Caldwell Night Rodeo 2016

One of the greatest honors of this past year was to be named the official committee photographer of the Caldwell Night Rodeo. It's not just one of Idaho's crown-jewel rodeos, it's one of the biggest rodeos in the country.

Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 60mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/100s | ISO 1600

Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 200mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/1600s | ISO 500
In a quest for more light at a night event, I used the Sony 70-200 f/4, which performed like a champ, with super fast autofocus, and no "hunting". (Perfect combination for my a6000, which has the fastest autofocus in the business.) At that time, the f/2.8 version of this lens was not yet released, and I can't wait to try that one next year!

Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 70mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/1600s | ISO 500

Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 200mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/800s | ISO 1250
Rodeo photography is an exhausting job, but it is immensely rewarding. Having been a rodeo fan for the longest time, being able to capture the moments behind the scenes and on the arena floor is at the same time a privilege and a complete hoot!

Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 91mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/1000s | ISO 2000

Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 180mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/1000s | ISO 3200
While action photos are the most dramatic, rodeo people are the best people, and catching them doing their thing is what I love the most. From intense rides to quiet, behind-the-scenes moments, there's a range of emotions to capture, if only you'll look for them.

Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 70mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/1000s | ISO 3200

Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 101mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/800s | ISO 320
 My goal is to catch excitement. It's always there in the rodeo. Just gotta be ready!
Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 94mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/1000s | ISO 3200

Sony a6000 | FE 70-200mm f/4.0 | 139mm | ƒ/4.0 | 1/1000s | ISO 3200

Emmett's Gem Boise County Rodeo

From time to time, things just stack up your way. For instance, a great opportunity to shoot great rodeo action in a classic arena under an picturesque sky. For two days last month in Emmett, Idaho, I got just that opportunity.
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 93mm | ƒ/5.6 | 1/1000s | ISO 3200
Emmett is a fun place with a good rodeo. Good enough that it attracts some of the valley's very finest competitors, and a certain photographer from Nampa. I looked forward to this rodeo for some time, and it did not disappoint at all.
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 138mm | ƒ/5.6 | 1/800s | ISO 1600

 Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 99mm | ƒ/5.6 | 1/1000s | ISO 6400
Turns out that the rodeo committee had not hired a photographer for their event, so I was given free rein of the arena. There really isn't a better way to get all the action from pretty much wherever you need to be. Safety first, and stay out of the way, but the arena really lets you pick your spot, and I was glad to have the opportunity there.
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 210mm | ƒ/6.3 | 1/1000s | ISO 4000

Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 164mm | ƒ/6.3 | 1/1000s | ISO 1600
The people in Emmett were so friendly. Rodeo is a kind of unique sport where, as a photographer, you get to know the athletes, and both meeting new people and running into old friends is a huge highlight of the day for me. The forest fires to the west tinted a sky that was threatening sprinkles, and for a great half-hour, we had senior-photo lighting in a rodeo environment. It was awesome.

Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 120mm | ƒ/5.6 | 1/1000s | ISO 1600
Keeping an eye on what's around you isn't just a safety thing for the bull riding. Being too focused on the middle of the arena or chimping keeps you away from seeing some pretty cool stuff - even during the mutton busting!
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 116mm | ƒ/5.6 | 1/160s | ISO 500

Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 210mm | ƒ/6.3 | 1/1000s | ISO 1600
 The arena got very dark at night. Part of the problem with these old arenas is that they tend to not be very well lit, and that makes it tricky to shoot anything after the team roping. Pretty much you're just cranking ISO up and shutter speed down (I max at 3200 and basement at 1/800s, respectively), and hoping the action gets into the spots where the arena lights give you just a little to work with. Then it's up to Lightroom and Nik's Dfine software.
Sony α6000 | E 50mm f/1.8 | 50mm | ƒ/1.8 | 1/1000s | ISO 3200

Sony α6000 | E 50mm f/1.8 | 50mm | ƒ/1.8 | 1/1250s | ISO 6400
The skies, stock, and action just all worked together at Emmett this year on both nights, and I call that lucky. It let me get what might be my favorite rodeo shot yet. It's Dakota Christensen on a great ranch bronc from the 4T string of bucking stock, and thanks to all the elements working together, I feel like it worked out with all the drama I could hope for.
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 107mm | ƒ/5.6 | 1/1250s | ISO 1000
 Two nights of action, then on to the next rodeo. It's non-stop... and I'm not even a rider!

The Down Low in Adams County


At the end of July I had the opportunity to hitchhike up to Council, Idaho with Swisher Hat and Supply Co. to spend some time at the Adams County Rodeo.  I wasn't there for the hats, though. I just tucked my head under mine, and slung my camera around my neck to capture the action on the arena floor.
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 210mm | ƒ/6.3 | 1/1000s | ISO 160
This particular time around I was just a guest of the rodeo committee, and not shooting in an "official" capacity. (I hold a photographer's card, which allows me to shoot the events, but I had not been hired by this committee.) Out of respect for my colleague, I wandered around to find a spot where I could shoot, and stay out of the way.
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 76mm | ƒ/5.0 | 1/1000s | ISO 160
The west side of the arena had nice Priefert panels with gaps just wide enough and in the right places to let me crouch down in the dirt and shoot from just above ground level. It was a pretty unique perspective, and let me get some shots I don't usually get to take.
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 55mm | ƒ/4.5 | 1/1000s | ISO 1600
Come to find out, there are lots more events and opportunities for competitors in Council, which means the rodeo goes long and very late. Upside: lots to shoot. Downside: it got very, very dark. There was some arena lighting which allowed me to get team ropers and barrel racers as they passed through it, but when the final bull riding event came around, it was down to luck.
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 55mm | ƒ/4.5 | 1/1000s | ISO 1600
I was relatively close to the chutes where I was, so I actually went so far as to opt for my 50mm f/1.8 portrait lens. Although I knew it would require some cropping later, the extra light was going to be absolutely necessary. No, that's not it's intended use, but sometimes you hafta do what it takes to get the shot. At the moment I'm working toward sponsorships that would help me get the Sony FE 70-200 f/2.8, but that's a ways away for now.
Sony α6000 | E 55-210mm f/4.5 | 78mm | ƒ/5.0 | 1/1000s | ISO 125
It was a very late night getting back to Nampa, but it was worth it. Some of the best competitors in the region were there, along with prime stock from Superior Rodeo Co. and High Desert Rough Stock, and I feel like I got a few shots to be very proud of, and the contestants have some for their memories as well. Sometimes you gotta get down and dirty to get the shot. That's okay. It's rodeo.


Gold Dust In The Mountains

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be the official photographer for the Gold Dust Rodeo in Idaho City, ID. It's one of my favorite local rodeos because of the gorgeous scenery, hospitable committee and staff, and general old-time-y-ness.

This time around, I actually got to be inside the arena, shooting from up close and personal. This has its benefits and drawbacks at the same time. On almost every other project, the shot comes first. Inside the arena, though, safety comes first, and the shot second. It's worth it, though, if you know your way around livestock and rodeo action. (If you don't, I do NOT recommend being inside the panels!) 
My setup was simple because I needed to be quick and flexible. My go-to camera is my Sony a6000. It shoots 11 fps with object tracking, so I could lock in on my subject and lay on the shutter. It's also lightweight, and the articulating screen let me get all the way down to the dirt when necessary and still keep my head on a swivel. My 55-210 f/4.5 lens got the nod as well, based on its light weight and quick autofocus. (Eventually I'll find a tele lens with a wider aperture, but this one gets the job done for now.)
All my images get processed in Lightroom, but I've also been using Nik for some sharpening, and to get some super dramatic black-and-white filters with Silverefex Pro. 
Sometimes it isn't the action that's dramatic. Sometimes it's a beautiful young woman with a striking pose atop a horse... that appears to be having a stroke. Okay, no stroke, really. No animals were harmed. Still, this barrel dodger is clearly having a moment, and it really makes the photo much more fun:

Incidentally, this isn't just a pretty face and a goofy horse. She's a talented barrel racer, and the horse is a hard worker. By the time this event hit, the sun had set, and I had moved from shooting at ISO 100 and around 1/1000 all the way to ISO 1600, and trying hard to eke out shots at 1/500. By the end of the night I was between ISO 1600 and 3200 under minimal halogen lighting. Flexibility is the key!
The contract personnel were on top of their game, and they present some of the most compelling "behind the scenes" images. The strangest part of behind-the-scenes shots at the rodeo is that most of them happen in plain view of everyone. Since they're not fast action, though, they get lost. They shouldn't. They're important. 
While I would never claim that my work is nearly as difficult as anyone else's in the arena, it's exhausting for me. It's a strange feeling to have your head buried in a viewfinder, but still on a swivel. Nearly every event has the opportunity for imminent danger, and you can't let your guard down for a second - even when a bull seems to be penned and done! I stay no more than 15' from a panel, and don't mess around. I'd rather be out of the way and let the bullfighters and pickup men do their work than be any part of the action whatsoever. Besides, a photographer atop a fence is always good for a laugh from the others!
For the record, one bull did come after me. It was a good black bull from Superior Rodeo who dispensed with his rider rather quickly, and once the bullfighters turned him away from the rider, he set his sights on me in no time at all. I was already attached to the panel by then (once a rider is tossed, I get one hand on immediately), and scurried up it before he could get too close, but he charged and put a little shot of adrenaline in me anyway.
I love shooting the rodeo. There are so many stories and micro-stories that happen all around you. There are more images to be taken than a person can shoot in a night, but I do my best to capture every one I can. It's just too much fun.

That Rodeo Time Of Year

One of the things that got me into photography as more than a mere hobby was the opportunity to provide images to accompany my writing for D&B Supply. I've been around rodeo for a long, long time, and absolutely love the opportunity to cover the local events and spread awareness for a traditional sport I truly enjoy.
Rodeo is a tricky sport to capture because the action is so quick. Roughstock (bucking) events that end successfully only last eight seconds, and a good timed sequence can be five or less. Add to that the unpredictability, the immediately changing angles, and a rather pronounced sense of personal safety, and the challenge presents itself in a rather escalated sense.
It's not all about action, though. Rodeo, like any event is filled with humans, with all the emotions they convey, and the stories their faces tell. Whether it's an old-timer who has ceased competition to take on official's duties, or a young guy who is looking forward to his chance, everyone has a story.
 Let's not forget the stock either. Rodeo bulls, broncs, steers, barrel horses, and all the other four-legged athletes provide at least as much interest as their human counterparts. Whether in competition with or coordination with humans, the animals are often larger-than-life.
I love shooting the action with my Sony a6000 because of its object tracking capacity, but my a58 got the job done for me for thousands and thousands of clicks as well. On that camera I keep a 75-300 f/4.5-5.6, and a 55-210mm f/4.5-63 on the a6000. While I would love to have glass that doesn't mess with aperture as a horse runs down the arena, this lens is so light, and the autofocus is plenty fast enough at the lengths I use, so I will probably hang onto it for a while anyway. 
When people think of rodeo photography, they think of bulls, airborne ropes, flying hooves, dust clouds, and action, action, action. Most of my best work comes away from the arena floor, though. There's a lesson in it: It pays to keep your eyes open. You never know what you're going to see, and where it will show up.