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Worldwide: Equine Photography Part III
Posted on Monday, November 07 @ 19:51:10 CST by iljiana

Horse Tips and Suggestions It was one of the biggest unexpected upsets in horse racing history-this year's Triple Crown hopeful, War Emblem, stumbled out of the gate at the Belmont Stakes, and victory slipped past him. To the astonishment of onlookers, Sarava, the horse ranked as having a one in seventy chance of winning, won! As the saying goes, "That's what makes a horse race." There may be a favorite, even an odds-on favorite, but absolutely anyone can win in a horse race. But absolutely anything can happen in a rodeo. The level of unpredictability in a derby is minor compared to that in a rodeo for the photographer. In any horse race, the thoroughbreds come out of the starting gate, run in the same direction around an oval track, and then rush to the finish line.

In rodeo events, the direction the action takes is far more unpredictable. For example, photographing bucking broncos can be very exciting. While the cowboy or cowgirl is thrown into the air and the audience is at the edge of their seats waiting to see if the rider hits the saddle or the ground, the photographer must be prepared to capture the unexpected. This ability to anticipate the next fall or jolt makes taking good rodeo pictures an especially difficult and unique skill. Even if you don't enjoy watching people trying to match their strength to that of 800-pound steers, learning to photograph rodeos will give you skills that extend far beyond the arena. Capturing the hi-jinks between an angry hooker (a bucking bull that throws the rider forward toward its horns when bucking) and the barrel man in those few chaotic, frenzied moments will greatly improve your ability to react quickly and take better pictures. Just read ahead as we evaluate a handful of rodeo photographs taken by NYI students.

Photographing a rodeo involves three considerations-capturing the action, focusing attention on the action, and getting rid of any distractions. These tasks are also known as NYI's Three Guidelines-know your subject, focus attention on your subject, and simplify the picture. There are technical concerns that vary according to uncontrollable elements, such as natural lighting and your distance to the action. But getting your photo to fully capture that adrenaline pumping, crazed movement inside the arena involves focusing on the action, drawing attention to it, and eliminating any visual clutter. In following these three steps, we also consider the aperture size, speed of film, and angle at which the picture is taken.

Let's begin with Walt Vortmann's "Working at the Rodeo." At first glance, we can see that this is a great picture, but why? We can feel the action as though we were in the arena with this calf roper, but again why? First, Walt got close enough to the cowboy and calf to make them the focus of the picture. It helps that they are in the middle and flanked by the two horses. This draws our eye closer to the subject. To avoid distraction, the arena bars are absent from this picture. It's important to try to avoid capturing these ugly gates that surround the arena. They distract the viewer's attention.

To bring more attention to the action, Walt used a large aperture and focused on the front of the scene. Using a large aperture combined with a fast shutter speed will throw the background out of focus and create a shallow depth of field-two very important elements in bringing more attention to the action. Also, using 200 speed film (in bright light) will help make the action pop off of the picture.

A trick to cutting down on the visual clutter and making the action appear alive is to photograph from above. Looking down at the subject will cut out the background activity that takes place in the stands. In Frank Neunemann's "Things in Motion," the visual chaos is totally gone because he has made the ground the backdrop. This eliminates any distractions from the the rider who in this event is called a steer wrestler or a dogger. The subject's expression of intense concentration and physical strength are more illuminated because the background is simplified. Frank had only seconds to capture this moment as the steer wrestler jumps off his horse and onto the steer. In those few seconds, the photographer must be prepared for that picture-worthy moment. By ensuring that the background is not a distraction the photographer helps the viewer concentrate on the action at hand. As a result, the subject is more clear and vivid, as evident in Frank's picture.

Looking down at the subject will cut out the background activity that takes place in the stands. In Frank Neunemann's "Things in Motion," the visual chaos is totally gone because he has made the ground the backdrop. This eliminates any distractions from the bull rider. The subject's expression of intense concentration and physical strength are more illuminated because the background is simplified. Frank had only seconds to capture this moment as the bull rider jumps off his horse and onto the steer. In those few seconds, the photographer must be prepared for that picture-worthy moment. By ensuring that the background is not a distraction the photographer helps the viewer concentrate on the action at hand. As a result, the subject is more clear and vivid, as evident in Frank's picture.

To further prepare for the fast-paced movement in the arena, Frank panned his camera alongside the wrestler. We can tell this because of the horizontal lines in the background and the blurred hooves of the steer and the horses. Even though there is some blurring, Frank managed to recreate the excitement of the moment by using these tricks and getting a good exposure of the rider's face and body.

Similarly, Wendy J. Johnson cuts out the visual activity in her photo by capturing the rider from above. She makes it difficult for us to imagine the hooting and hollering crowd that likely surrounds the rider. To us, the cowboy appears deserted on an arid plane. Imagine if the audience was present in this picture. Our attention to the rider would get drastically diverted.

On the other hand, this picture would be improved if Wendy had used a slightly smaller aperture. This would have brought the horse and rider into focus. As it is now, the background and foreground appear to have equal clarity. Your picture must show what is most important. For Wendy, the rider, as the subject, is of greatest importance so he should be in more focus than the background. Also, a close up of the rider in which we could see his eyes or more of his face would bring more attention to him.



Johann Napp's "Rodeo Sante Fe" proves that the rider's face doesn't necessarily need to be photographed. Instead, he captures the movement between the rider and horse that is best observed from a backside angle. If he had taken this picture facing his subject, we wouldn't be able to see the profile of the bucking bronco and his wild mane. The position of the horse adds to the sense of action in the picture. This picture also works because the foreground is entirely in focus. Johann used a 500/second shutter speed and a f 5.6 aperture to get good exposure and throw the background out of focus, which emphasizes the action in the foreground.


A good example of what a slow shutter speed can do is Sharlene Haussmann's "Rodeo." This image had real potential. But a 125/second shutter speed changed all of that. Also, Sharlene's f-stop was 16. The combination of the two brought the background into focus. This forced her subject to compete with the background for attention. Notice that the flagman, who is not the subject, is closer to the camera than the rider, and he's out of focus. He is a major distraction and should have either been cut out of the camera's view or put into focus.


Remember that with rodeo photography eliminating the clutter will help make the action jump off of the paper. Plan to shoot lots of film and remember that sometimes the action will head away from your vantage point. If you don't hve something good in your viewfinder wait until the unpredictable events at the rodeo turn your way. Then take lots of pictures! Your results should be colorful, wildly expressive, and action-packed. The goal with your work is to recreate the excitement that bursts out from the arena as soon as the horse or bull charges from the gate. Finally, don't forget to tip your hat to the cowfolk, even if it is your ball cap.


 
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