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Tips on How to Photograph a Rodeo

written by: Misty Faucheux•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/15/2010

It's rodeo time! And, it's time to get some great shots. Here are some tips on how to photograph a rodeo and not get just dark streaks of people!

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    Rodeo Preparation

    Rodeos are fast-paced, fun events, and you can capture some pretty interesting photographs if you know what you’re doing. If not, all you’ll wind up with are some blurry and perhaps dark streaks. So, in order to assist you in capturing some great rodeo pictures, here are some tips on how to photograph rodeo event.

    Before you ever attempt to photograph a rodeo, watch one on TV. This will give you an idea of how events are run, where animals come out of the gates and how barrel races are set up. You can figure out where would be the best place to set up and where to move to if you want close-ups of the bulls or horses.

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    Where to Set Up

    The chutes or gates are the best place to set up if you’re looking to capture an animal charging out of the gate into the arena. Once out of the by Michael D Martin gate, follow the action, and set your camera on the continuous shooting mode. You’ll capture classic moments like the bull or horse arching its back and de-seating the rider.

    Position yourself in different areas of the races for different events. Go for the middle for calf roping and about one-third of the way down for team roping events. Set up near the second barrel for barrel races since this is where the riders usually slow down to make the turn. Or, even position yourself within a barrel if allowed.

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    Low Light and Flash

    Rodeos are usually inside events, which mean that you will be dealing with low light photography situations. Use a high ISO setting. Experiment with a few shots at different ISO settings. Start with 800, and go all the way up to 3200 until the shots look right.

    Just remember, however, your photos are going to look different on your LCD screen than what they actually look like. Unless there are breaks between events, you’re not going to have time to download and transfer your photos and take a good look at them. You’re just going to have to make a judgment call at some point and go with one setting.

    Also, use your flash. You’re going to need it. You probably won’t have space to set up any type of external flash unit, and you don’t want to block anyone’s view either. So, you’ll just have to do with the camera’s flash or on-board flash.

    One thing before you begin using your flash, make sure that the arena allows flash. Horses can get spooked by the flash. So, even if the venue does allow flash photography, don’t use flash photography right in front of a horse. You could get more than you bargained for in the process.

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    Outside Events

    If the event is outside, try using a polarizing filter. This will diffuse glaring sunlight and give your pictures a more natural look. Too much sunlight can cause your photos to be too bright or even really overexposed.

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    Grab Shotgun

    Aim for front seats if you can snag them. This way, you won’t always be zooming into your subjects, which increases the chances of blurring. Stand up if you need to and lean in a bit. Just don’t block anyone else’s view, or you’ll be surrounded by non-too-happy stevebrownd50 

    To easily move around the venue, use a monopod. You won’t have to worry about setting up a tripod every few minutes. You can simply pick up your camera and go.