If I believed in fate, my trip to the 2011 Reno Rodeo would have been over before it started. I wasn't approved for credentials until a few days before it started, I got a late start on the drive, blew out a tire on I-80, and then got stuck in hellish construction traffic that very nearly caused me to be late. With a couple of minutes to spare, I made it to the sunken photo dugout across from the bucking chutes.
The first night of the rodeo was the Reno stop on the Seminole Hard Rock Xtreme Bulls Tour, the PRCA's all-bull-riding answer to the PBR. After it started, a "photographer" who I think might have snuck into the dugout turned to me and said: "If you like the bull riding, you'll LOVE it when they ride the bucking horses tomorrow night." And that was the second time in one week that someone assumed that I was literally at my first rodeo. My friend George speculated that my cowboy hat was being canceled out by my cargo pants, and the very next day he was definitively proven right when one of the media volunteers said: "Matt, take a couple extra waters. It's hot out there. You can put them in your cargo pants." Everyone's a fashion critic.
Anyway, some of the best bull riders in the world were in Reno, and I was there to make pictures of them.
Shane Proctor was number one in the standings coming into the event:
J.W. Harris is the three-time defending champion, and shows absolutely no sign of slowing down:
Here's something I'd never seen before:
I always make it a point to shoot timed-event slack, the qualification runs that take place before rodeo performances. Unfortunately, the 90 degree temperature/18% humidity caused me a couple of nosebleeds, but I was looking forward to shooting it from the dugout in Reno because the low angle is perfect for steer wrestling and roping, so I stuck some Kleenex in my nose and cowboy'd up.
I was also on a mission to get more portraits and behind-the-scenes pictures, and the 7pm starting time provided nice light as the riders warmed up:
I was recently explaining to another photographer that shooting the rides from behind the chutes is a total gamble. You could shoot back there for a week and never get the rider's face. But I have plenty of head on pictures, and thoroughly enjoy gambling. And it paid off:
This one of my buddy Matt Bright didn't catch his face, but when I showed him the picture he said: "Hey, it almost looks like I know what I'm doing." In case you didn't get the joke, Matt made the National Finals Rodeo last year, and is in contention again despite missing three months of the season with a broken back, so you can say he knows what he is doing.
Here he is again, doing everything he can to stay on Desert Sun:
There were some out-of-control rides:
And of course some crazy buckoffs:
I was shooting Steve Woolsey and literally in between clicks he went from looking good to getting bucked almost out of the frame:
In a particularly scary moment, Rusty Allen got bucked by Iron Jubilee and then found himself under the 1500lb beast. He walked off with help from the Justin Sports Medicine Team, but didn't stick around for his re-ride option.
You don't often see Wade Sundell bucked off twice, but that's just what happened, leading to this picture of him trying to figure out what had happened.
Heath Ford got bucked right in front of me, and was a bit slow to get up:
Here's a nice pan of barrel racer Rylee McKenzie:
I had an outstanding time in Reno, thanks to President Mike Lucke and Director of Communications Steve Schroeder and his staff. If you know me, you know how hard it was for me to leave a rodeo to come home to shoot Giants baseball and NASCAR. Luckily I have the Calgary Stampede coming up in a couple of weeks, which will be my seventh rodeo of the year, almost as many rodeos as I shot in total coming into 2011.
Some early clips: