Bull Riding

CowgirlMama

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The local rodeo is fast approaching (1 month!). They let me in free to take pictures, in exchange for a few for their calendar. Sweet deal for me, since I'd be there and taking pictures anyway. :p This way, I just don't have to pay and have total run of the place, including "not for the public" places.

My question right now is about bulls, though. Bulls start after dark. There are lights on the arena, but they're not great. I'll still be shooting at a pretty high ISO to get a decent shutter speed. Would you feel it's wise/safe to use a flash on bulls? Last year, there was one who was clearly opposed to flash and ran the fence every time one fired. (He badly injured his rider and was managing to keep the pickup riders and clowns from getting him into his pen so the ambulance could come in.) I've never used my flash on the bulls, but I know it would freeze their motion better, considering they blur at 1/250. I know animals and, obviously, can read when they really flip, but for anyone who's familiar with bulls, do you think flash is worth the risk? Other people use flash, but theirs are built-in flashes, rather than my fairly powerful one. I don't want to put anyone at risk. (Kids are dumb enough to hang on the fence during the bull riding and no adults care to move them. If the clowns are focused on the bull, they can't be chasing kids back.)
 

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Perhaps you could get in early and take some test shots, upping your ISO until you get the ss you need.
 
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CowgirlMama

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My current camera (only had it a couple months) will go to a much higher ISO, so I'm hoping I can hit a decent ss. The one I had last year had a max ISO of 3200. I kind of wish they'd change up the schedule some time so I can shoot the typically after dark events in better light. Of course, at the beginning of the rodeo, light is harsh, so it's kind of a tossup. :p For the first few years, I was shooting on an XTi and never getting anything of the bulls.
 

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Perhaps you could rent / borrow a body with superior high-ISO performance.
 

ronlane

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Honestly, I'd do it with ISO and faster glass. You don't want to risk messing up a ride for the cowboy. As you know, bull riding is dangerous enough without having a ride messed up and do a re-ride.
 
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CowgirlMama

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Honestly, I'd do it with ISO and faster glass. You don't want to risk messing up a ride for the cowboy. As you know, bull riding is dangerous enough without having a ride messed up and do a re-ride.

This is what I was thinking. I do have a camera with a nice, high ISO now, as well as decent lenses. Much better gear than last year. (I sold a *lot* of stuff so I could afford a *big* upgrade.) The bulls make me really nervous. The other events have a danger element, too, but nothing like a raging bull. I've seen a few horses flip out in my years of rodeo, too, but it's rare. Maybe 2-3 in 15 years of attendance. The bulls go crazy frequently, though there have only been a couple injuries in the same amount of time. They usually go nuts *after* dumping the rider. ;) The rodeo stock company has excellent clowns and pickup riders. Unfortunately, even if I don't use it, there will be flash. The brand new "pro" who wouldn't stop with her flash with last year's raging bull will likely have more gear this year to stir up trouble with.

As far as the quality of photos, the rodeo committee is thrilled with whatever I give them. I'm world's better than a committee member with a point and shoot.:p They were happy with pictures that I look back at and cringe. I'm just looking to keep improving. Always. :) I improve more slowly on rodeo stuff than general photography because I only get 3 days a year to practice. :(
 

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Last year, there was one who was clearly opposed to flash and ran the fence every time one fired. (He badly injured his rider and was managing to keep the pickup riders and clowns from getting him into his pen so the ambulance could come in.)
As stated above, bull riding is a very risky business. You already witnessed a flash gone wrong incident, so it's not worth the risk in my opinion.
 

ronlane

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A new camera body that can handle hi ISO and a lens at 2.8 constant may be the ticket here. (I'm thinking 70-200mm). That should give you enough room to feel safe from the bulls.

I haven't shot any rodeo's, but I've been to a TON of rodeo's. I'm sure that if they have been happy with prior work and you are/have upgraded equipment, then you'll be fine.
 
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CowgirlMama

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This is a shot from last year. I don't have access to settings right now. My computer's hard drive crashed a couple months ago, so the file is only on my backup and I'm lazy. :p



This is the bull fighter earlier in the evening. Obviously, much better lighting. ;) (The bull fighter is crazy. He *wanted* the bull to flip him like that and repeated it all three nights.)

 

ronlane

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The EXIF is on the flickr pictures just by clicking through. If you shot those with an EF-S f/4-5.6 and you went to a 70-200mm f/2.8, then you will be amazed. What body did you upgrade to?
 
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CowgirlMama

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I have a 6D. Unfortunately, until I make some more money (teacher's assistant, no income over the summer), I can't afford the 2.8. I have the 70-200 F5.6. I'll have the camera and lens from last year with me, too, but won't use it on bulls (obviously). It's my backup, basically. I have the 24-105mm F4 lens, but that would require being closer than I prefer. ;) I get pretty close the the fence, but stay in a position that allows me to jump back the second a bull turns even sort of in my direction. One year, they had a photographer who came for one night and put herself between the light pole and the fence (less than a foot of space). Scared me to death because she had nowhere to go and was close to where they send the bulls after the rides. She chose the spot because you can't block anybody's view if you're in front of something bigger than you, which I get. I hang out by the poles all the time at rodeo. And climb the fence. I'm pretty fearless when it comes to the horse events.

BTW, while talking about bulls, what moment would you consider *the* moment to capture? I've always followed a bit of a spray and pray technique on bulls because they're hard to predict. My main goal for this year is to be more deliberate, so I'm trying to decide what my dream shots are before I get there. I always aim to get them as they come out of the shoot. That's an easy one because I can watch the guys working the gate to know when they're going to release. ;) I can get a *lot* of shots in an 8 second ride, so I can easily get that *and* other big moments. (One goal this year is to get a pickup rider taking a cowboy off either a bull or bronc.)
 

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Any chance of renting the 2.8 for a weekend just to see?

For me, I think "the" moment would be coming out of the gate. Think first hop or two. Sure you are going to take a bunch of pictures in the 8 seconds (provided that the rider can stay on) but the ride may only last one or two hops for some guys. I think that bull riding is a spray and pray sport to shoot.
 
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CowgirlMama

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I really don't have any money to invest in a free event. If I were being paid, I might factor renting into that, but my "pay" is not paying to go. By next year, I might be able to afford more.
 

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You mean you don't wanna use a short lens and get right up on the action? Who knows, shooting while being chased could give the photos a special quality. :D
 
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CowgirlMama

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I'm mostly trying to not encourage *kids* to get in the same compromising situation. As I said in the first post, I know animals. I read them quite well. I'm also quick because I'm on high alert around any animal that can hurt me. But when *I* lean on the fence, a dozen or so kids (2-10 year olds, lots of *little* kids) line up on the fence. It makes the rodeo clowns' jobs a lot harder. They ignore me, but part of their job is to keep kids off the fence. I'm pretty close to the bucking shoots and may try using the wider lens one night. I get three shots, after all. :p I did my first rodeo with a DSLR on an 18-55 kit lens, so I know it can be done from a distance.
 

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