Rodeos are tough to shoot. It’s a fact.
First, these events are a cacophony of activity, often in hazy weather (at least in Nebraska; New Mexico rodeos are much, much different light–overwhelmingly good) that softens shadows and decreases drama in images. In such times, making good photographic decisions becomes even more critical.
Moreover, there’s a tendency to focus on the act of rodeo itself. Did he make eight? Did she tip a barrel? The ring becomes too overbearing in its demands for attention, and breaking away from that to focus on the backstory (a place many professionals call “the fringes”) can be a nervous gamble.
And then there’s luck. Just like the cowboys, the rodeo photographer’s image depends on the draw. I love to shoot in the pens; at every rodeo, they’re different. Some are old wood, weathered and worn, while others are white steel that glares in the evening sun. Is it cloudy? Hazy? Where is the sun? They aren’t going to reschedule the event so I can get better light, and thus I’m at the mercy of nature when it comes to shove.
But at the O’Neill rodeo in July, luck smiled on me at least once.