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!
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.
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.
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!
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
- 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
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.
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.
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.