What to shoot.
“What lenses do you use or what camera” is a good question but not the main one! Everything depends on what and where exactly you are going to shoot.
Today I am going to stress our attention on what to shoot. The first time I shot a rodeo was in 2011. And since then, I think, this is the best active sports photography I could ever be involved in.
By 2011 I had a great experience in equine and pet photography. I did everything: conformation shots, portraits, advertising, studio, outdoor, indoor, shows, etc. I was published, had covers, outdoor banners, calendars, exhibitions. I thought I could do everything until I started shooting rodeos…
Shooting rodeos has completely changed my mind. It turned out to be the most difficult thing I had ever done before. I had to pay much more attention to the light, natural or arena, I had to change my position and camera settings in seconds, I had to learn how to shoot at night, in the dust, in the fog, I had to go into deep details like athlete positions, gear, event rules, safety, as well as animal athletes habits, and much more.
After several years in rodeo photography, I can share some thoughts with you.
First, I can highlight 4 main rodeo photography subjects or themes. And in my opinion, a photographer should concentrate only on one at a time and be good at it, or bad at all 4 during the same event.
1. Behind the scene.
You should shoot everything that is happening behind the chutes or around the arena. It can be portraits and scenes in “street photography” style or close up details like spurs, hands, and gear.
To go into this field you need to feel comfortable to go into the personal life. You need to be invisible, attentive and creative at the same time. This is where you are going out of your comfort zone. You need to figure out what you are going to do with those images afterwards. Who is your audience? Who is going to buy that “spur”, “hoof” or very personal moment before the ride? Normally, the best usage for those images are newspapers or magazines. They are perfect to design a good article. So the best idea would be to work for a magazine and get a credential through them.
Disadvantages: When staying behind the chutes, you are missing rides in classical understanding.
2. Contestant photographer.
You should shoot every contestant and every ride. You can’t change the position too much otherwise you skip the rider or ride. So then you can’t be as artistic in your photography as you could be. If you work according to PRCA rules, then your photography is getting even less artistic. (PRCA requires you to upload every shoot from the camera, bad or good). So the bigger the event, the more limits you get, such as special photography zones where you are shooting next to your colleagues and take the same exact pictures.
Evident advantage - you are selling images to contestants. But according to my experience, you can sell only 10% to 30% of images you took.
Disadvantages: In less than a year, you will most likely get bored and feel that you are doing the same “mechanical” job again and again. A lot of contestant photographers usually don’t go into the deep details of the sport. People often say things like “I shoot everything and the contestant will select the good one by himself.” This uses a huge amount of camera shutter compared to the sold images. Everyone thinks you are raising thousands of dollars doing this job, but actually, you are traveling and working, working and traveling to get at least some money. (From a big event with around 200 rides, I could get $350-$400.) We should take into account the day of shooting and at least two to three days of editing. Another problem is the use of images without permission. Usually, there is only one official contestant photographer per event. Even if the event policy is not that firm, normally photographers don’t break this rule. (Yes, we contact each other and ask for permission).
3. Event photographer.
The most artistic in my option as well as my favorite one. You are free! You are free to go anywhere you want and you don’t have any limits. You can do anything you can to cover the event and to show it from the most attractive sides! Wide angle, multiple exposure, panning, filters, whatever!
If you are lucky enough to be hired for the event you can get payed an average of $200 - $300 per event and get some extra on sales per photo (I don’t do print or digital sales if I am doing event photography). Event photographer is an underestimated position in rodeo photography. Not many rodeos find it necessary to hire such a person. What they don’t realize though, is how good it is for the business, how great advertisement is through multiple social media publications, how, through advertising images, they can promote future rodeos, as well as through images for sponsors, etc. Another advantage - there can be more than one photographer at the event! This means event photographer + contestant photographer and they won't have any confrontations.
Disadvantages: It is very hard to get hired this way.
4. Candid photographer.
Actually this is a separate genre but the only one that can be partly combined with behind the scenes or contestant photography.
Disadvantages: You won’t get enough money through this. You can surf around before the rodeo or during the break but it is not enough for a good business. And actually, your only client is the person on the photo.
When you know what to shoot you are moving to the next step - where to shoot. But this is for a separate article.