Pushing the limits of sports photography with Rodeo

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 64000, ƒ/2.8, 1/2500

Coming out of the gate at full speed these barrel racers take their horse through a clover-leaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time. Keeping up with these animals was challenging.

I would shoot when I could see the rider’s face. Due to where you are standing with the camera the horse and rider are facing away from you more than half of the time. Picking your moments was tough. If I were to do this again I might even use remote cameras to give me more viewpoints.

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 64000, ƒ/2.8, 1/2500

The cowgirls are just as good with roping a calf. Breakaway roping is a variation of calf roping where a calf is roped, but not thrown and tied. There is a split second where you can capture the moment where the calf is roped.

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 64000, ƒ/2.8, 1/3200

A little side note here. The cowgirls out performed the cowboys when it came to roping at this rodeo. The cowboys missed more than the cowgirls, which lets me know women are showing more and more today their athleticism in our culture.

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 64000, ƒ/2.8, 1/2500

Team roping also known as heading and heeling is a rodeo event that features a steer (typically a Corriente) and two mounted cowboy riders. The time on this event is just seconds. Times on the roping events are in the seconds. For the cowgirl breakaway roping the winner was 2.7 seconds.

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 64000, ƒ/2.8, 1/2000

Bull Riding is the wildest and most dangerous event in rodeo. In the American tradition the rider must stay atop the bucking bull for eight full seconds to count as a qualified ride. The rider tightly fastens one hand to the bull with a long braided rope. It is a risky sport and has been called “the most dangerous eight seconds in sports.”

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 64000, ƒ/2.8, 1/2000

The bulls are rated and even more famous in many ways than the cowboys who ride them. This bull here had 27 consecutive buck offs, now that is 28. A cowboy must stay on the bull 8 seconds for the ride to count. Then they get a score which takes into account the bull they are riding.

Every once in a while when a bull is determined unrideable the Professional Bull Riders Association has a million dollar ride. At $125,000 per second, this bonus ride is offering one of the largest payouts any athlete has ever received for the amount of time they are required to compete. In comparison, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo received roughly $12 million dollars to play in 15 NFL games in 2013.  At 54,000 seconds per season, it took Romo 4,500 seconds to make $1 million.

Take Aways

As you can see 2.5 sec is really short time to get your photo in the breakaway roping. You don’t have time to wait to frame your shot. You don’t have time to check your focus. You must have the gear that will allow you  the ability to focus on the event.

The combination of my Nikon D5 and the Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S was perfect for this event. The composition changes so quickly with these events that a fixed lens would have been too tight or too loose. Having the ability to zoom quickly and get the important parts of the event in the photo was possible because the 120-300mm range worked just perfect for the rodeo.