Heading into the California Rodeo (pronounced row-DAY-oh, seriously) Salinas, I knew that there was a good chance that it would be my last rodeo for quite some time. And if I don't go to the finals in Vegas in December, it will be eight full months until my next time shooting cowboys. And after my limited and limiting experience shooting almost all action at the Calgary Stampede a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I would concentrate on making non-action pictures even if it meant selling fewer pictures in the short term. I'm stubborn like that.
I have been remiss in the past not mentioning bullfighters more. The guys most non-rodeo people think of as "rodeo clowns" are actually there to literally save bull riders lives. After buck-offs, both over and under eight seconds, riders are very vulnerable to getting trampled or hooked by bulls' horns. Bullfighters are tasked with (at best) distracting the bull, and (at worst) putting their own bodies between the bull and rider. Bullfighter Joe Baumgartner has been doing this for 20 years, and is considered to be the best there ever was. I have lots of pictures of him doing his thing in the arena, but I was after some pictures of him warming up. I got two that I think work perfectly:
Bull rider Shane Proctor has been hot all season long, winning money and titles everywhere. He has a very calm determination that comes through in these pictures:
Here are some more behind-the-chutes pictures from the weekend:
For the first three performances, my 400mm didn't even come out of the bag, and I shot with wide lenses exclusively from behind the bucking chutes. This is a risky way to shoot rodeo action because it's very hectic back there, and the action tends to go away from you very quickly. These were the longest I pictures I made (200mm) during the first three days:
At a couple of rodeos this season, I have been experimenting with putting a camera with a fisheye on the end of a monopod and using this to get closer to the action. Things get very hectic around the bucking chutes with the rider, the bronc/bull, judges, flankman, and other riders helping the rider get set. All of this happens in about 12 square feet, and all of these guys are bigger and taller than I am. The camera-on-a-pole has worked out pretty well, getting a (low-flying) bird's eye view, but unless the horse did something unexpected, I couldn't get the rider's face. I tried sticking the camera out into the arena, but at that point it was oriented vertically, and usually couldn't get everything in the frame. After looking for something that would keep the camera on the monopod but in landscape orientation, I found a swivel head that solved the problem. With this setup I managed to get the camera a couple of feet inside the arena, making for an interesting perspective when the stock and riders cooperated:
One thing these pictures don't show is the three-day shower of feces that rained down on me. I had shot horses from behind the chutes, but never bulls. And now I know why head-on pictures of bull riding almost always feature guys in the background grimacing. When the bulls take off, they kick up clumps of literal BS, and much of that found its way onto my shirt, pants, cameras, and Resistol (I guess this is just another benefit to the wide brim). Was it worth it? I think so:
I changed it up for Sunday's short round, shooting the bull riders and steer wrestlers from the roof of the skyboxes and the broncs (finally with the 400mm) from the rail.
Cody Wright and Wade Sundell traded rides to share the saddle bronc win:
My buddy Matt Bright overcame my attempts to embarrass him, putting in a great ride to take second place in bareback:
Kaycee Feild continued his excellent season with another win in bareback:
Shane Proctor had to be considered the favorite in the bull riding, but fell just short despite scoring an 87 in the short round:
The biggest surprise of the weekend was A.J. Hamre's win, taking an 83 into the short round, and then pulling off a wild and crazy 87 point ride on Sunday, maybe the most exciting bull ride I've seen this year:
Bonus picture, taken by bareback rider Jason Havens with my camera, of me and Cesar "Kid" Banuelos:
Thanks to Phil Doyle for making it possible for me to shoot the California Rodeo Salinas. It's been an amazing four months on the rodeo trail, and there are too many people to even than individually, but I am grateful to everyone who has helped me better understand rodeo and make pictures.