Just 20 miles from my house, the Rowell Ranch Rodeo is the closest rodeo to me. I’ve driven by the grounds many times, but have never been there to shoot. With some help from my friend Phil Doyle, I got a credential this year, and the rare opportunity to shoot a rodeo and sleep in my own bed.
Every rodeo is different, and every rodeo arena is different, so shooting a particular rodeo for the first time means quickly figuring out the best shooting positions for each event, as well as trying to catch what makes that rodeo special. After walking the grounds and shooting behind the chutes for a bit, I set up on an elevated platform on the side of the bucking chutes. As soon as I did, the announcer started the grand entry, and I noticed that the grand entry was starting on a hill overlooking the arena, about 200 yards away. No big deal, I’ll shoot the visiting queens and the sponsor banners as they enter the arena. But then a woman on a white horse carrying the American flag started racing down the (steep) hill kicking up a trail of dust. It was far too late to get a good picture, so I picked up my 400 and did what I could, which clearly was not much:
I wanted a good picture of the flag entry, so I made a mental note to find out If I was allowed to climb the hill for Sunday’s entry. On Sunday morning I asked Phil (the official photographer for the rodeo) and he said sure, and we talked about it for a bit, and only after I had decided how to make the picture I wanted, Phil said “Watch out for the rattlesnakes.” At that point, I wanted the picture badly enough to go, so I climbed the hill and waited. Luckily I saw a bunch of bees, but no snakes. And I got the picture I wanted, plus a face full of dirt:
Before the rodeo each day, kids and parents are invited into the arena to learn about the events. This is a great way to build the next generation of rodeo fans, and I enjoy being able to get really close:
Some people don’t know that rodeo contestants, in addition to paying for their own travel, must pay an entry fee for each rodeo:
I spent some time behind the chutes:
These two pictures of Bareback rider Cody DeMers were made about 30 minutes apart:
Sometimes the actions comes right at you:
I was able to break out my fisheye/monopod rig, and get a few pictures that worked. I dropped the shutter speed way down to get some motion blur, and got really lucky that Trenton Montero’s face wasn’t moving but everything else was:
Rowell does a saddle bronc event for non-pros, where riders are allowed to use both hands to hold on, but they also get sprayed with baby powder:
Stock contractor Flying U always brings a mother and baby to their rodeos to show off the next generation of bucking horses. Here they are in the chute getting ready to enter the arena:
My favorite part of the Rowell Ranch Rodeo is how the sun moves during the performance. By the time bull riding starts, the chutes are completely in shadows, and if you expose for the riders’ faces, you can get a very uncluttered background:
Lots of heavy hitters in the bull riding:
I though Brett Stall’s re-ride should have been enough to win, but the judges put him in a tie for third:
Thanks again to Phil Doyle and Janet Lemmons.
An early clip: