3 years ago5,000+ Views
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
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@2littlelegs - Thank you so much! I do enjoy it. There's a mix of technology and what I consider trade work - knowing the math and the science behind the tech and how it can be used to achieve your creative goal - and there's the creative goal itself. Then there's the ability to capture a slice of time - a moment that once passed is gone... except in a photo it can live on. Photos can also remind you of little details of a moment that you'd forgotten about. So in a way photos give us the ability to keep our memories of this or that moment alive with greater detail and vivid sharpness. As someone who was trained as a photojournalist - I appreciate the challenge of anticipating a moment and then being in the right place with the right settings on my camera to capture it. I love juxtaposition - being able to capture the beauty in horrible moments or the horror that can belie a beautiful one. It's a never ending canvas of new and interesting challenges and in the end you are preserving bits of the reality you experience and sharing your unique vantage point with others. Ultimately I see photography as a way to communicate - the sharing of a visual story that doesn't rely on words or language to share the universal commonalities of life, living, and everything this entails. @shannonl5 - I have a good friend who inherited the 4W Ranch - one of the largest working ranches in Wyoming. His name is Chad Sears and he is a true cowboy rancher - he's a gentleman and a scholar - a US military veteran - and just an all-around great guy. I met he and his wife when they lived in Savannah, GA (where I grew up) while he was stationed there in the US Army. I traveled to their ranch for a cattle drive once - 35,000 acres of ranch to cover on horseback. They had gotten a bad pregnancy test batch back - which meant pregnant cows which should have been separated from the main herd of over 5,000 animals had not been - and they gave birth and their calves were with them. It was getting to be winter and the calves, now about 5 months old, had to be separated from the moms and penned in the main ranch compound so they could be protected from predators (the Western Timber Wolf is making a comeback) and the harsh winter weather. Trying to separate 100 calves from their moms in a herd of several thousand cows is dangerous, taxing, physical work. And without roping skills it simply wouldn't be possible. Additionally, if the calves were left with their moms there would be a very serious and real threat to their survival. I learned on this awesome adventure - and yes I took a camera - and no - I didn't get any "great" photos because I was too busy holding onto the cutter horse they put me on for dear life that I rarely pulled it out of my backpack... LOL - I learned on this adventure that a large majority of the skills displayed at the rodeo have to do with ranch life and real skills needed to run a working, successful ranch. Even the bronco riding is a real skill. The first time a horse is ridden - to break the horse - you'll have to be able to hold on for - there are steps that are taken now that make the process less traumatic for the horse. But most do buck and try to get you off of them. Really, the only thing I witnessed that just doesn't happen and is purely a rodeo phenomenon is the bull riding. On Chad's ranch the bulls are kept in their own paddock - far away from the rest of the herd. You enter only in a very large dually truck - and expect that if they are in a bad mood that day that they will charge and often ram the truck. Which is why a lot of true ranch work trucks have dents all over them. It's from being rammed by bulls. No joke. I got to experience that too. :D
@JonPatrickHyde that is so fascinating! I'm glad you have such an interesting friend, and can share these stories because I honestly don't know where I would learn something like this! I knew caring for animals must be a lot of work just because there are usually so many on a farm (the term herding cats comes to mind, only the cats are much bigger!) but I'd forgotten how much these are wild(ish) animals with wills of their own! I've heard Temple Grandin talk a few times about the way animals think, and it's so different from us. You can't explain to them that you're doing whatever it is for their own safety (like the example you gave with the calves). Their instincts override those practical concerns. Thank you for your informative response!
@JonPatrickHyde you make it look easy but at the same time super impressive! my hats off to you big time.
@buddyesd - thank you so much for all the continuing positivity and support! I tell people that I really feel blessed because I can do the things that I love and through them experience so many unique and different aspects of life that most careers do not allow for. It's the old "If you love your work you never truly work a day in your life" thing that people talk about. I totally get it. And I am so happy to be able to share my illustrations, photos, videos, and stories and people connect with them in a meaningful way. That truly is the greatest compliment I can ever be given. It's what anyone who considers themselves an artist ultimately desire - that what we create and share isn't just meaningful to us - but to others. Thank you and everyone else who takes the time to look and comment on the things I share. It makes my day.
@JonPatrickHyde your very welcome :) and I look forward to seeing more of your posts