I am a credentialed PRCA, Gold Card, Life Member, ProRodeo photographer. Earning a PRCA Photographers card is the most arduous process to pursue of all the rodeo sanctioning bodies, and not a journey for the feint of heart. I say earning this card which is important to understand. The privilege of earning this card cannot be bought; you cannot bluff your way through the multiple portfolio submittals, peer reviews, arena evaluations, and recommendations required. The process is very time consuming, stressful, and a lot of hard work. There are not very many of us out there, and we are the only photographers permitted to shoot inside the arenas. I also shoot PBR and IPRA, and RMPRA rodeos as well.
A little background...
My professional interest in photography began while in the Army, stationed in Germany. I recall photo treks to Munich, Frankfurt, Salzburg, London, Manchester, and Brussels, to name a few cities I visited. They always included a lot of night photography which ironically prepared me for a lot of the dimly lit arenas I now shoot rodeos in. When not traveling, shooting photos, I spent most of my off duty time in the darkroom, processing, developing and printing images. Yes old school, but a photographic foundation that today's digital shooters know little to nothing about. I have processed film in the old "black bag," printed in a sophisticated lab in Germany, as well as in the bathroom sink, and printed using my own enlarger in rented apartments. Whatever it took...
While in the College of Architecture, Arizona State University, almost all projects included photography, and I had a
few professors remark that I had a second calling as a photographer if I ever
gave up architecture. My architectural photography foundation prepared me
well for when I eventually started shooting rodeos. While dissimilar, a
thorough knowledge of camera skills, settings, lighting, technique, and personal style is required for both.
On to rodeo photography...
In the meantime, and through my wife's interest in horses, I got my first, then second and then more horses. For over twenty years I have been an avid civil war reenactor and it was inevitable that I started riding my horse in the reenactment battles. My wife competes in cowboy challenges, reigning, and has ridden on a rodeo drill team, trains horses and teaches riding skills to clients. So when I was asked to take photos of the drill team at rodeos I did not hesitate; I stepped up.
Pro level Rodeo photography requires Pro level equipment. Magazine editors do not accept soft images. I started shooting rodeos with Canon gear and quickly moved up to professional 1D-X bodies. But then Nikon raised the bar (not trying to pick a fight here), when the D3s came out and I went through the painful and expensive process of migrating over; NOW SHOOTING A D5. I still have my Canon gear and have been known to use both Canon and Nikon at the same rodeo. Lenses are probably more important than the bodies and I refuse to use anything but the best glass. I have a Quantum flash for dimly lit arenas but eventually invested in and shoot exclusively Paul C. Buff White Lightening strobes which are incredible when it comes to solving the dimly lit arena problem.
Anyone can take a picture. The number of cell phone cameras in the rodeo stands proves it. And for many, cell phone images are fine, they are digital and only going on social media anyway. There they will dissolve into wherever digital images on social media go. However I get contacted all the time from rodeo contestants who are looking for images from years past. Now they see the value in and want an actual quality print. At the time they rode, prints were unimportant. Now that they are no longer competing, or no longer able to compete, printed images are very important. In fact they are coveted.
Again, anyone can take a picture. A professional photographer however, CREATES an image. When inside the arena, I am constantly moving to get the best position, best angle, not just for the event and contestant, but also for the committee, magazines, sponsors, crowd, banners, background, lighting, etc. I work hard to create that final image in my mind before the shutter is ever touched.
Professional Rodeo Photography is expensive, challenging, sometimes wet and muddy, sometimes hot and dusty, exhausting, hard on gear, adrenaline pumping, and out of this world exciting.
I hope you can tell I love what I do, and that my images reflect all that went into capturing that extraordinary moment in time.
Reed Settle | PRCA Photographer