  This filter transitions from a darkened (but optically clear for shooting) area to a light, totally clear area.  Correct placement of the filter over the lens allows the photographer to dramatically reduce the exposure of the brightest portion of an image like this, the bright sky, and regions in dark shadow.  More light can get through the filter where it’s clearer, and less light through the filter where it’s darker.  While the photo without the filter is not terrible, it completely lacks the drama, intensity, and visual contrast of the image that was shot WITH the Filter.
 In addition to using the Split Neutral Density filter, both images were shot with an added FULL neutral density filter (yes – you can also stack filters !!), this was done so that the image could be shot with an exposure time over multiple seconds, giving the water a nice, smooth, appearance of flow – also being targeted for this photo.
Finally the last item to mention is composition.  Now putting aside the lighting for a moment, there is a very clear difference in composition between these two images, and it makes all the difference in the world.  It’s the fence…  The first instinct was to capture some of the green low shrubs in the foreground.  But after looking at this a bit, it became clear that a much more important feature was that fence, leading to the lighthouse.  It brings the viewers eyes through the image to the central theme – the Lighthouse.  Now also add in the lighting and filters, where the brighter, more reflective features (like the fence) pick up more of the light, and the features in shadow remain a little darker, and we’ve got a wonderful leading line for the eyes.
We’re off to a good start for our week in Maine and we haven’t even officially started yet
Ken Brown is a Trip Leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.