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Know Your Sport
Barrel races are fast-paced and spirited events so photographing them can be troublesome. But, given some forethought and practice, you can capture some amazing pictures and create some lasting memories. So, to assist you in getting great shots, here are some tips on how to photograph barrel racing.
Before you ever venture into the arena, start off with watching the event on TV. Get a feel for where barrel racers exit from, how they make the turns, where they slow down and where they speed up.
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Capturing Riders at the Chutes
Next, it’s time to figure out where you will set up. If you want to capture the horse and rider running out of the gates, set up near the shoots and focus on the area just above the chutes. You’ll probably have to set your shutter speed to the continuous shooting mode here to ensure that you capture the moment. This event is all about speed, making it extremely hard to capture a single picture when they’re racing out of the gate.
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If, however, you want to photograph the riders rounding the barrels, you will have to set up near one of the barrels. The first barrel is generally not the optimum one since horses either cut this corner very close, or they’re quite a bit away from the barrel. Either way, you probably won’t get a good shot since the barrel will be a major obstruction.
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Second and Third Barrels
Shoot for either the second or third barrel. The second barrel is usually when the riders slow down since it’s the more technical barrel. Set up where the horse will be coming out of the turn to head for the next barrel. You’ll be able to capture the horse making the turn, but also get a head on shot of both the rider and the horse. You may also get the rider flicking the horse to get it to speed up to the next barrel.
The third barrel is also a great place to capture an amazing shot since the horse will be grinding into the mud to pick up speed, causing the dirt to fling all around the rider and horse. Plus, this is where the rider heads into the straightaway for the finish line, allowing you to capture the riders speeding in front of you.
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Tips and Techniques
For the barrel shots, you probably want to take your camera off of continuous mode since the shutter may flick so fast that it misses the best shots and you'll want to pre-focus your camera for optimal results. Also, try setting up in the front row to allow you to be as near to the action as possible. Just don’t block anyone else’s views. Always use a monopod that will allow you to quickly pick up your camera and move.
If you are forced to be higher in the stands, bring a telephoto lens so that you can zoom in. Just be sure that it has a stabilizer built-in so that your shots aren’t blurry. If not, go for a wide angle lens so that you’ll get as much of the action as you can.
If allowed, try setting up in the second barrel to get your shots. You’ll get about as near to the action as you ever would be.