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Rodeo clown photo

Rodeo photography is exciting and completely unpredictable and always produces some amazing photos.  So how do you get great rodeo photos?

4 key tips to help you the next time you plan on taking pictures at a local rodeo.

Tip 1 – Rodeo’s are dusty!

This may seem like a very obvious statement but really, rodeos are dusty!  I was recently at a rodeo where there were 4 of us ‘photographers’ snapping shots around the fence. As a local photographer I noticed that all the other photographers were on the opposite side to me.  Why I asked, am I in the wrong place?  No i was certain I was in the right place.  Prior to the start of the show the various riders were out warming up.  At that time I was standing on the opposite side of the arena.  I snapped a few shots and realized that hey i’m getting covered in dirty.  The wind was so bad that me and my expensive camera (and yes it’s dust tight) were getting rained on by dirt.  Not willing to sacrifice my equipment for the shot I decided to move to the opposite side of the arena. Now I was clearly out of the dust bowl and well positioned for some great photos. But wait, the sun it was beating right down on me.

Tip 2 – Lighting

Tips on capturing the best indoor rodeo photos
How to capture indoor bull riding photos at the rodeo

Lighting is always an issue at any sporting event and rodeos are no exception.  Indoor rodeos tend to be dark and spotty when it comes to lighting.  The venues are usually small arenas built decades ago and not designed for high intensity lighting.  So what do you do?  The first thing I look for is hot spots in the arena.  This is where the lighting is most intense.  Now that you know where the light is its brightest look at where the show is going to happen.  Can you see the action moving through the hot spots or not?  If you’ve never seen a rodeo before take the time to either watch it on YouTube or go to one before shooting it.  Each event at a rodeo plays out differently.  What I mean is that not all the action happens in the same place.  Bull riding  takes place closer to the pens while bareback riding happens out in the open.  Knowing where the action will take place and where the hot spots are will help guide you to your exposure.   With a fast lens you’ll be able to move between light and dark zones in the arena easily and without worry.


Tip 3 – Fast lens

If you’re going to shoot indoor rodeo‘s you’ll need fast glass.  I won’t shoot anything less than f 2.8 and will switch to a prime lens down to f 1.8  when needed.  Capturing as much light as possible is key when shooting this fast paced action.  Capturing perfect focus and the right exposure is essential to making the shot.  I’ve been asked by many beginner photographers about my gear and the first questions they ask typically are about my lens.  My advice is always the same.  Spend less on the body and more on the glass.  You’ll have better photos with a high quality lens and a mediocre body then you will the other way around.

Tip 4 – Shutter speed

Rodeos are quick!  Horse and bulls move way faster then you think.  So what shutter speed should you shoot at?  Usually when you shoot with a long lens like a 200mm you’re told to set the shutter speed to one over or 1/200th.  Most people will bump that up a little to say 1/250th so that they can lower the ISO and reduce grain.  However, when you shoot wild horses running around in a dark arena bucking a rider you’ll need a much fast shutter speed.  My lowest speed setting is 1/800th of a second anything lower and i’m guaranteed to have blurry photos.  Now that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment.  I’ll shoot down to 1/30th and pan hard to capture some cool motion blurs.  But, for now keep it simple and capture clear cool photos.

What camera gear do I bring?

For every rodeo or equestrian event I bring this!

Hope you like those 4 simple tips to capturing great rodeo photos.  Check out my rodeo photos for more examples on how to shoot these wild events.  Watch out for more tips on rodeo and other sporting events.


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4 thoughts on “Tips on taking rodeo photos”

  1. Totally disappointed – no mention about the type of photos cowboys are looking for at
    the bronc, barrel racing, saddle bronc, steer wrestling, tie down, bull riding ,
    you just talk about camera settings, people want to know what is the best pose for each the above events

    1. Hey Ken interesting comment… not sure I follow you with ‘type’ of photos. If you’re looking for composition I believe that’s up to each photographer to find and bring there style to the photo.

      It’s difficult, near impossible, to pose anything at a rodeo. The closest you can get is to find a place to take the best photo given the conditions at the rodeo. This is largely a function of settings and why I’ve spoken about that.

      If you can give me some more insight as to what you’re looking for maybe I can provide better feedback.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      1. Im a beginner and would like to try a rodeo shoot. Is it pointless if i have a 300mm 4.5 lens. I believe it will be outdoors.

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