I have been fortunate to have access to shoot many interesting things in my career. But honestly I'd never shot a rodeo before this past Saturday night in Santa Barbara, CA - as part of the week-long "Old Spanish Days Fiesta". I took my Nikon D4s & Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lens on a heavy Manfrotto monopod. What I captured blew my mind. I mean these rodeo bull and bronco riders are totally, utterly, unquestionably insane.
Take a 1,500 - 1,800 pound animal who is really, really, really pissed off you are on it's back - that's the horses, BTW. Or take a 2,500 to 3,000 pound animal made of SOLID MUSCLE that is pissed off at the universe and everything in it - that's the bulls of course - and strap yourself to it to see how long you can hold on.
The end result is rather interesting when you break it down into little 1/1100 second slices of time. You have the 150-190 pound cowboys experiencing Newtonian physics with brutal results.
OK seriously - look at the creature in the photo above... does it look like something you'd want to be ANYWHERE near? I mean it looks like it should be chasing Luke Skywalker or Han Solo across some alien landscape trying to suck their brains out or something. Bulls are freaking scary! They are anything but timid. Yeah. Go out into a field with this guy sleeping and try to tip him over - he'll jump up and stomp you flat.
What I do really love about shooting with such a long and fast lens is that I can capture the pure terror and regret on each cowboy's face as they stare into the abyss and see death waiting for them.
I mean, sure - why not? I wonder what was going through the first group of cowboy's heads when they watched one of their buddies getting launched into the air like a pop-fly-ball in a Major League Baseball game and they decided, "This should be a sport."
And what about the first time the situation in the photo sequence above happened? I watched through my camera for almost a full minute as this poor cowboy got his hand pinched and stuck in the rope... he couldn't let go. So this rather large and powerful animal - who wanted nothing to do with some human being being stuck to him - ran around the arena like a cat with a ball of tape stuck to its tail. It totally ruined this guy's shoulder, nearly ripped his arm off. He had to be taken out by ambulance. I'm sure he's going to need a couple of surgeries on his shoulder.
And as it is with any concert or major sporting event like boxing... the very best is saved for last. The bull riding! No one could stay on these animals. And no one got off without being batted off like a pesky fly. What was interesting to me was that I was on the ground of the arena, behind a metal gate - but right there with an unobstructed view of the action - and I could see a huge difference in attitude between the horses and the bulls. Horses wanted you off and wanted to get away from you. But the bulls... oh no. You'd obviously insulted their sense of dignity by attempting to ride them. They were out for blood. The second you were off their back they'd turn to come get you. I mean it... these things are freakin' evil. Think about that next time you sit down to a nice big New York Strip or Ribeye steak... You are ingesting evil. LOL.
Above - A couple of selfies from where I was shooting. I am now a reformed beef eater. And I've never cared for the taste of horse. :D