Photography at the Pritchard Rodeo

This father and son are watching the action at the Pritchard Rodeo.

This father and son are watching the action at the Pritchard, British Columbia Rodeo.

I never know who is going to win.

I never know who is going to win.

I think that horse is smiling.

I think that horse is smiling.

Root for who ya want...

Cow one, cowboy zero.  Root for who ya want…

I called this "Defying gravity"..I have never seen 'em fall..

I called this “Defying gravity”..I have never seen ’em fall..

Concentrating and holding on.

Concentrating and holding on.

I don't think riding sidesaddle is appropriate.

I don’t think riding sidesaddle is appropriate.

I'll call this, "Quick Dismount"

I’ll call this, “Quick Dismount”

Maybe this is why they call bull riding dangerous. Ya wouldn't this that big fell could jump that high.

Maybe this is why they call bull riding dangerous. Ya wouldn’t this that big fell could jump that high.

Thats what I call a high kick !

Thats what I call a high kick !

“When photographing fast-paced, erratically-moving subjects like those at a rodeo I would select Shutter priority. I like shutterspeeds of 1/500th or more and one always needs to be aware of depth-of-field, and balancing the shutter speed and aperture for that. Wide apertures reduce the field of focus in front of and behind your focus point, so leave room for the moving subject; something like f/8 or better yet, f/11 would be safest.”

That was part of a discussion I had with a fellow photographer while standing beside the arena at the Pritchard, BC Rodeo last Sunday.  I had been laughing about the not-so-successful attempts two wranglers were having as they tried to lasso a wily bronco.  As we talked I was quickly pointing my camera at the action, and the other fellow wondered why I wasn’t paying attention to my settings in the changing daylight.

I asked how he set his camera and his response was he first tried his camera on Manual mode and had just switched to Aperture priority.  I am sure either of those would work well, and I have no doubt that some photographers who shoot rodeos professionally will have their own advice to him.

I was there to have fun, socialize with friends, and still get as many shots (that were keepers) of the rodeo as I could. Shutter priority assured that I’d always have a shutterspeed that would stop the action.

My first goal was to get the light correct and keep it correct without constantly resetting the camera. The only “chimping” (a term used to describe the habit of checking every photo on the camera LCD immediately after capture) I would do was to check my camera’s Histogram every now and then.

Shutter priority was as close to point-and-shoot as I could get in an environment where my attention might stray. Fortunately this was a local rodeo and I was very familiar with the grounds and where the action would take place. When an event was about to change I would casually walk around the arena to where I had in the past found the best place to photograph that particular activity.

My favorites to photograph are Saddle Bronc, Bareback, Steer and Bull riding.  The action is explosive and I think the participants (horse and rider, or bull and rider) pitted against each other are well matched and one can never be sure who will win. I am of the opinion that both animals and humans know it’s a game. For example, I watched a large black bull crashing around in the bucking chute, giving the handlers a hard time as the rider tried to get mounted. The gate opened, rider and bull exploded into the arena with the bull bucking, rearing, kicking, spinning, and twisting. Although he did his best to hang on for the required eight seconds, the contest ended with the cowboy being thrown.

Bullfighters rushed to help the rider, possibly expecting additional aggression from the bull, but at that moment that large, black, dangerous bull’s attitude immediately seemed to change from “death incarnate” to, well, a nice fellow out for a stroll. And that’s exactly what he did, casually walked back to exit the arena to brag to his buddies.

My photographs didn’t show that mellow conclusion, that’s not what we expect at the rodeo. Instead they are great action photos of what has been called, “the most dangerous eight seconds in sports”.

The Pritchard Rodeo grounds are perfect for photographers. The arena is enclosed with a strong metal fence that’s safe to stand close to and doesn’t restrict the view.  Of course, one has to be careful when excited horses are getting ready for the Barrel Race, but heck, it is a rodeo and one must remember that the animals, like any other athletes, are focusing on what they are about to do, not some silly person with a camera.

I’ll mention that Barrel Racing is also a great subject to photograph, and trying to perfectly capture what seems like a gravity-defying moment as horse and rider, fast and furiously, circle the barrel is exciting.

I know there are more rodeos scheduled for the British Columbia rodeo circuit ahead and interested photographers can expect an enjoyable, energy-packed day of photography that, at times, will test their skills.

I always appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

10 responses to “Photography at the Pritchard Rodeo

    • Thanks Nina, I am glad ya liked my photos. The first is a father and son – the son had just competed in a junior event..but they were still interested and stayed most of the day. The last: I was watching that horse and expected a real show.


  1. I must admit I loved all.. a wonderful way for the family to enjoy.. I really love the kids on sheep but never seen any …maybe you ???? next time please Thanks for the post John


    • Thanks Duncan, I am happy you liked my bog and the pictures I posted.
      There wasn’t any sheep riding at this rodeo. The only time I have seen that event is at junior rodeos….where there are only very young participants.
      Yes, these small town rodeos are real family events..for me, its always a time for saying hi to neighbour that I don’t see often. Like the unfamiliar adult woman that ran up to me. I hadn’t seen her since I photo’d her riding along our dirt road. She must have been 7 or 8 at the time.

      On purpose, I held back my photos of steer wrestling and calf roping. after the bad publicity from the Calgary stampede.


  2. Wonderful photos John.

    I think my favourites are:

    – the first bronc rider, (because of the tension visible in both rider and horse, the fast action being exemplified by rider’s hat flying off); and,
    – the green shirted barrel racer (again both horse and rider are caught in a finely balanced tense position, plus I use to do barrel racing in my younger days so I know a little about the superb skill and training both horse and rider are demonstrating at the moment you captured the action).

    Am I right in observing that the bright day allowed you to use S priority at 1/500 and achieve a reasonable f-stop? You must have also preset the rough focus distance? What about the ISO?


    • Glad you liked my blog pictures Derek, and I enjoyed your commentary on each. Yes, I did use 1/500th. That gave me a resonable aperture with good depth of field. I don’t prefocus. Rodeos are easy subjects when ya can stand along the arena with a 70-200mm – I just raise the camera and shoot. My ISO was 400. I was using my old Nikon D2xs that is pretty noisy over 400.


  3. John,

    Small town rodeos are wonderful to photograph. Both the subject in the arena and outside. One of my favourite things are to walk behind and capture people getting ready.

    In regards of photographing the action, I like to use (A) aperture priority when shooting rodeos. Most of my style is to have a shallow depth of field, so I can isolate the subjects from the foreground and background distractions. I do check the shutter speed prior to shooting though, and if it is a cloudy day, I might have to push the ISO up so I get a consistently high shutter speed. If the light is tricky, I will have to switch it to manual. The dark ground sometimes throw the exposure off, so I sometime have to compensate the exposure for that as well.

    Nice article.



    • Yes, these local rodeos are fun and at Pritchard I spend too much time talking to people to get away from the arena. However, I remember some years ago photoing participants behind the scenes at the old Chase rodeo. I used my Hassselblad, back then and mounted an exhibition of 16X20s…nothing like a Hassy for depth.
      Shooting inside the arena? I once photo’d the Woodwards store rodeo, the only place to shoot from was in the area. I got some nice shots, but I came away thinking the management had better things to worry about than some silly guy with a camera getting in the way. Besides the Pritchard arena is super easy to shoot from.
      I know some photogs do prefer Aperture priority for fast moving events and I know any shots you make of a rodeo are excellent, but gosh, shutter priority is so darned painless and almost foolproof.
      I really appreciate your comments Mikeal. I am sure those readers will appreciate a photographer of your calibers opinion Thank you.


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